There are many health benefits of whole grains, from increased energy to brain health. In addition to being nutritious, they’re delicious and versatile, too. Here are just 10 of the many reasons to include whole grains in your diet, along with some of my favorite vegan recipes.
With people following the keto and Paleo diets, carbohydrates have been getting a bad rap in recent years. Not all carbs are equal, and I find it unfair to grains like brown rice and quinoa that they get lumped in to the same category as highly processed, sugary breakfast cereal and stale, packaged cupcakes. Despite what their ad executives would like you to believe, those little “o” shaped pieces of cereal are not whole grains! The whole grain category includes include foods such as quinoa, brown rice, barley, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, wheat berries and spelt berries.
The truth is that whole grains have been a main part of the human diet since early civilization, and it’s believed that whole grains were responsible for brain growth in early humans. When it was discovered that grain crops could be harvested and eaten throughout cold weather months, people were able to settle down and create farming communities. Each region had their own staple grain: corn in the Americas, rice in Asia, sorghum in Africa, and buckwheat in Russia. In the Middle East, people made pita bread, tabouli and couscous from wheat. Europe had corn, millet, wheat, rice, pasta, and dark breads.
There are many health benefits of whole grains. Below are just a few reasons why they should be part of your diet.
Some of the Many Health Benefits of Whole Grains Include:
The body absorbs the nutrients in grains slowly, so they provide sustained and high-quality energy and help regulate blood sugar.
Whole grains are high in dietary fiber, so they will keep the body “regular” and help flush out toxins. Studies have shown that grains can contribute to gastrointestinal health.
While the vitamin content varies from grain to grain, most are high in Vitamin E and B-Complex vitamins.
The mineral content also varies from grain to grain, but they can be high in iron, magnesium, selenium zinc, potassium, and calcium.
Most grains are high in protein. In fact, quinoa contains all eight essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. Half a cup contains 11 grams of protein!
The brain has a very high rate of metabolism, and its main source of energy is glucose from carbohydrate rich foods like whole grains.
The fiber in whole grains can help you feel full with very little calories. Some of the B vitamins found in grains, such as thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin, play a key role in metabolism, as they help the body release energy.
The B vitamins found in whole grains are essential for a healthy nervous system.
New studies show that carbohydrates are important for the body’s microbiome – the flora that lives our guts, which keeps the body healthy. Carbohydrates act as a prebiotic and feed the beneficial bacteria.
Studies have shown that the fiber found whole grains may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
How to Cook Whole Grains
When cooking heartier grains, such as rice or barely, it’s a good idea to place them in a colander and check them for small stones and debris, and then rinse them with cold water. You can soak heartier in water before cooking them, but it’s not a necessity. Soaking them will soften them, which helps with digestibility and may shorten cooking times.
To cook grains, add them along and water needed to a pot over medium-high heat and bring it to a boil. A general rule is that you need twice as much water as grain, but check the package to be sure. Once the water has boiled, lower the heat to medium-low, place the lid on the pot, and allow to simmer until all of the water has been absorbed and the grains are tender. Once the grains are cooked, turn off the heat and allow them to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Use a fork to fluff them before serving.
To infuse more flavor in your grains, you can add a little salt to the cooking water in the beginning. You can also add bay leaves, garlic cloves, and spices to the water. I like to throw a bouillon cube or two into the cooking water when I’m making rice or quinoa.
In general, a grain will double, or sometimes triple, once it’s cooked. So a cup of dry brown rice will cook up to about 3 cups of cooked rice.
Some of my favorite Whole Grain Recipes Include:
Grains are extremely versatile and can be enjoyed at any meal. Try overnight oats for breakfast, a quinoa salad for lunch, and how about fried rice for dinner?
This the perfect breakfast for busy weekdays, and it does double duty as dessert, too!
You may be tempted to sleep in on chilly autumn mornings, but a warm and cozy bowl of baked oatmeal will make getting out of bed a little easier.
This flavorful vegan spring recipe is terrific for either lunch or dinner.
This salad is also made with farro, but it has a fall feel.
This dish makes for a delicious light meal in the warmer months. It’s always a hit at potlucks!
This vegan Super Quinoa Burger from The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet by Joni Marie Newman is super in many ways – it’s super easy to make, super delicious, and super nutritious!
Made with tomatoes and onions, Vegan Spanish Rice is an excellent side dish for just about any meal. Homemade Spanish rice is so much tastier than boxed, and it comes together with just a few ingredients and minimal effort.
Loaded with vegetables, flavorful dish comes together quickly, making it a great dinner option for busy weeknights!
This is a healthy twist on shepherd’s pie, with whole grains taking the place of mashed potatoes in the crust.
This is the ultimate in comfort food for chilly winter evenings.
If you’re looking for more vegan whole grain recipes, check out The Great Vegan Grains Book by Celine Steen and Tamasin Noyes.