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7 Healthy Grains to Boost Your Nutrient Intake

healthy grains

Healthy grains for side dishes add flavor variation to our meals and can help to make them more balanced and nutritious. The right choice of side dish can also act as a palate cleanser that helps to refresh the taste buds and prepare them for the next course. For example, a good bulgur wheat side dish can complement most fish or chicken entrees and add a touch of earthy flavor.

Grains are a staple food for many people around the world. They are a good source of carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Whole grains are especially nutritious, as they contain the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm.

Side dishes are an important part of any meal but can often be unhealthy. Many side dishes are high in simple carbohydrates or unhealthy fats. For example, a bowl of white rice is almost pure starch and has little nutritional value.

The solution is to find healthy alternatives for side dishes. In this post, we will look at 7 healthy grains that you can use in your meal planning to make delicious and nutritious side or main entree dishes.

What are Grains?

Grains are the seeds of grasses that are used for food. They are a good source of carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Grains are classified into two main types: whole grains and refined grains.

  • Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. The bran is the outer layer of the grain and is a good source of fiber. The germ is the inner part of the grain and is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. The endosperm is the middle layer of the grain and is a good source of carbohydrates.
  • Refined grains have had the bran and germ removed. This makes them softer and easier to digest, but it also removes many of the nutrients.

Whole grains are the healthiest choice for most people. They are a good source of fiber, which can help to regulate digestion and blood sugar levels. Whole grains are also a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, which are important for overall health.

Health Benefits of Grains 

Grains are a great source of carbohydrates and fiber. They are low in fat and calories, making them ideal for a healthy meal plan.

All whole grains contain three nutritious parts. The outer layer of the grain is called the bran, and it contains fiber, iron, B vitamins, and many other nutrients. Bran is a good source of soluble fiber, which helps lower blood cholesterol levels. 

The inner parts of the whole grains are germ and endosperm, which are rich in nutrients. Germ is rich in vitamins, healthy fats, and antioxidants, while the endosperm is rich in proteins, minerals, carbohydrates, and small bits of vitamins. 

Therefore, adding healthy whole grains to your meals is one of the great ways to ensure more nutrients and fiber in your diet. It’s the best way to ensure you are eating healthy meals.

Here are the 7 healthy grains:

Here are 7 healthy grains that are great to keep in your pantry and include in your meals:

1. Barley

Barley - healthy grains

Barley is a cereal grain that is grown in temperate climates around the world. It is one of the oldest cultivated grains and was one of the first to be domesticated in the Fertile Crescent.

Barley is a good source of fiber, protein, and vitamins. It is also a good source of beta-glucans, which are a type of soluble fiber that has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.

Barley is available in a variety of forms, including whole barley, pearled barley, and barley flakes. Whole barley is the most nutritious form of barley, but it takes longer to cook. Pearled barley has had the bran and germ removed, which makes it cook faster but also removes some of the nutrients. Barley flakes are made from whole barley that has been rolled into flakes.

Barley can be cooked like rice or pasta and used in a variety of dishes, such as soups, stews, pilafs, and salads. It can also be used to make bread, beer, and other beverages.

Here are some of the health benefits of barley:

  • High in fiber: Fiber helps to regulate digestion and can help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Good source of protein: Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue.
  • Contains vitamins and minerals: Barley is a good source of vitamins B1, B3, and magnesium.
  • May help lower cholesterol: Beta-glucans in barley have been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
  • May help regulate blood sugar levels: Barley can help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down glucose absorption into the bloodstream.

If you are looking for a healthy and versatile grain to add to your diet, barley is a good choice. It is a good source of nutrients and can be enjoyed in many different ways.

Here are some tips for cooking barley:

  • Rinse the barley before cooking to remove any excess bran.
  • Cook the barley in a pot of boiling water or broth until it is tender, about 45-60 minutes for whole barley, 20-30 minutes for pearled barley, and 10-15 minutes for barley flakes.
  • Drain the barley and fluff it with a fork before serving.

2. Bulgur Wheat

bulgur wheat

Bulgur wheat is a type of wheat that has been parboiled, dried and cracked. It is a whole grain, which means that it contains the bran, germ, and endosperm. Bulgur wheat is a good source of fiber, protein, and vitamins.

Bulgur wheat is available in three types: coarse, medium, and fine. Coarse bulgur wheat has the largest pieces and takes the longest to cook. Medium bulgur wheat has medium-sized pieces and cooks in about 15 minutes. Fine bulgur wheat has the smallest pieces and cooks in about 10 minutes.

Bulgur wheat can be used in a variety of dishes, such as salads, soups, stews, and pilafs. It can also be used to make kibbeh, a Middle Eastern dish made with bulgur wheat, ground meat, and spices.

Here are some of the health benefits of bulgur wheat:

  • High in fiber: Fiber helps to regulate digestion and can help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Good source of protein: Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue.
  • Contains vitamins and minerals: Bulgur wheat is a good source of vitamins B1, B3, and magnesium.
  • May help lower cholesterol: Soluble fiber in bulgur wheat has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
  • May help regulate blood sugar levels: Bulgur wheat can help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down glucose absorption into the bloodstream.

If you are looking for a healthy and versatile grain to add to your diet, bulgur wheat is a good choice. It is a good source of nutrients and can be enjoyed in many different ways.

Here are some tips for cooking bulgur wheat:

  • Rinse the bulgur wheat before cooking to remove any excess starch.
  • Cook the bulgur wheat in boiling water or broth until it is tender, about 10-15 minutes for coarse bulgur wheat, 15-20 minutes for medium bulgur wheat, and 20-25 minutes for fine bulgur wheat.
  • Drain the bulgur wheat and fluff it with a fork before serving.

3. Brown Rice

brown rice

Brown rice is a whole grain that is made from the whole rice kernel, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. It is a good fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals source.

Brown rice is a healthier choice than white rice, which has had the bran and germ removed. The bran and germ are the most nutrient-rich parts of the rice kernel.

Brown rice can be cooked like white rice and used in a variety of dishes, such as stir-fries, salads, and soups. It can also be used to make bread, pasta, and other baked goods.

Here are some of the health benefits of brown rice:

  • High in fiber: Fiber helps to regulate digestion and can help to lower cholesterol levels.
  • Good source of protein: Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue.
  • Contains vitamins and minerals: Brown rice is a good source of vitamins B1, B3, and magnesium.
  • May help lower cholesterol: Brown rice is a good source of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
  • May help regulate blood sugar levels: Brown rice can help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down glucose absorption into the bloodstream.

If you are looking for a healthy and versatile grain to add to your diet, brown rice is a good choice. It is a good source of nutrients and can be enjoyed in many different ways.

Here are some tips for cooking brown rice:

  • Rinse the brown rice before cooking to remove any excess bran.
  • Cook the brown rice in a pot of boiling water or broth until it is tender, about 30-40 minutes.
  • Drain the brown rice and fluff it with a fork before serving.

4. Quinoa

Quinoa

Quinoa is a seed that is often referred to as a “pseudocereal” because it is similar to grains but is botanically a seed. It is a good protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals source. Quinoa is also a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids.

Quinoa is available in white, red, and black varieties. White quinoa is the most common variety and has a mild flavor. Red quinoa has a slightly nutty flavor, while black quinoa has a stronger flavor.

Quinoa can be cooked like rice and used in a variety of dishes, such as salads, soups, stews, and pilafs. It can also be used to make breakfast cereals, veggie burgers, and desserts.

Here are some of the health benefits of quinoa:

  • High in protein: Quinoa is a good source of protein, which is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue.
  • High in fiber: Fiber helps to regulate digestion and can help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Contains vitamins and minerals: Quinoa is a good source of vitamins B2, B3, and magnesium.
  • May help lower cholesterol: Quinoa is a good source of soluble fiber, which has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
  • May help regulate blood sugar levels: Quinoa can help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down glucose absorption into the bloodstream.
  • May help improve heart health: Quinoa is a good source of magnesium, which is important for heart health.

If you are looking for a healthy and versatile grain to add to your diet, quinoa is a good choice. It is a good source of nutrients and can be enjoyed in many different ways.

Here are some tips for cooking quinoa:

  • Rinse the quinoa before cooking to remove any excess saponins, which can give it a bitter taste.
  • Cook the quinoa in boiling water or broth until it is tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  • Drain the quinoa and fluff it with a fork before serving.

5. Oats

oats - healthy grains

Oats are a whole grain that is a good source of fiber, protein, and vitamins. They are also a good source of beta-glucans, which are a type of soluble fiber that has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.

Oats are available in a variety of forms, including whole oats, rolled oats, and oat bran. Whole oats are the most nutritious form of oats, but they take longer to cook. Rolled oats have been steamed and flattened, which makes them cook faster but also removes some of the nutrients. Oat bran is the outer layer of the oat kernel and is a good source of fiber.

Oats can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. They can be cooked like rice or pasta and used in a variety of dishes, such as porridge, oatmeal, granola, and cookies.

Here are some of the health benefits of oats:

  • High in fiber: Fiber helps to regulate digestion and can help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Good source of protein: Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue.
  • Contains vitamins and minerals: Oats are a good source of vitamins B1, B5, and manganese.
  • May help lower cholesterol: Beta-glucans in oats have been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
  • May help regulate blood sugar levels: Oats can help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down glucose absorption into the bloodstream.
  • May help improve heart health: Oats are a good source of soluble fiber, which is important for heart health.

If you are looking for a healthy and versatile grain to add to your diet, oats are a good choice. They are a good source of nutrients and can be enjoyed in many different ways.

Here are some tips for cooking oats:

  • Rinse the oats before cooking to remove any excess bran.
  • Cook the oats in boiling water or milk until they are tender, about 5-10 minutes for rolled oats and 15-20 minutes for whole oats.
  • Add your favorite toppings, such as fruit, nuts, or seeds.

6. Millet

Millet - healthy grains

Millet is a small, gluten-free grain that is grown in warm climates around the world. It is a good source of fiber, protein, and vitamins.

There are many different types of millet, including pearl millet, finger millet, and foxtail millet. Pearl millet is the most common type of millet and is used to make flour, porridge, and beer. Finger millet is a type of millet that is grown in India and is used to make flatbreads and cakes. Foxtail millet is a type of millet that is grown in China and is used to make noodles and dumplings.

Millet can be cooked like rice and used in a variety of dishes, such as pilafs, soups, and stews. It can also be used to make breakfast cereals, granola, and bread.

Here are some of the health benefits of millet:

  • High in fiber: Fiber helps to regulate digestion and can help to lower cholesterol levels.
  • Good source of protein: Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue.
  • Contains vitamins and minerals: Millet is a good source of vitamins B6, magnesium, and phosphorus.
  • May help lower cholesterol: Soluble fiber in millet has been shown to lower cholesterol levels.
  • May help regulate blood sugar levels: Millet can help regulate blood sugar levels by slowing down glucose absorption into the bloodstream.
  • May help improve heart health: Millet is a good source of magnesium, which is important for heart health.

If you are looking for a healthy and gluten-free grain to add to your diet, millet is a good choice. It is a good source of nutrients and can be enjoyed in many different ways.

Here are some tips for cooking millet:

  • Rinse the millet before cooking to remove any excess bran.
  • Cook the millet in boiling water or broth until it is tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  • Drain the millet and fluff it with a fork before serving.

7. Farro

Farro healthy grains

Farro is an ancient grain that is related to wheat. It is a good source of fiber, protein, and vitamins. Farro is available in three varieties: whole, semi-pearled, and pearled. Whole farro has the bran and germ intact, while semi-pearled farro has the bran removed and pearled farro has the bran and germ removed and the endosperm polished.

Farro has a nutty flavor and chewy texture. It can be cooked like rice or pasta and used in a variety of dishes, such as salads, soups, and stews.

Here are some of the health benefits of farro:

  • High in fiber: Fiber helps to regulate digestion and can help to lower cholesterol levels
  • Good source of protein: Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle tissue.
  • Contains vitamins and minerals: Farro is a good source of vitamins B1, B3, and magnesium

If you are looking for a healthy and versatile grain to add to your diet, farro is a good choice. It is a good source of nutrients and can be enjoyed in many different ways.

Here are some tips for cooking farro:

  • Rinse the farro before cooking to remove any excess bran.
  • Cook the farro in a pot of boiling water or broth until it is tender, about 20-25 minutes for whole farro, 15-20 minutes for semi-pearled farro, and 10-15 minutes for pearled farro.
  • Drain the farro and fluff it with a fork before serving.

These are just a few of the many healthy grains that are available. When choosing grains, it is important to look for whole grains that are minimally processed. Whole grains are more nutritious than refined grains, which have had the bran and germ removed.

There are many ways to add healthy grains to your diet. You can enjoy them as a breakfast cereal, a side dish, or a main course. You can also add them to soups, salads, and stir-fries.

How to Prepare Grains

These are just a few of the many healthy grains that are available. When choosing grains, it is important to look for whole grains that are minimally processed. Whole grains are more nutritious than refined grains, which have had the bran and germ removed.

There are various ways of preparing and eating grain meals. Grains can be cooked in multiple ways, with different ingredients, and turned into several forms of dishes like porridge, pilafs, puddings, salads, stuffed vegetables, and much more.

Notably, whole grains can be cooked and eaten alone in basic recipes or used with other ingredients to boost fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients.

Many of these grains can be found online and at your local supermarket. They are pantry staples and will help you create healthy meals all the time.

Recipes ideas

These are just a few ideas to get you started. There are many other ways to enjoy healthy grains. So next time you are at the grocery store, be sure to pick up some whole grains and add them to your diet. Your health will thank you!

You can use any or all of the whole grains in your side dishes recipes based on your preference and availability of the grains. Lastly, always check how many calories you consume and ensure you serve a balanced diet.  

Sources:

Originally published on March 8, 2022. Revised and updated.

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