This may be the most exciting era for carbs since the invention of sliced bread.
Last year, whole grains landed at the top of a list of recommendations for preventing colorectal cancer. The evidence showed that three servings a day reduced the risk of the disease by 17 per cent, and was stronger than just fibre intake alone. A Cornell researcher found that whole grains have high levels of antioxidants, which wage war of disease- and age-causing free radicals. And a study published this year in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that each one-ounce serving of whole grains people consumed was linked to a 9 per cent lower risk of total mortality—and the more they ate, the less likely they were to die.
Oh, and if you’re looking for protein? Grains have you covered there too. “The bran and germ of whole grains provide healthy fats, vitamin E, and up to 6 grams of protein per serving,” says Kelly Toups, R.D., director of nutrition for Oldways Whole Grains Council.
It’s important to branch out from your usual wheat and oats. “When we tell people to eat more vegetables, they don’t just think carrots,” she says. “But with grains, they don’t tap the full spectrum—and they all have something a little different to offer.”
Here are five to try.
Toups calls this a “pseudograin” because it comes from a different biological family than crops like wheat. Amaranth has a nutty flavour, reminiscent of brown rice, and its small, seed-like granules can be popped like popcorn.
Protein per cup: 9 grams
This grain looks a little like lentils, and tastes slightly bitter, like hops. But buckwheat has more fibre per serving than oatmeal and is naturally gluten-free. You’ll often see it turned into porridge, but you can also find it ground into flour.
Protein per cup: 6 grams
These poppyseed-sized kernels come in a range of colours, and their flavour deepens with their hue. Teff carries the most calcium of any grain, about 120 mg per cooked cup, and the grain is also high in resistant starch. Its sweet, light flavour and small size makes it ideal for sprinkling on salads.
Protein per cup: 10 grams
No, it’s not an experimental indie rock band. It’s a grassy-tasting grain that’s a cross between wheat and rye. You can find it in flake form and cook it like oatmeal.
Protein per cup: 13 grams
5. Wild rice
Easily recognized by its long, dark, needle-like grains, wild rice has, it’s suspected to be especially high in antioxidants, with more than thirty times the amount in white rice. It’s chewy and flavorful on its own, it’s perfect for pilafs.
Protein per cup: 7 grams
Bonus tip: Refrigerate your grains!
While grains tend to be more shelf stable than, say, a strawberry, they still taste and perform better when fresh (the same is true of whole grain flours). That’s because their outer layer, known as the germ, contains healthy oils that go rancid over time. Most grains will keep about six months, and flours for about half that time, but storing them in the refrigerator will extend that by a month or two.
By Jill Waldbeiser