These days, it seems grains get a bad rap. Between the gluten-free movement and the persistence of low-carb, high-protein diets, people are swearing off grains left and right. The purpose of this article is not to debate the relevancy and efficacy of those diets or trends. The purpose is to give the whole grain back its glory. It’s time to start thinking outside the whole wheat bread, and try a bowl of the most powerful grains you’ve probably never heard of.
One of the world’s oldest grains, barley’s claim to fame is its extraordinary fiber content in comparison to other whole grains. Diets high in fiber have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and obesity. Whole grain barley is also often touted for its high levels of antioxidants.
This grain was first cultivated by the Aztecs in Mexico and has many distinctive properties that set it apart from other whole grains. The first is its high protein content. It’s also the only grain thought to contain vitamin C. High levels of calcium, iron and potassium round out its health benefits.
Despite its name, buckwheat is not a relative of traditional wheat. Extremely high levels of amino acids top the many reasons this grain makes a perfect addition to anyone’s diet. The triangle-shaped grains also boast high levels of important minerals such as iron, copper and zinc.
This small yellow grain packs a big nutritional punch, especially when it comes to the essential mineral magnesium. Millet, revered in many Asian cultures, is also thought to reduce inflammation and to contain many antioxidants.
A recent superstar in the culinary scene, the hype surrounding quinoa is not undeserved. It is known as the only plant food that offers complete protein qualities. Additionally, quinoa contains a surprising amount of potassium, iron and vitamin B.
Possibly the smallest grain on our list, teff is about the size of a poppy seed. However, contained in this small package is a large amount of calcium, among other minerals and vitamins. An important note for vegetarians and vegans, teff is one of the best plant-based sources of iron and calcium.
Why the Whole Thing Matters
When eating grains, getting the whole thing matters—a lot. There are three parts to a grain: the germ, the endosperm and the bran. Processed, non-whole grains are often made only of the starchy endosperm, leaving out the fibrous bran and the nutrient-packed germ. The only way to ensure you’re getting all the goodness is to eat the whole thing!