Whole grains are hot but when I review my clients’ food journals I tend to see the same few selections over and over again: oats, brown rice, and whole-wheat pasta. While they’re all great options, expanding your variety of whole grains can expose your body to a broader spectrum of nutrients and add a little excitement to your meals. Here are seven more whole grain choices to add to your meal repertoire—plus, my favorite ways to enjoy them. (Quinoa's not on the list, but we love it anyway. Here, 10 New Ways to Enjoy Quinoa.)
f you’ve ever enjoyed barley soup, you know how hearty and filing this delicious grain is. It has an impressive history, too. Barley is one of the most ancient grains—Egyptians buried mummies with necklaces made of barley. Nutritionally speaking, barley is the highest fiber whole grain, and its natural substances have been shown to help reduce cholesterol (even more than oats) and boost immunity by feeding the “good” bacteria in your digestive tract.
Eat More Tip: You can swap barley for brown rice or enjoy it as an oatmeal alternative at breakfast. Just trade rolled oats for rolled barley flakes. They cook in the microwave in just 5 minutes or you can eat them raw. (If you like savory dishes, check out these 8 "Dinner" Foods You Should Eat for Breakfast.)
Often called forbidden rice, recent research has found that, compared to brown rice, black rice packs more potent anti-inflammatory properties. That’s key because inflammation is a known trigger of aging and disease.
Eat More Tip: More sushi restaurants are starting to use black rice in place of white or brown in rolls. It’s also great with stir-fries, or cooked, chilled, and tossed with veggies, edamame, and a ginger citrus dressing (See a step-by-step video tutorial on How to Make Homemade Sushi Maki Rolls, too).
Sometimes called “Middle Eastern pasta,” bulgur is typically made from durum wheat. It’s high in fiber and cooks quickly, making it a convenient whole grain option for 30-minute (or less) meals.
You’ve probably had bulgur in tabbouleh, but it’s also great in pilafs, folded into a homemade veggie burger mix, or baked into desserts like cakes and cookies. One of my favorite ways to enjoy it is sprinkled onto a garden salad (organic greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and red onion) along with hummus, a squeeze of fresh lemon, and a few mint leaves. (Try a Bulgur Veggie Burger with Tahini Slaw to get this grain on your menu tonight.)
Another ancient grain popular with Egyptians, kamut is a member of the wheat family but is higher in protein and vitamin E than common wheat.
Eat More Tip: You’ll find kamut in two convenient forms in the supermarket—Arrowhead Mills makes puffed kamut, which can be enjoyed as a simple cold cereal or folded into yogurt parfait-style along with fruit, nuts, and spices. And Eden makes kamut flakes, which can be used as a hot cereal or added to soups, stews, or baked goods. One of my favorite combos is hot kamut cereal made with organic soy milk, seasoned with a dash of ground cardamom and topped with warmed frozen pitted cherries, sliced almonds, and shredded unsweetened coconut.
I’ve sung the praises of Kañiwa in a previous post and this relative of quinoa is high in protein, minerals and antioxidants, but about half the size of quinoa. It cooks in about 15 minutes and is amazing hot or cold.
Eat More Tip: You can use Kañiwa in stuffed peppers, folded into pancake batter, or chill it and add to garden salads. One of my favorite breakfast or snack combos is chilled Kañiwa folded into yogurt (nonfat, organic Greek or a non-dairy alternative) with fresh grated ginger, a shredded pear, and chopped nuts. (Try one of these 10 Savory Greek Yogurt Recipes to enjoy any time of day.)
Some research has shown that compared to wheat, rye is more satiating, and another recent animal study found that, compared to wheat, mice fed whole grain rye had a greater reduction in body weight, slightly improved insulin control, and lower total cholesterol levels.
Eat More Tip: The easiest way to eat whole grain rye may be in bread form, like Mestemacher’s Natural Whole Rye or in crackers. I love that the only ingredients in Wasa’s Light Rye crackers are whole grain rye flour, water, and salt. Spread one with pesto (basil, roasted red pepper, sundried tomato, artichoke) or olive tapenade as part of a delicious savory snack. (See 40 more Shape-recommended spreads for picnics and beyond.)
Sorghum, which became popular in the Deep South, is becoming white hot everywhere with lots of recipes popping up, from sorghum brownies to artisan sorghum bread.
Eat More Tip: Check out the Popghum, a fun snack I highlighted as one of my favorite new food finds last fall. It's a lower calorie cousin to popcorn. Or, if you love to bake, check out Bob’s Red Mill sorghum flour.