September is National Whole Grains Month, making it a perfect time to try new whole grains and familiarize ourselves with this hearty goodness in our diet. Whole grains are a great staple to add to your diet, because they’re high in fiber and packed with essential minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. I think by now, you’ve probably already tried brown rice or whole grain pasta, but there are so many other whole grains for you to choose from.
In honor of National Whole Grains Month, we at Zipongo are challenging our readers to try at least 1 new whole grain each week in September. Don’t know where to start? We’ve compiled a shortlist of some of our favorite whole grains, and ideas for how to use them. (Note: if you’re on a gluten-free diet, check out our guide to gluten-free whole grains).
The whole grain amaranth is a protein powerhouse, consisting of roughly 13 to 14 percent protein per serving. Amaranth also contains three times the average amount of calcium of other grains, and is a good source of iron, magnesium and potassium. It has a complete amino acid profile because it contains lysine, an amino acid that’s typically missing from or negligible in other grains.
Why this grain?
“Not a lot of people know this, but amaranth is actually a complete protein! I always recommend it to vegetarians because it is important for them to find a new way to incorporate plant-based protein sources in their diet. Not to mention, you can also pop them like corn and they make delicious snacks.” —Jason Lau, MS, RD, CDN
Recipes with amaranth:
Barley, a member of the grass family, is one of the world’s oldest cultivated grains. It has the highest fiber content of whole grains, at about 17 percent fiber (compared to 3.5 percent for brown rice). Barley is also high in protein, and delivers a huge helping of various antioxidants, vitamins and minerals including niacin, vitamin B6, thiamin, manganese and selenium. It’s been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”), and the FDA allows foods with barley to claim they may help reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
Barley is amazingly versatile. You can cook this nutty and chewy grain in a side dish (think, barley pilaf) or use barley flour in your favorite baked goods. Whole grain barley tends to have a thick, inedible hull, so make sure to look for hulled versions. It might take 45 minutes to an hour to cook barley, so try cooking a big batch and refrigerate or freeze portions for later.
Why this grain?
“Barley has always been my favorite because it is perfect for soups and stews. I particularly like the chewiness and the nutty flavor; not to mention, it will soak up all the deliciousness at the end.” —Trinh Le, MPH, RD
Recipes with barley
- Barley-Stuffed Peppers with Cheese
- Barley Risotto with Edamame and Peas
- Barley Caprese Salad
- Mediterranean Barley Salad
- Easy Barley and Mushroom Pilaf
Sorghum is a gluten-free whole grain that originated from Africa and is currently ranked by the USDA as the 5th most important cereal crop in the world. It’s an excellent source of dietary fiber, with 12 grams of fiber in one cup of sorghum, and some varieties are high in antioxidants. Last but not least, it is very easy to incorporate sorghum into existing recipes. Some varieties have a sweet flavor and are light in color, which makes them very adaptable as a flour substitute.
Why this grain?
“Sorghum is a great grain that I sometimes use in place of farro, when I can find it. It tends to have a sweeter flavor profile and a more complex texture. I use it to make a simple fruit and grain salad, it pairs well with blueberries.” —Chef Scott Samuel
Recipes with sorghum:
- Sorghum Pomegranate Salad
- Cherry Tomato, Arugula and Sorghum Salad
- Moroccan-Spiced Carrot and Sorghum Soup
- Slow Cooker Chicken and Sorghum Soup
Long before rice gained its foothold in Asia, millet was thought to be the staple grain in the region. Its legacy continued in Chinese culture, where the characters for “millet” and “mouth” together mean “harmony.” Millet is high in antioxidants and magnesium, which is a mineral that plays an important role in maintaining normal muscle and nerve functions. As a gluten-free grain with a mild flavor, it pairs well with most foods. When cooking millet, use 2.5 cups of liquid to 1 cup of grain for the most optimal texture.
Why this grain?
“One of my favorite secret grains is millet. It’s actually fairly common in Indian cuisine, but my favorite way to prepare it is for breakfast. When cooked down with lots of liquid, millet forms the perfect porridge consistency.” —Sheila Viswanathan, EdD, MPH, RD
Recipes with millet:
Oat is one of the few grains that has a sweet flavor, which is why it is often used as breakfast cereal. Even though it is one of the most widely consumed grains, the germ and bran are rarely removed in processing. So when you see oats on the nutrition label, you’re almost guaranteed to be getting a whole grain. In the United States, most oats are flattened to produce what you see marketed as “rolled oats” or “instant oats” in the supermarket. Steel-cut oats, in contrast, contain the entire kernel (often sliced once or twice into smaller pieces for easier cooking), and have a chewier texture and nuttier flavor.
Why this grain?
“Oats are one of my morning go-tos — I cook them with milk for a boost of protein and satiating fat. Typically I top my oatmeal with nuts, berries, a drizzle of peanut butter and a sprinkle of brown sugar, but occasionally I’ll add a fried egg, sliced avocado and salt and pepper for a savory take!” —Elle Penner, MPH, RD
Recipes with oats:
- Strawberry Banana Muesli
- Oatmeal with Raspberries and Apples
- Eating Well Energy Bars
- Ginger, Berries and Oats Smoothie
Even More Whole Grains…
Already tried the whole grains above? Others you can explore include bulgar, buckwheat, farro, freekah, rye, spelt, and teff. Here are some recipes to get you started:
- Fresh Herb and Lemon Bulgar Pilaf
- Banana Nut Buckwheat Cereal
- Buckwheat Salad
- Roasted Fennel and Farro Salad
- Super Easy Rye Crackers
- Pearled Spelt Oven Porridge
- Baked Southwest Teff Burgers
Now that you have a sense of what other whole grains are out there for you to try, we feel confident that all of our readers will be able to take on the Whole Grain Challenge with ease. Remember: try at least 1 new whole grain each week this month! Once you get over the hurdle of trying it the first time, it’ll be easier to incorporate more whole grains in your diet going forward.
And if you need more inspiration, check out our whole grains recipe category to see which new grain you might want to try next.