Grains are small, dry, hard seeds that consist of bran, a germ, and endosperm that is considered a whole-food plant food;
The bran is the outer layer and is rich in fiber.
The germ is the inner layer and is rich in nutrients.
The endosperm is the bulk of the kernel and contains some of the vitamins and minerals.
There are 2 main types of grain crops; cereals & legumes. (NB: In this blog, I have focused on cereals, as legumes deserve their own story)
Bored with oats, rice and potatoes? Try some of these grain alternatives, which can be found in your local food or health shop:
Amaranth - the caviar grain from Aztec culture known as the 'food gifted from God'. A gluten free product. Health bonus: Amaranth has a high level of very complete protein; its protein contains lysine, an amino acid missing or negligible in many grains. Furthermore, about 65g of raw product provides about 250 calories. It is rih in manganese, magnesium iron & selenium. It also contains phytochemicals e.g. polyphenols, saponins, tannins and oxalates. All super stuff for your feel good.
Barley - this grass is often used in soups and we also know it as a beverage, barley water. Traditionally from Egyption times, it contains protein, fiber, B vitamins (niacin & B6). Rich in minerals such as manganese and phosphorus. Per 100g serving the calorie content is about 78% carbohydrate, 10% protein, 1% fat and 10% water. Takes longer to cook than other grains due to hard exterior husk.
Buckwheat - is common in Asia and more related to the rhubarb plant than cereals or grasses. Apart from buckwheat pancakes they are used to make soba noodles. Health bonus: Buckwheat is the only grain known to have high levels of an antioxidant called rutin, and studies show that it improves immune system, circulation and prevents LDL cholesterol (bad!) from blocking blood vessels. It is a rich source of protein, fibre, B vitamins (niacin), minerals (magnesium, manganese & phosphorus). A 100g cooked serving provides 100 calories in the form 72% carbohydrates, 13% protein, 10% dietary fiber, and 3% fat.
Bulgar wheat - when wheat kernels are cleaned, boiled, dried, ground by a mill, then sorted by size, the result is bulgur. Traditionally used in Middle Eastern cooking e.g. to make tabbouleh (a minty, vegetable salad). It is the fast food of the cereals because it cooks quickly (10mins). It's health benefits include the fact that it is a super high fibre source.
Farro - is popular in Italy & Ethiopia, from a group of 3 wheat types (emmer, spelt, & einkorn). High in fibre & iron. Per 125g uncooked serving, expect about 200 calories. Total fa 1.5g, carbohydrate 37g, protein 7g. Plus Calcium.
Millet - a staple grain in India (e.g. roti and alcoholic beverages) and as a porridge in Germany, Russian & China. Health bonus: Millet is naturally high in protein and antioxidants, and can help control blood sugar and cholesterol. Per 100 gram raw serving, it provides about 370 calories and is a rich source of protein, fibre, B vitamins & minerals e.g. manganese. It contains 9% water, 73% carbohydrates, 11% protein and 4%fat.
Quinoa - a pseudocereal from the spinach family. Rich in protein, dietary fiber, Vitamin B's and minerals, more so than most other grains. It is gluten free. My favourite way to to cook it is with a bit of vegetable stock. It makes the basis of a delicious roast veg salad.
Spelt - a species of the wheat family, cultivated since bronze age as a staple ingredient. Spelt or hulled wheat flour can be used as a wheat alternative.
Teff - we eat the seeds of this cereal grass, native to Ethiopia are made into a flatbread as a staple part of diet. Similar to millet and quinoa but cooks faster. Per 100gm cooked teff provides 101 calories and is rich in protein and dietary fiber. It is also rich in manganese, Vitamin B1 (thiamin), iron, magnesium and zinc. It is a gluten free grain source.