There’s a reason most of the food grown on Earth is grain– they are brimming with calories, are easy to grow, and are versatile in the kitchen. It’s easy to forget, but grains are actually seeds. Seeds are always the most calorically dense part of any plant, because these must support the continuing life of the next generation. Seed creation is the reason plants exist – to pass on their genes. No wonder they put so much energy into reproduction!
Grains compose the bulk of our diet – calorically speaking. A cup of quinoa, for example, provides 222 calories, whereas a cup of broccoli provides 54 calories. Because we get so much of our fuel from grains, it’s crucial to select healthy, wholesome grains to habitually eat.
Don’t get me wrong: fruits and vegetables are essential to a well rounded diet, filled with all sorts of great vitamins, minerals, and protein. It would be a stretch, though, to say you can get all your nutrition from them – you’d quite literally be eating constantly throughout the day. Let’s take a look at some of the healthiest grains to incorporate into your diet, and how they can positively affect your health.
This is one of the tastiest, most over looked grains in people’s kitchens. When cooked, quinoa becomes light and fluffy in a way that most other grains don’t. It’s flavor is also light, with a subtle nutty flavor that compliments almost any dish. Best of all, it cooks up in a quick 30 minutes, rather than hours for some other whole grains. You won’t have to plan for meals far in advance – just boil it up real quick, and you’re good to go.
Quinoa is also one of the healthiest grains you can eat. It’s most notable for the high protein content – 8 grams per cup. This is a great way to sneak some more protein in your diet, without going out of the way to find protein rich foods. Combine with beans for an ultimate protein punch. Quinoa also has 5 grams of dietary fiber, which improves digestion, lowers cholesterol, and has been shown to reduce the chances of developing some forms of cancer. Try to incorporate quinoa into your diet at least once a week to experience its health benefits.
If you tend to eat lots of white rice, try substituting it with brown rice. Brown rice is healthier for you, because it is less processed than white rice. White rice is the inner-most layer of seed in rice plants, with all the outer layers stripped away. These outer layers hold most of the valuable nutrition. Brown rice is less processed, leaving the outermost hull intact. As such, it holds onto all that good nutrition, and passes it on to your body when you consume it.
Brown rice has 5 grams of protein for every cooked cup, which is relatively high. It also has 4 grams of dietary fiber, and a good amount of vitamins B1 and B3. High levels of manganese, selenium, and manganese make brown rice a great purveyor of some essential nutrients that are often lacking in unhealthy diets.
If you’re in need of more calories in your diet, look no further. Oats pack away 607 calories in a 1 cup serving. This might be a deterrent for some people, but there are all sorts of nutrients that those 607 calories offer. That 1 cup of oats has 17 grams of dietary fiber – roughly 66% of the daily recommended intake. It also has 26 grams of protein, which is a huge amount. Add to the mix that is provides 41% of your iron for the day, and all those calories in oats seem to be worth it!
Oats are a great morning food. They’ll provide you with a substantial meal with relative ease, getting you out the door for another busy day on a full stomach. Not only will it give you the fuel you need to burn, it will give your body some of the essential nutrients it needs to optimize your health.
This is a fantastic grain that might add a little variation to some of your favorite meals. Barley has a rich nutty flavor that works with all sorts of meals, and has a chewy, almost pasta-like consistency. Because it is such a hearty grain, it can take up to 90 minutes to cook, so it’s not the most convenient food. That said, the extra effort is worth it – for that wonderful flavor and all the dense nutrients it provides.
One cup of barley has 6 grams of dietary fiber, 4 grams of protein, and healthy amounts of iron, copper, manganese, selenium and phosphorous. Not bad for 193 calories!
Millet is a fun grain that can be found in an array of colors – white, red, yellow, or gray. Mixed up, they make for great meal presentation. Millet grains are extremely small, and have a deeply savory flavor. Once boiled, they make for a great centerpiece on the plate, either whole or mashed. This is definitely a grain that will add some variety to your culinary life.
Millet is on the light side for grain, offering 207 calories per 1 cup serving. At 6 grams of protein, it offers a generous amount in few calories. It also has high levels of manganese, magnesium, phosphorous and dietary fiber, making it a well rounded grain to add to your diet.