healthiest grains

The Grain Guide: Easy Recipes for the Healthiest Whole Grains

Don't nix carbs, just make sure you're eating whole grain foods and eliminating the refined ones.

By Leah Zerbe

Carbs get a bad rap because so many Americans are eating the bad ones—refined carbohydrates in white bread, candy, cookies, sugary cereals, and all sorts of other junk food and drinks. In fact, research has shown that 95 percent of the grains we eat are refined. Eating too many foods with these adulterated ingredients won't just make you fat, it'll also raise your risk of heart disease and diabetes. And raise your levels of blood fats called triglycerides, putting you on the fast track for a heart attack or stroke. The good news is working the healthiest grains into your diet can help prevent or reverse these health problems.

Healthy, whole grain foods are made from cereal grains that include the whole kernel. Research shows they can protect you from ticker trouble, diabetes, colon cancer, and possibly asthma and Alzheimer's disease. So we've compiled a list of recipes for a variety of ultrahealthy grain options. Organic versions are often quite affordable, which is good news for your health—and the environment, too!

Whole Wheat

Whole Oats

Bulgar

Brown Rice

Whole Grain Barley

Whole Rye

Buckwheat

Whole Wheat Couscous

Corn

Quinoa

Whole Wheat
This one is pretty easy, as long as you don't let food marketers trick you. It can be readily found in bread and pasta products, but make sure the label says 100 percent whole wheat. Terms like "multigrain" and "wheat" don't cut it. As when you're shopping for any whole grain product, look at the ingredients and make sure the whole grain is at or near the top the list. Each serving should contain at least 2 or 3 grams of fiber.

Healthy Recipe: Whole Wheat Bread
Whole Oats/Oatmeal
Oats are particularly rich in avenanthramide, an antioxidant that protects the heart. When you're shopping for this whole grain, whether you see the word "whole" or not doesn't matter, the way it does with wheat products. Oats in the ingredients list means the product is made from whole oats. But if you are buying something like instant oatmeal, avoid those that contain high-fructose corn syrup. A study this year found that ingredient was a source of mercury contamination in oatmeal. We suggest sticking to the good old-fashioned unsweetened kind, and mixing in a little fruit or honey.

Healthy Recipe: Baked Apple Oatmeal
Bulgur
For all practical purposes, bulgur is considered a whole grain, even though up to 5 percent of its bran may be removed during processing. It's so good for you, though, we're putting it on the list. The grain, which is used to make tabbouleh salad, is a great source of iron and magnesium. The fiber and protein powerhouse (a cup contains nearly 75 percent of the dietary fiber you need for the day, and 25 percent of the protein you should get) can be used in salads or tossed in soups. It's ready in minutes.

Healthy Recipe: Bulgur Salad
Brown Rice
If you're looking at labels on rice products, make sure the word brown is listed to ensure it's whole grain. Brown basmati rice is whole grain, for example, but basmati rice is refined. Wild rice is also considered a whole grain, and is rich in B vitamins, such as niacin and folate.

Healthy Recipe: Brown Rice with Peppers and Zucchini
Whole Grain Barley
Eating about a half cup of whole barley regularly during a five-week period cut participants’ cholesterol levels by nearly 10 percent when compared to other participants who went without barley in a U.S. Department of Agriculture study. Add raisins or dried apricots to quick-cooking barley, and serve it as a side dish. Just make sure it's whole grain barley.

Healthy Recipe: Barley Risotto with Mushrooms
Whole Rye
As with most grains, when you're shopping for rye products, you must see the word "whole" rye topping the ingredients list to get the healthy benefits. Be persistent; most rye and pumpernickel bread in this country is made primarily with refined wheat flour.

Healthy Recipe: The New Classic Reuben
Buckwheat
This common pancake whole grain is one of the whole grains many people living with
celiac disease can tolerate (others include quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum). And thank goodness for that, because who doesn't enjoy weekend pancakes from time to time!

Healthy Recipe: Cinnamon Buckwheat Pancakes with Honeyed Strawberries
Whole Wheat Couscous
Most of the couscous you see is a form of pasta, usually made from refined wheat flour. So when you're eying the items in the aisle for the healthiest couscous pick, look for the whole wheat kind, often most easily found in natural food stores. Skipping the refined version and going with the whole grain type will gain you 5 additional grams of fiber.

Healthy Recipe: East Indian Curried Couscous Platter
Corn
You can look for the word "whole" when purchasing corn products, but some whole corn products don't mention this. Popcorn is a wonderful source of whole grain fiber, but skip the microwavable kinds that use harmful chemicals in the bags' nonstick lining. Instead, buy organic popcorn kernels and make microwave popcorn in an ordinary paper bag, or do it the old-fashioned way on the stovetop. Plus, don't rely on corn too extensively. Americans are up to their ears in corn products, and about 40 percent of the corn grown in the United States is genetically modified, created to withstand higher doses of pesticides. Some studies are starting to link GM foods to allergies and other health problems.
Quinoa
This ancient South American power food is packed with more protein than any other grain. Your family will likely enjoy its light, nutty flavor for a change of pace at the dinner table.

Healthy Recipe: Quinoa and Vegetable Casserole