If you have heard grains don’t belong in a standard diet regimen, you have been deceived. According to Mayo Clinic, whole grains are an extremely important part of a healthy diet. For most people, they provide more benefits than risks. And as long as you know the difference between “good” grains and “bad” grains, you don’t have to say goodbye to bread, pasta, or rice. Rejoice!
Once you know the difference between healthy and unhealthy grains — and the healthiest of them all — you can actually add loads of nutrition to every meal. Here’s why whole grains matter, the best ones you can buy, and how they will improve your life.
Why do people say grains are bad?
There’s a lot of confusion surrounding grains. Some people call them out for contributing too many unnecessary carbohydrates to your diet. Many even go as far as blaming calories, starch, and gluten for the rise in a number of chronic diseases.
The truth is, too many misunderstand the difference between whole grains — the food — and foods made with processed flour. While it’s true that many processed foods are high in sugar and grossly unhealthy — and also happen to contain grains — not all grains belong on the “do not eat” list.
In fact, a diet without whole grains might even put your health at risk.
There’s more than one type of grain. Even though many grains aren’t healthy, whole grains themselves are some of the healthiest foods you can eat.
Here’s a deeper look at the three main types of grains — and why only one of them belongs on your grocery shopping list.
These are the least healthy forms of grains you can find. These grains start out as whole grains, but go through a type of food processing that removes the most nutritious parts of every grain. Refined grains lack fiber and many beneficial vitamins and minerals.
Manufacturers mostly refine their grains to give their products a smooth texture and extend their shelf life. White breads, white pasta, white rice, and anything else made with white flour falls under the refined grain umbrella. Many of your favorite processed junk foods, like cookies, crackers, and pastries, contain white flour as a core ingredient.
These are refined grains with many nutrients added back in after stripping the original grain of its nutrition. While these types of grains might technically provide more health benefits than non-enriched refined grains, many of their nutrients disappear when further processed.
Like refined grains, enriched and fortified grains (enriched grains with extra vitamins and minerals added in) lack fiber. This is actually one of the major reasons whole grains provide the most health benefits compared to both types of refined grains.
Whole grains are as close to the originally harvested grain as you can get. You might also call them complete grains, because they aren’t missing any of their core components. All the nutrition they had before harvesting is still there. Plus, whole grains are rich in fiber, as well as nutrients like magnesium and potassium — important things refined grains don’t have.
You will find whole grains sold as their own product, like brown rice, or as ingredients in other, much healthier products, like whole grain instant oatmeal or quinoa burgers. You still have to purchase with caution, as food labeling can make some processed foods’ whole grain “status” confusing. But we’ll get to that toward the end of this article.
For now, let’s look at some of the healthiest whole grains out there — and why you need to start eating them now, if you haven’t already.
When you have the option to choose between white rice and brown rice, chances are, you choose white. It has a different texture and taste. It’s also easier to add your own flavors to white rice, since it’s often rather plain when you eat it by itself.
Unfortunately, white rice consists of refined grains. That’s why its texture is a little smoother than brown rice — it’s been milled for that exact purpose. As much as you might love white rice with your orange chicken, you’re missing out on a ton of benefits white rice simply does not offer.
Switching from white to brown rice can make a huge difference in your health, though. Brown rice provides very few calories per cooked cup. You can substitute it into a number of dishes to make them healthier, since it’s loaded with fiber and rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals. It’s also gluten-free.
This grain contains small amounts of calories and a huge dose of fiber. It doesn’t take as long to cook as other grains, so it’s a very convenient cooking staple in your home kitchen. Bulgur actually isn’t as unfamiliar as it might seem. It comes from a grain you’ve eaten plenty of times in your life before.
When you look for bulgur at the store, you’ll find it labeled as “bulgur wheat.” That’s right — bulgur and wheat share a very close connection. To make bulgur, you actually simmer and bake whole wheat kernels. Therefore, while this grain provides many health benefits, it’s not safe for everyone. Avoid bulgur if you are allergic to wheat or cannot eat gluten (found in wheat and wheat products).
Pronounced keen-wah, this grain has all but taken over the grain craze — and that’s fine. It’s much healthier than your average packet of instant oatmeal or bowl full of white rice. Like many other whole grains, it’s extremely versatile. You can find ways to incorporate it into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even a host of healthy snacks.
Spelt’s health benefits make it worth a taste. It has the potential to boost your immunity, strengthen your bones, lower your cholesterol, and improve your digestion. Most of the things you can make with wheat flour, you can make with spelt. This includes bread, biscuits, pancakes, waffles, and even pizza crust.
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