CURRENT ISSUE:  OCTOBER 2023

Fitness Dr.: Top 10 Healthiest Grains

By Dr. Frederick Peters

Regardless of what people on the “keto” diet think, grains are an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Whole grains provide us with essential vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates that fuel our muscles and brain with energy. But not all grains are created equal.

There are whole grains (those that still contain the bran, germ, and endosperm), and refined grains (in which the bran and germ have been removed, leaving just the high-carb endosperm behind).

While refined grains—white rice, fluffy white bread, sugary breakfast cereals, and so on provide almost no health benefits to your body, whole grains tend to be high in many nutrients, like fiber, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, phytonutrients, and more. However, there is quite a bit of discrepancy in the health benefits of various whole grains. Some whole grains (like corn or brown rice) are still lacking in nutrient density compared to others, such as oats and barley.

Top 10 Healthiest Grains

Barley
Barley is traditionally served in soups, salads, grain bowls, and more. It contains a higher amount of dietary fiber than any of the other grain, plus it has an array of phytochemicals and the soluble fiber beta-glucan. These antioxidants may help to reduce bad cholesterol and build immunity.

A quarter cup of uncooked hulled barley is 160 calories, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams dietary fiber, and 6 grams protein. It is also high in manganese, selenium, and thiamine (a B vitamin).

Quinoa
This South American grain typically cooks in just 15 minutes, which makes it a much-loved ingredient for those who meal prep. Quinoa is super nutritious, too: It’s a source of complete vegetable protein because it contains all essential amino acids. It also contains fewer carbohydrates and more protein in comparison to other grains. Quinoa is also high in magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and folic acid.

A quarter cup of uncooked quinoa is 170 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, and 6 grams protein. Mix some quinoa with sweet potatoes, kale, and pesto for a nutritious meal.

Amaranth
Amaranth is a gluten-free whole grain. The protein content of amaranth is higher than both buckwheat and rye. It has phytochemicals and is high in magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous.

A quarter cup of amaranth is 200 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, and 7 grams protein.

Buckwheat
This gluten-free whole grain is typically eaten as cereal (kasha), used in Japanese noodles (soba noodles) and in granola, pancakes, or crepes. It contains antioxidants that are associated with the prevention of cancer and heart disease. Buckwheat is also high in soluble fiber: Not all of the grain is digestible, which may help improve blood cholesterol and manage blood glucose.

A quarter cup uncooked is 160 calories, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of protein, and 4 grams of dietary fiber. Buckwheat is also high in magnesium, copper, and manganese.

Teff
Teff is one of the highest protein grains, alongside amaranth. It’s gluten-free, and an excellent source of iron and magnesium. Teff is also a solid source of fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, and vitamin B6, and can provide over 100 percent of daily value of manganese.
A quarter cup of uncooked teff is 180 calories, 35 grams of carbs, 4 grams dietary fiber, and 6 grams protein.

Oats
Oats contain polyphenols, which act as antioxidants and are a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. They are also high in beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and may reduce the risk of some type of cancers. Oats also may help lower blood pressure. They’re a good source of fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, thiamin, manganese, and selenium. Oats are naturally gluten-free.

Farro
Farro is a well-known grain in Italy and the Mediterranean. There are two main types: Traditional farro (that isn’t processed) and pearled farro (that’s processed to make it quicker to cook). The flavor is nutty, chewy, and hearty. The fiber-rich grain can be prepared in salads, soups, or in place of rice.
A quarter cup of uncooked dry farro is 200 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, and 2 grams of protein.

Bulgur
Most people know bulgur as the main ingredient in tabbouleh salad. It’s high in fiber and manganese, and is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, and niacin.

A quarter cup uncooked is 160 calories, 27 grams of carbs, 4 grams dietary fiber, and 4 grams protein.

Millet
This gluten-free Asian grain is used in porridge, to make congee, and stir-fried dishes. Millet is high in antioxidants, high in manganese, and is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, thiamin, and niacin.

A quarter cup uncooked millet is 210 calories, 37 grams of carb, 4 grams dietary fiber, and 6 grams protein.

Wild Rice
Despite its name, this isn’t rice, but an aquatic grass seed. Wild rice grows naturally along waterways in almost every state in the U.S. It gives you twice the protein and fiber of brown rice. It also packs whopping 30 times more antioxidant power than white rice.

*Dr. Peters is the founder of “The Fitness Doctor” (www.thefitnessdoctors.com). He has a Ph.D. in Physiology from Kent State University and is a certified member of the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Peters was born and raised in the Cleveland area and is a graduate of St. Ignatius High School and John Carroll University. He can be reached at [email protected].

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