Next time you go shopping, help keep your family healthy by choosing whole grains over refined grains. Whole grains (such as buckwheat, brown rice, hominy and oatmeal) are more nutritious than refined grains because they contain the fiber-rich outer bran layer, the nutrient-packed germ and the starchy endosperm. Refined grains (such as white bread, white pasta and white rice) contain mostly the endosperm.
In the past, whole grains were thought to provide mostly fiber to promote digestive and heart health, but newer research has revealed that they provide additional vitamins and minerals, plus high levels of antioxidants and other healthy plant-based nutrients. No matter which whole grain you prefer, make sure the ingredient list includes whole grains or that the label reads "100-percent whole grain."
Gluten-free amaranth is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids in proportions that humans need, including lysine which other grains tend to lack. Additionally, it's a good source of minerals such as iron, magnesium and zinc. In South America, amaranth is popped like miniature popcorn. Most kids love pasta, and amaranth can be used as a substitute for couscous or orzo. Use amaranth flour to make tasty baked goods such as zucchini bread, carrot cake or banana nut muffins and pancakes.
Barley is a fiber powerhouse. Hulled barley has more fiber-rich bran than pearled barley, but both contain beta-glucan soluble fiber that slows the absorption of glucose, and helps to keep blood sugar levels stable, thus providing sustained energy throughout the day. Barley also contains selenium, a powerful antioxidant. Barley is great added to soups or used to make a pilaf. It can even be made into a hot breakfast cereal. Hulled barley will take more time to cook than pearled barley, about 50 to 60 minutes.
Oats also contain beta-glucan fiber which can lower cholesterol and help strengthen the immune system. Oats boast polyphenol compounds that have antioxidant properties in laboratory studies. Besides the age-old favorite oatmeal for breakfast, oats can be added as a binder to meatloaf and burgers. Oats also work well in baked goods including oatmeal cookies, as a crunchy topping to crisps and crumbles, and even in casserole dishes.
Like amaranth, quinoa contains all nine essential amino acids in the proper portions and is gluten-free. Moreover, quinoa is an excellent source of magnesium and a good source of zinc, iron and folate. And, quinoa is easy to make. While not required, toasting quinoa before boiling it in liquid enhances flavor, as does cooking it in vegetable broth. Quinoa can be made in a rice cooker, as well. Before cooking, use a fine mesh strainer to rinse the quinoa to remove compounds called saponins that can give the quinoa a bitter taste. Quinoa is fun for kids because it pops in the mouth when chewed and comes in several colors: beige, red, black and even purple. Mix quinoa with beans or nuts for a tasty side dish, or add to salads and stir-fries.
Gluten-free teff, like amaranth and quinoa, is a grain that is a good source of protein. Teff is especially rich in thiamin (a B vitamin), and also is a good source of fiber, iron and magnesium. Teff grains are tiny and have a mild nutty flavor. It's an indispensable grain in Ethiopia where it's used to make the traditional flat bread, injera, and now it's grown in several areas of the United States. Cook the grain into a creamy hot cereal or a tasty polenta. You also can mix teff with veggies for a side dish.