With the current focus on healthy eating, there is an increase in the variety of whole food products that are now available, especially when it comes to alternative whole grains. I say alternative because aside from the usual favorites like oats and wheat, there are a great selection of nutrient-rich and disease-fighting whole grains to explore. The next time you want to jazz up your next meal or just want to try something new, consider some of these alternative whole grains.
Amaranth is one of the oldest alternative whole grains and originally came from South America. A whole grain that is both gluten and wheat-free, amaranth provides a rich source of protein—about 9g per cup—and essential amino acids like lysine, cysteine, and methionine which are great for brain function. Additionally, a single serving of amaranth has about 7% vitamin C, 42% iron, and 16% calcium RDV. Put simply, amaranth is a nutritional powerhouse with a nutty/malty taste that lends well to both savory and sweet dishes!
Kamut, a whole grain that is eaten by many cultures worldwide, is full of body enriching nutrients and minerals. When compared to wheat, kamut is 2-3 times larger and has 20-40% more protein and 65% more amino acids. But it does not stop there, because kamut is also high in essential fatty acids that lower bad LDL-cholesterol and increases the good HDL-cholesterol. When it comes to minerals and vitamins, kamut is an great source of thiamin, niacin, folate, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin E, phosphorus, magnesium, and zinc.
Teff provides the perfect example of how not to judge a grain by its size! Considered the world’s smallest grain, teff is a gluten-free grain that is the seed of an Ethiopian grass. Even though small, teff consists mainly of bran and germ, and it delivers big in nutritive value due to its high level of protein (26 g per serving), minerals, fiber, calcium, thiamin, and iron. Typically, uncooked teff can be used in baking goods. It also serves as a nutritious thickening agent that is used to thicken prepared dishes like soups and stews.
Farro which is also known as emmer here in the US, is a wheat grain that is high in fiber (5 g per serving) and protein (6 g per serving). Furthermore, it provides 20% of the daily need for niacin and 15% of the daily need for magnesium and zinc. Compared to brown rice and quinoa, a half a cup of farro contains more fiber and fewer calories making it a great alternative to these frequently eaten whole grains. Usually eaten as a whole grain in soup, pasta, and salads, farro can also be used to make bread and other baked goods.
5. Wheat Berries
Contrary to its name, wheat berries have nothing to do with berries. In fact, a wheat berry is the entire wheat kernel, including the bran, endosperm, and germ. Aside from being a rich source of healthy carbohydrates, wheat berries are also high in fiber and protein and consist of an array of nutrients like vitamin E, calcium, B vitamins, folate, and potassium. Additionally, a half-cup serving of wheat berries is a great way to increase intake of selenium, manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, and lignan, a phytochemical that may help protect against breast cancer. When it comes to how wheat berries are eaten, this super grain can be used in place of pasta, rice, and other grains.
Part of the wheat family, spelt is a whole grain that is higher in protein compared to other types of wheat. A single serving of spelt is high in fiber (5 g) and protein (6 g), and provides 14% of the daily recommended value of magnesium and zinc, and 25% of iron. Commonly sold in flour form, spelt is an excellent substitute for wheat flour, especially for people with wheat sensitivities since they are often able to tolerate spelt without any complications.
7. Sorghum (Milo)
Sorghum, a gluten-free grain, is quickly gaining popularity due to its phenomenal versatility. I mean, this grain can be transformed into flour for baked goods, popped like popcorn, and even used to make beer. Compared to other superfoods like blueberries and pomegranates, Sorghum is significantly higher in polyphenol antioxidants.
As I try to adopt my eating habits towards making healthier choices, I am constantly on the lookout for healthy alternatives to some of my favorite foods like whole grains. Being familiar with different types of whole grains allows me to not only change up my meals but also reap the benefits from these nutrient-packed grains. Are you familiar with any of these alternative grains? What are some of your favorite whole grains to eat?