Whether for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, whole grains are recommended by health professionals as a crucial component of a healthy diet for men and women, young and old. People are increasingly aware that fruits and vegetables contain disease-ﬁghting phytochemicals and antioxidants, but many don’t realize whole grains are often an even better source of these key nutrients. The medical evidence is clear that whole grains reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Few foods can oﬀer such diverse beneﬁts. People who eat whole grains regularly have a lower risk of obesity, as measured by their body mass index and waist-to-hip ratios. They also have lower cholesterol levels.
But we don’t just love whole grains for their health beneﬁts — we also love them for their richly complex ﬂavors and textures. With countless whole grain options, varieties, and blends out there, the recipe possibilities are endless!
To get you hungry for Whole Grains Month in September, we asked our “Nutrition Expert Squad” the following question: What is your favorite unsung hero in the grain world, why do you love it, and what’s your best recipe that uses it? Here’s what they said.
Ask the Experts, Whole Grains Edition
Old is Gold. I love old-fashioned rolled oats. Oatmeal is often thought of as a boring breakfast food, but that is so far from the truth. It’s super versatile, works hot or cold, and pairs well with a variety of diﬀerent ﬂavors. You can make savory oats, sweet oats, hot oats, or cold oats. My favorite recipe is Nutty Chocolate Overnight Oats (courtesy photo below). Overnight oats are the perfect make-ahead meal, saving me time come morning. This recipe includes plain Greek yogurt for a protein boost, unsweetened coconut ﬂakes for a sweet taste without the added sugar, and peanut butter for some healthy fat. The combination of ﬁber from the oats, protein from the yogurt, and fat from the nuts and nut butter keeps me full for hours.
– Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, alissarumsey.com
Whole Grain Medley. I love farro and quinoa! There is always a batch of one of these super nutritious and delicious grains in my refrigerator. A simple fried egg or two over a whole grain is beyond delicious and a super satisfying, high ﬁber, high protein way to start the day. Beyond breakfast, I clean out my vegetable drawer and add a variety of colorful sautéed veggies, a sprinkle of feta cheese, chopped toasted nuts, and/or dried fruits like cranberries to make whole grain medleys that are a perfect side dish or stand alone with some added plant (beans or tofu) or lean animal protein (grilled shrimp or chicken). Change your habits, try a new whole grain instead of white rice, and you will be pleasantly surprised at the deliciousness.
– Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, director of nutrition for WebMD, webmd.com/kathleen-m-zelman
A Super Grain. Sorghum is popping up everywhere, but many are unfamiliar with this super grain. Sorghum is a whole grain grown in America that is a plant-based protein, a good source of ﬁber, high in antioxidants and naturally gluten-free! It has a neutral, nutty taste that absorbs the ﬂavors and spices of any recipe. Explore the versatility of sorghum with this Risotto Style Sorghum and Mushroom recipe (courtesy photo below).
– Kathy Siegel, MS, RDN, CDN, Managing Partner & Communications Director, Triad to Wellness Consulting, triadtowellness.com
Protein Party. Lately my favorite whole grain is amaranth. Not only is it packed with protein but just 1 cooked cup delivers 9 grams of stick-to-your ribs protein. That’s more than you’d get from an egg or even a glass of milk. I also love that it’s a good source of calcium, something you don’t often ﬁnd in a whole grain. My favorite way to make it is as a hot cereal for breakfast. Simply cook ¼ cup of amaranth plus a pinch of cardamom or cinnamon in 1 cup of milk for 20 to 25 minutes, then top it with a giant handful of blueberries or sliced strawberries.
– Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, author of the Healing Superfoods for Anti-Aging: Stay Younger, Live Longer (Hearst, 2017), karenansel.com
A Little Bit Nutty. My favorite grain is farro, hands down. It’s become more trendy, so I don’t think of it as unsung, per se, but many people I talk to about it still don’t know what it is, so it needs to become “more sung”! I love its lovely chew and nutty ﬂavor, and it’s my go-to for grain-based salads, dressed in some sort of olive oil-based vinaigrette, with some cheese and nuts for extra protein, texture and ﬂavor, plus lots of greens and herbs. Try out my recipe for Farro and Arugula Salad with Pistachios (courtesy photo below).
– Carrie Dennett, MPH, RDN, CD, nutrition therapist at Menu for Change, nutrition columnist for Seattle Times, nutritionbycarrie.com
Triple Threat. Who knew that popcorn was a whole grain, and provides 5 grams of tummy-ﬁlling ﬁber for only 100 calories, the equivalent of 5 cups popped? This warm and cozy, crunchy snack is perfect to ﬁght the afternoon hungry horrors. Bonus Tip: If you can entice everyone in your oﬃce to synchronize their afternoon microwave popcorn popping, your oﬃce would smell ridiculously delicious. Double Bonus Tip: Purchase the 100-calorie snack pack to control your calories, or share a larger bag with your co-workers.
– Joan Salge Blake, MS, RDN, LDN, clinical associate professor for Boston University, salge-blake.blogspot.com
No Holds Bar(ley). I remember barley as the hearty soul of the vegetable-ﬁlled Scotch Broth my grandmother made when we visited her in Dundee, Scotland when I was a child. Now barley has added hip to its healthy reputation! It’s one of the gluten-containing grains, so should be avoided by those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, but for the majority of folks barley is a great source of dietary ﬁber that’s so important for good health. Its chewy texture and nutty ﬂavor are welcome in soups and stews, but it also shines as a key ingredient in this grain-based salad below. Enjoy with a green side salad.
– Carolyn O’Neil, MS, RDN, Author, The Slim Down South Cookbook (Oxmoor House), carolynoneil.com
BONUS RECIPE: Barley Pine Nut Salad
Makes 4 servings
Hands-On 25 min.
Total 40 min.
2 cups reduced-sodium fat-free chicken broth
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking barley
¾ cup chopped jarred roasted red bell peppers
1 small cucumber, diced
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
¾ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. table salt
½ tsp. black pepper
2 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted
2 Tbsp. crumbled feta cheese
1. Bring 2 cups chicken broth to a boil in a 2-qt. saucepan; stir in barley. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until barley is tender. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Drain well.
2. Combine cooked barley, roasted red bell peppers, and next 3 ingredients in a large bowl.
3. Whisk together lemon juice and next 4 ingredients. Drizzle over barley mixture, tossing to coat. Sprinkle evenly with toasted pine nuts and crumbled feta cheese; serve immediately.
To make it a Brown Rice-Pine Nut Salad: Substitute 1 cup brown rice for barley. Increase broth to 2¼ cups, and increase cooking time to 45 minutes. Proceed as directed.
Serving size 1 ⅛ cups CALORIES 314; FAT 11.8g (sat 2.3g, mono 6.5g, poly 2.4g); PROTEIN 8.5g; CARB 44.8g; FIBER 9.4g; CHOL 7mg; IRON 2.1mg; SODIUM 483mg; CALC 67mg
Recipe from The Slim Down South Cookbook by Carolyn O’Neil.
Spice Up Your Stir Fry: I love to use farro or wheat berries because they’re so rich in protein, ﬁber, and nutrients, plus so crunchy and versatile. My favorite thing to do is use either in a grain salad, or as a substitute for brown rice in a stir fry. I also love quinoa because it is so quick-cooking and versatile. This is my go-to for sprinkling in salads, side-dishes, and burgers. Here’s a recipe featuring quinoa: Pomegranate Avocado Quinoa Salad (courtesy photo below).
– Sharon Palmer, RDN, The Plant-Powered Dietitian, author of Plant-Powered for Life, sharonpalmer.com
Middle Eastern Flavors. I love Middle Eastern food, all the time! As a way of blending grains with vegetables, I have substituted quinoa for pasta. This is one of my favorite dishes: Combine one part cooked quinoa with one part cooked kasha (buckwheat), add a LOT of diced mushrooms, and ﬁnely chopped onions (or onion ﬂakes). Add a few tbs of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and put in a covered casserole dish in the oven at 350° for 20 min. This dish is loaded with ﬁber, ﬂavor, and leftovers can be frozen for consumption at a later time.
– Dr. Felicia D. Stoler, DCN, MS, RDN, FACSM, FAND, Nutritionist & Exercise Physiologist, America’s Health & Wellness Expert™, feliciastoler.com
Oldie but a Goodie. I’m torn on whether oats could be considered an unsung hero in the grain world. They’re as common as anything but because of that, I think people forget just how good oats are for us. Often in the shadow of quinoa and other ancient grains, oats may not get its well-deserved praise. My current favorite recipe is this Peanut Butter Banana Breakfast Cookies (courtesy photo below).
– Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, Contributing Editor, Food & Nutrition Magazine, marisamoore.com
So Much Goodness. Even though quinoa is treated like a grain, it’s a seed, so it’s naturally gluten free. What’s unique about quinoa, is that for a “grain” or seed, it’s one of the few plant-based sources of all 9 essential amino acids, making it what is called a “complete protein.” Amongst the many health beneﬁts held by quinoa, this food has anti-inﬂammatory properties, it contains heart-healthy omega 3 fatty acids, it’s rich in ﬁber, phosphorus, manganese, copper, and magnesium. Quinoa is prepared similarly to rice, but cooks much quicker and it can be added to salads, soups, stews, and you can use its ﬂour to make dense breads. Try my recipe for Quinoa Veggie Confetti.
– Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, Founder of BetterThanDieting.com and author of Read It Before You Eat It, betterthandieting.com
A New Kind of Noodle. Hailing from Japan, soba noodles are made from buckwheat, have a mild nutty ﬂavor, and are gluten-free. They’re another food to add to your whole grain repertoire and a fun way to make half your daily grains whole. Further, buckwheat contains the antioxidant rutin, which has been shown to help lower cholesterol. Try my delicious nutty soba noodle recipe below.
– Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN media spokesperson & author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day, contributor to FoodNetwork.com, US News & World Report, Today’s Dietitian Magazine, Mensﬁtness.com, tobyamidornutrition.com
BONUS RECIPE: Soba Noodle Salad with Peanut Sauce
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 8 minutes
8 ounces soba (buckwheat) noodles
1 cup frozen shelled edamame
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons natural creamy peanut butter
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon ﬁsh sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
3 tablespoons nonfat plain Greek yogurt
1 medium carrot
½ medium red bell pepper
½ English cucumber
¼ cup chopped fresh scallions
1. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. When the water is boiling, add the soba noodles and cook for 5 minutes. Add the edamame and cook until the soba noodles are tender, about 3 minutes more. Drain the noodles and edamame in a colander and rinse under cold water. Place in a large bowl and set aside to cool.
2. Mince the garlic. In a large bowl, combine the minced garlic, ⅓ cup water, the peanut butter, lime juice, ﬁsh sauce, and Sriracha. Stir until smooth. Add the yogurt and stir until well combined. Add ½ cup of this peanut dressing to the soba noodles. Toss with tongs to coat evenly.
3. Peel and grate the carrot. Chop the red bell pepper, cucumber, and scallion (both white and green parts). Combine in a medium bowl.
4. Spoon ⅔ cup of dressed soba noodles into each of 4 bowls. Top each with ½ cup of the vegetable mixture, and then drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the remaining peanut dressing. Garnish each bowl with 1 tablespoon of the chopped cilantro.
Serving size: 1 bowl
Nutrition information (per serving): Calories: 331; Total Fat: 8 grams; Saturated Fat: 1 gram; Protein: 17 grams; Total Carbohydrates: 53 grams; Sugars: 4 grams; Fiber: 3 grams; Cholesterol: 0 milligrams; Sodium: 626 milligrams
Recipe from The Greek Yogurt Kitchen by Toby Amidor. Copyright© 2014 by Toby Amidor. Used with permission by Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy of Hollan Publishing.
A Winning Texture. I like farro. I think it has a unique texture and it really satisﬁes. Here’s a recipe I like with it: Farro, Cranberry, and Goat Cheese Salad, a healthy whole grain salad with sweet-tart dried cranberries and goat cheese, tossed with a tangy vinaigrette. You can make this salad ahead of time and refrigerate it but just allow it to come to room temperature before serving.
– Julie Upton, MS, RD, CSSD, Appetite for Health, co-author of 101 Fat Habits & Slim Solutions, appforhealth.com
A Non-Grain Fave. Buckwheat is a grass, rather than a true whole grain, and despite its name is wheat-free. Buckwheat has a nutty ﬂavor, is ﬁber-rich, and makes a great gluten-free alternative to oats. It also contributes to this rocking Buckwheat and Almond Teacake.
– Ellen Kanner, Soulful Vegan writer & recipe developer, author of Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner & e-book Beans: A Handful of Magic, Huﬃngton Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, soulfulvegan.com
Nutrition Meets Versatility. While hardly an unsung hero nowadays, quinoa is one of my favorites, not only due to its top notch nutritional proﬁle but also because of its versatility. It’s packed with an array of nutrients including protein, ﬁber and anti-inﬂammatory compounds and tastes great in all kinds of cuisines. My ﬁrst taste of quinoa was a Citrus Quinoa Salad (courtesy photo below), introduced to me by a chef in South Beach over 20 years ago. The recipe is still in my repertoire.
– Rosie Schwartz, RD, author of The Enlightened Eater’s™ Whole Foods Guide : Harvest the Power of Phyto Foods, contributor for Parents Canada, Diabetes Dialogue, rosieschwartz.com