Which Whole Grain Is Best?

Benefits and variety of whole grains

From amaranth to barley, to buckwheat and beyond, there are countless different whole grains to get acquainted with. Each whole grain has something slightly different to offer, with varying nutritional and culinary characteristics.

You can’t go wrong no matter which whole grain you eat. Asking which is the best whole grain is somewhat like asking which is the best fruit or best vegetable. They all offer different benefits, micronutrients, flavors and textures, so the healthiest diet will include a variety of whole grains from across the spectrum.

But if you’re curious about which whole grain is best for specific uses or needs, read our handy guide to learn more.

Millet: if you’re trying to reduce your environmental footprint

Millet has one of the lowest water requirements of any grain crop, making it a natural environmental champion. The reason that millet is particularly water efficient is that it’s a so-called “C4 plant,” which means it undergoes photosynthesis in a slightly different way than most other grain crops, resulting in less vapor losses. Millet is such an environmental superstar that the United Nations is declaring 2023 “the year of millets.”

In the United States and in Europe, most of the millet available at stores is proso millet, a small yellow grain that can be cooked fluffy (like rice) or sticky and creamy (like porridges). Proso millet is estimated to have one of the lowest water requirements of any crops, though hundreds of other types of millets exist, especially in Africa and Southeast Asia. If you’re new to millet, try it in a cozy banana millet breakfast porridge or in millet-cauliflower “mashed potatoes.”

Barley: if you’re trying to lower your cholesterol

Of all the whole grains, barley stands out as having one of the highest levels of fiber. Additionally, barley and oats are two grains with a special type of soluble fiber called beta-glucan fiber that can actually bind with cholesterol in your bloodstream and then help it exit the body. Randomized controlled trials (the “gold standard” of nutrition research) show that eating barley can significantly lower both total cholesterol and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.

To be sure you’re getting whole grain barley, look for the terms “hulless barley,” “hulled barley” or “whole grain barley,” or look for the Whole Grain Stamp. Pearled barley is not a whole grain since the pearling process removes much or all of its healthful bran layer.

Barley has a delightfully chewy bite, making it ideal in recipes like this Mediterranean eggplant and barley salad.

Brown rice: if you’re trying to save money

Brown rice is an affordable whole grain staple that feels at home in any number of cuisines. When conducting a supermarket audit comparing the cost of whole grains to their refined counterparts, we found that many brands don’t mark up the cost of brown rice at all when compared with white.

One strategy to maximize nutrition and cost savings is to make an affordable whole grain, like brown rice, the foundation of the meal, and then use more expensive ingredients, like meats, seafood or cheeses as a garnish.

Brown rice comes in a variety of different sizes (such as long grain or short grain), and you can even find brown rice versions of aromatic rice, such as jasmine or basmati. Get a feel for the culinary versatility of brown rice by trying recipes such as jollof rice with black-eyed peas, or spring pea and peanut paella.

Quinoa: if your doctor prescribed you a gluten-free diet

Most whole grains are naturally gluten-free, as gluten-forming proteins are only present in wheat, barley, rye and triticale. Some people are pleasantly surprised to find that a medically-prescribed gluten-free diet opens more doors than it closes, into a delicious world of gluten-free “ancient grains.”

For people who are new to a gluten-free diet, quinoa is a great place to start. The 2021 Whole Grains Consumer Insights Surveyfound that quinoa is one of the most popular gluten-free whole grains among consumers. It’s also increasingly available at fast casual restaurants and mainstream grocery stores. Try quinoa for yourself in a burrito bowl with chicken or in an arugula salad with quinoa, goat cheese and pistachios.

Bulgur: if you’re short on time

Cookbook author Maria Speck calls bulgur wheat an “ancient fast food.” Bulgur is pre-boiled wheat that has been cracked into smaller pieces and then dried, so that it cooks incredibly quickly. Bulgur can be ground into different levels of coarseness, but nearly all bulgur wheat can cook in less than 10 minutes. Best of all, the bran and germ do not get removed, meaning that bulgur is whole grain.

This classic tabbouleh recipe highlights just how quick and easy cooking with bulgur is. It also is a speedy, delightful side dish as-is, if you’re looking for a bed of whole grains to accompany chicken, fish or roasted vegetables. Bulgur also works well in recipes like halloumi stuffed peppers with bulgur, chickpeas and olives.

5 whole grains you should try:

— Millet.

— Barley.

— Brown rice.

— Quinoa.

— Bulgur.

More from U.S. News

Tips From Real People to Succeed on the Whole30 Diet

Mediterranean Eating Habits That Support Healthy Aging

DASH Diet Breakfast Ideas

Which Whole Grain Is Best? originally appeared on usnews.com

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