Tired of brown rice and whole wheat pasta? Here’s a list of whole grains that are good for you and will add variety to your diet.
Amaranth ( Al kuttaifa in Arabic): Ancient grain once grown by the Aztecs for its superior nutrient content. It is made of 13 to 16% protein, a level higher than most other grains. Its protein contains the amino acid lysine which is missing or found in negligible amounts in other grains. Amaranth is gluten-free which makes it suitable for people with celiac disease or gluten-allergy. It can be found in the form of whole grain, flakes, or flour.
Barley (Sha’ir in Arabic): Did you know that barley was at the basis of the English measurement system? Edward II of England standardized the inch as being equal to “three grains of barley, round and dry”! Barley has the highest percentage of fiber (17%) among the other grains. Its high levels of soluble beta-glucan fiber make it a super food for lowering cholesterol and controlling blood sugar. It is also high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Look for hulled barley (where the inedible hull has been removed carefully) or hulless barley (a breed that is originally without the tight hull). Pearled barley misses some or all of its bran layer.
Buckwheat ( Henta sawda in Arabic): Buckwheat is technically not a grain and it is not related to the wheat family. It is the seed of a plant related to rhubarb. Its nutty flavor and appearance have led it to be integrated in the grain family. It is the only grain that contains the antioxidant rutin. Studies have shown that rutin improves circulation and prevents LDL cholesterol from blocking blood vessels. Toasted buckwheat groats are called Kasha. Buckwheat and buckwheat flour are used to make Japanese soba noodles, pancakes, crepes etc.
Bulgur (borghol in Arabic): Bulgur is made from wheat kernels which have been boiled, dried and cracked. Since it is precooked, it only needs about 10 minutes to be ready. Bulgur is higher in fiber than oats, quinoa, corn, buckweat and millet. Bulgur is all famous in the traditional tabbouleh and kibbeh (Middle Eastern minced meat with bulgur and spices).
Kamut: An ancient variety of wheat, kamut is literally the old Egyptian word for wheat. Kamut, however, has higher levels of protein and more vitamin E than regular wheat.
Millet (dekhen in Arabic): Millet is the world’s sixth most important grain with India being the largest producer where it is used to make roti, a staple flat bread. Millet is gluten-free and is high in magnesium. It is found as a whole grain or in the form of flour.
Oats ( Shoufan in Arabic): Oats are a breakfast favorite.They are either steel-cut oats, or are steamed and flattened into old-fashioned, quick-cooking, or instant cooking oats. Oats in every form are considered a whole grain because their bran and germ do not get removed during processing. However, try to stay clear of the sugar-added instant varieties and fat-laden granola bars. Always check the labels. Like barley, oats contain beta-glucan fiber which help lower bad cholesterol (LDL). Recent studies also show that the antioxidant avenanthramide found in oats has an anti-inflammatory effect and protects the blood vessels from the damaging effects of LDL cholesterol.
Quinoa (same name in Arabic pronounced Keen-wah): Quinoa is an ancient grain once cultivated by Incas in Peru. It is related to spinach rather than being a “true” grain. Quinoa is known for its high protein content. Its protein is complete; that is, it is made of all the essential amino acids that the body cannot make on its own.
Rye (Al-Jawdar in Arabic): Rye has high amounts of fiber. It has a low glycemic index which makes it healthy for diabetic people. It also promotes a feeling of satiety making it a good option for people who are trying to lose weight. However, when buying a product made with rye make sure that the label includes whole rye or rye berries. Rye is not suitable for people with celiac disease or with gluten allergy/ intolerance.
Sorghum : Sorghum is related to the maize family. Since sorghum is gluten-free, it is popular among people with celiac disease. Sorghum flour is often used in gluten-free baked products and breads.
Spelt ( Henta asliyya in Arabic) : Spelt is a wheat variety; however, it has much higher protein levels than regular wheat.
Teff: Teff is a cereal grass that means “tiny”. It comes from Ethiopia, where it is a staple and often used in injera bread. Teff is extremely nutritious as it has twice the amount of iron and three times the amount of calcium as any other grain.
Rice, corn, wheat, farro and triticale (both wheat species) are also grains which I haven’t discussed here. Whole grains are nutritious, high in protein, vitamins and minerals making them ideal if you are a vegetarian or trying to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Whole grains are also rich in fiber. Consumed with a healthy diet, whole grains may reduce the risk of heart disease, and may help with weight loss and constipation. Wheat, barley, rye, kamut, spelt and triticale contain gluten and need to be avoided in a gluten-free diet. Oats do not contain gluten, but were banished from the gluten-free diet because of possible contamination with wheat in the field or during processing. There are gluten-free oats now on the market, but it’s better to check with your doctor first.
Next time you are at the market, why don’t you venture around and try a new grain?