Five whole grains with health benefits

Learn the health benefits of these fibre-rich grains, and how to prepare them properly

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If you think that eating whole grains means eating a whole-wheat bagel, then think again. Eating whole grains means literally eating the whole grain in its entirety, not just its flour. This is important because your body needs grains — they’re an essential source of complex carbohydrates and fibre. Whole grains are slow burning, which means they provide your body with long-lasting energy. Fortunately, there is an entire world of grains out there beyond whole wheat.

Here are the five whole grains you should include in your diet:

1. Oats

What it is: There are four common types of oats; here they are in order of nutritional content and fibre: oat groats (whole oat), steel-cut oats (cracked oats), rolled oats, and quick oats.

How to use and store it: For all types, it is best to add the oats to cold water and then cook at a simmer for 10-30 minutes, depending on the variety. For raw porridge, soak rolled oats overnight for a ready-to-go breakfast in the morning. Store oatmeal in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place; they will keep for approximately two months.

Health benefits: Oats, oat bran, and oatmeal all contain fibre, which helps to lower cholesterol levels. Oats also help manage blood sugar levels and contain antioxidants, which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

2. Barley

What it is: Barley is a versatile cereal grain with a rich nut-like flavor and chewy, pasta-like consistency.

How to use and store it: After rinsing, add one part barley to three-and-a-half parts boiling water or broth. Return the liquid to a boil and then turn down the heat, cover, and simmer. Store barley in a tightly-covered glass container in a cool, dry place. Barley can also be stored in the refrigerator.

Health benefits: Barley is an incredible source of soluble fibre and B vitamins, both of which are essential for lowering cholesterol and protecting against heart disease.

3. Kamut

What it is: Kamut is a long grain with a brown cover, similar in appearance to brown basmati rice. It has a nutty flavor and is closely related to wheat.

How to use and store it: Soak one part kamut overnight, then add three parts water and bring it to a boil, adding a pinch of salt if needed. Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 40-45 minutes, or until tender.

Health benefits: Kamut has from 20 to 40 percent more protein than wheat and is richer in several vitamins and minerals, such as calcium and selenium. Unlike some grains, kamut has a low oxidation level and retains most of its nutritional value even after grinding and processing.

4. Spelt

What it is: Spelt, also known as farro, is a wonderfully nutritious ancient grain. It’s a cousin to wheat and has a deep nut-like flavor.

How to use and store it: Store spelt grains in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place. Spelt flour should be kept in the refrigerator to best preserve its nutritional value. After rinsing, soak spelt in water for eight hours or overnight. Drain, rinse, and then add three parts water to each part spelt. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat, and simmer for about one hour.

Health benefits: In addition to being an amazing source of fibre and niacin, spelt is also easier to digest than wheat.

5. Brown Rice

What it is: The process that produces brown rice removes only the outermost layer, the hull, of the rice kernel. It leaves intact the largest amount of its nutritional value out of all the rice-production processes. Brown rise does not need to have nutrients added to it, unlike white rice, which is polished and has most of its nutrients destroyed and is enriched with vitamins after processing.

How to use and store it: Since brown rice still has its oil-rich germ, it is more susceptible to becoming rancid than white rice and therefore should be stored in the refrigerator. Placed in an airtight container, brown rice will keep fresh for about six months. After rinsing brown rice, add one part rice to two parts boiling water or broth. After the liquid has returned to a boil, turn down the heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes.

Health Benefits: Brown rice is gluten-free, light, and an incredible source of long-lasting carbohydrates for energy. It is also high in fibre and contains several vitamins and minerals, as well as protein.

There is another category of grains called pseudo grains, which includes quinoa, buckwheat, teff, amaranth, and wild rice. These are really more seeds than grains, but they often get lumped into the grain category. They are all free of gluten and high in fibre and protein. Pseudo grains also contain essential vitamins and minerals, and are a source of slow-burning energy. I’ll be writing about pseudo grains in my next article, on December 5.

Warm farro salad

1 cup farro (spelt), soaked overnight
1 cup vegetable stock
½ butternut squash, cubed
1 red onion, chopped
1 cup portobello mushrooms, chopped
1 cup rainbow chard or spinach, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt
Dash of Herbes de Provence
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
¼ cup toasted walnuts or pine nuts
1⁄3 cup cranberries or currants
Crumbled goat cheese (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Rinse and place farro into a pot with vegetable stock and 1 cup of water.
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

2. Set aside farro.

3. Place cubed butternut squash on a baking tray with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and place in the oven for 30 minutes.

4. In a saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil with garlic over medium heat and add onions, mushrooms, and currants. Sauté until softened.

5. Add spinach or chard, sea salt, dry herbs, and balsamic vinegar. Let sit for a few minutes so that flavours combine.

6. Place cooked farro into a large bowl, add olive oil, butternut squash, and onion, mushroom, spinach mixtures, and stir everything in.

7. Add walnuts and crumbled goat cheese.

Marni Wasserman is a culinary nutritionist in Toronto whose philosophy is stemmed around whole foods. She is dedicated to providing balanced lifestyle choices through natural foods. Using passion and experience, she strives to educate individuals on how everyday eating can be simple and delicious.  

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