Whole grains are one of the most important food groups that everyone can consume, and no matter what you may have heard about grains being bad for you, the truth is that whole grains provide valuable sources of nutrients that our bodies need and depend on for optimal health.
Why Whole Grains Are Important for Health: Research Doesn’t Lie
Source: Aryut Tantisoontornchai/Shutterstock
Besides fruits and vegetables, no other food group has been shown to prevent and reverse disease through research as whole grains have. They contribute to a healthy heart, and satiety at meals through real, whole food fiber, and they’re packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and yes, even protein! Even just one to two servings a day of whole grains can provide exceptional health benefits making them well worth a place in our diets.
The Best Kinds of Whole Grains to Eat
Whole grains come in many forms, though. It’s always best to consume whole grains in their whole form versus processed forms like bread and flour. Our bodies digest whole forms of grains much slower than processed forms of flour (such as wheat flour), refined grains such as white rice, and products made from flour such as cereals, crackers, cookies, and similar products. Slower digestion renders whole grains better for blood sugar levels, our weight, digestion, and especially our satiety levels.
Gluten-Free Grain Goodness: 8 Tasty Options to Try!
Some of the best whole grains you can eat are those rich in amino acids which are the building blocks of protein. While wheat, barley, and rye are also full of protein, many gluten-free grains are as well — and they’re safe for anyone and everyone!
Check out these incredible gluten-free grains that are packed with protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and important minerals. Keep in mind that most of these grains below are “pseudo-grains”, which means that they are technically seeds, but they cook up just like grains and provide a similar nutrition profile. We’ve also included some true whole grains in this list too. All of these whole-grain options are delicious, healthy, and perfect to enjoy at any meal of the day!
Source: Zucchini Stuffed With Amaranth
Amaranth contains seven grams of protein in one small 1/4-cup serving making it the highest source of protein among all grains and pseudo-grains per serving. It’s also one of the best, anti-inflammatory sources of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, and it contains an array of other important minerals such as manganese and iron. All of these nutrients are vital for bone health, energy, strength, and a healthy nervous system.
Amaranth has a nutty, almost malt-like flavor and is incredibly tiny in size. It can be popped in a skillet for a crunchy treat or simply cooked into a creamy porridge just like oatmeal.
Popped Amaranth Cereal, Baked Zucchini and Amaranth Patties, and Red Lentil and Amaranth Protein Patties are two excellent ways to enjoy amaranth for the first time and enjoy a nice dose of protein at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Source: Toasted Turmeric Milk Oat and Teff Porridge
Teff has been out for several years, but it’s still not used as often as it should be. Teff is native to Ethiopia and has a great nutty taste with notes of chocolate making it great to enjoy as a porridge or in baked goods.
One of the best nutritional attributes of teff is that not only is it a complete source of protein just like amaranth, but it’s also a fantastic source of calcium. Teff is the tiniest pseudo-grain and even smaller in size than amaranth. It’s also quick-cooking and has over 7 grams of protein per ¼ cup serving. Talk about a tiny little powerhouse! Teff is also a great source of magnesium, potassium, fiber, zinc, and iron.
For an easy, yet seemingly decadent morning meal, try this Toasted Turmeric Milk, Oat, and Teff Porridge which is a wonderful way to give teff a try. You can also learn more about teff here!
Source: Lemony Butternut Squash and Quinoa Salad
Quinoa isn’t a new whole grain; it’s been around for over a decade here in the United States and has been used for hundreds of years in other cultures. But we can’t write about protein-packed whole grains and not mention quinoa. Many people still don’t cook and use quinoa very often either, which is a shame considering all the nutrients the quinoa seed contains!
Quinoa is a complete source of protein, provides 6 grams of protein per serving, and is an excellent source of magnesium, Vitamin B6, iron, and potassium. It can be cooked just like rice and cooks up in only 15 minutes. Although it’s not truly a grain, it contains more nutrition benefits than some of the more common grains such as wheat.
You can purchase red, white, or black quinoa varieties; all types taste similar in flavor and cook up in similar amounts of time. You can also buy tri-color quinoa which is a mix of all three colors of quinoa.
We love this Quinoa and White Bean Burger for a meat-free option and this Protein-Packed Quinoa Breakfast Bowl for a healthy sweet treat!
Source: Caramelized Banana Granola
Although it sounds like it comes from wheat, buckwheat is not related to wheat at all. This unique seed is a relative of the rhubarb and spinach family of plants and is 100 percent gluten-free. Buckwheat is also grain-free and easy to prepare. It has many similar nutrition traits to whole grains, including the fact that it’s a great source of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Buckwheat is also an excellent, delicious source of protein containing just 5 grams of protein per serving. It’s also a natural source of rutin which is an important nutrient for the immune system. It can be found in the form of whole buckwheat groats, hot buckwheat porridge (similar to oatmeal), and buckwheat flour. You can also find toasted buckwheat groats at the store which is known as kasha; it has a nuttier flavor than raw buckwheat groats does.
For something different than porridge, try Buckwheat and Almond Brownies or Buckwheat and Broccoli Fritters.
Source: Mushroom and Butternut Squash Millet Pilaf
Millet is said to be one of the best grains for those with digestive sensitivities since it’s gluten-free and less inflammatory to the body than common grains such as wheat. Millet is also wonderful when cooked as a porridge or used in baked goods since it has a naturally sweet flavor. Millet contains an array of minerals, specifically manganese, magnesium, B vitamins, and iron.
It’s also a high source of protein per serving with 5 grams per 1/4 cup. As another bonus, millet is also one of the most affordable whole grains you can buy. It goes great in veggie dishes like soup, and stews, and can be cooked into a pilaf just like rice as well.
Try these Caribbean Jerk Millet Burgers or this Seasonal Fruit and Millet Bake for two delicious options!
Source: Roasted Beet Sorghum Salad With Ginger-Lime Vinaigrette
Sorghum is one of the lesser-known grains, but it’s also one of the most unique and nutrient-dense grains. Sorghum is loaded with fiber and protein, containing 8 grams of serving each per 1/4 cup. That’s more fiber than two servings of oatmeal and more protein than an egg!
Sorghum has a naturally sweet flavor and cooks up into a tasty, puffy grain. It can also be popped just like corn and is easy to digest. You can also grind sorghum into flour to use in baked goods since it has a naturally sweet flavor, or serve it just like you would rice or oatmeal. If you’re feeling creative, try making your desserts with homemade sorghum flour for naturally sweet treats. Just grind some whole grain sorghum into flour with a small coffee grinder, blender, or food processor for a healthier flour in seconds!
Try this Taco-Spiced Veggie Meat-Stuffed Avocado, or use sorghum flour in these Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes.
7. Wild Rice
Source: Green Bean Wild Rice Salad
Wild rice is another natural anti-inflammatory grain and it cooks just like regular rice. Wild rice is naturally chewy, has a nutty and sweet flavor, and is a favorite for pilafs and typical rice dishes. The wonderful thing about wild rice is that it’s richer in fiber than brown rice, higher in potassium and magnesium than brown rice, and is richer in antioxidants as well. Wild rice’s naturally dark color indicates that it’s a powerful source of the same antioxidants found in berries known as anthocyanins, which offer anti-cancer and anti-viral benefits.
Wild rice is technically grass by nature and many people find it easier to digest than other grains. It packs in 5 grams of protein per 1/4 cup serving; it’s also low in fat and high in trace minerals.
Try these recipes using wild rice: Wild Rice Stuffed Acorn Squash and Green Bean Wild Rice Salad.
8. Black Rice
Source: Forbidden Rice and Mango Salad
Black rice is a true whole grain, but it’s unique from other grains in the fact that it’s the darkest of all grains and one of the most nutritionally dense when it comes to antioxidant contents. Black rice contains more anthocyanins than wild rice and even blueberries! It’s also a great source of amino acids and protein, although not a complete protein. Black rice contains 4 grams of protein per serving and has an excellent sweet and nutty flavor.
You can find black rice from various companies and it may come under different names depending on the brand ranging from Japonica rice, forbidden rice, or black sweet rice.
Try this Black Rice and Mango Salad for a wonderful seasonal recipe using black rice!
A Few More Ideas…
Although some of these grains (and pseudo-grains) may be new to you, don’t rule them out without giving them a try first. Ancient wheat forms such as Kamut wheat, farro, spelt, and freekeh are also easier to digest than common wheat.
Whole grain barley and whole-grain rye are also packed with antioxidants, lower in gluten than wheat, excellent for blood sugar regulation, and contain multiple types of benefits for digestion. So unless you have celiac disease, don’t let the fear of gluten keep you from these wonderful foods because they are excellent healthy choices and are much better than hybridized wheat products.
Learn How to Cook Plant-Based Meals at Home!
Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health, and more! Dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer, and has many side effects.
For those interested in eating more plant-based, we highly recommend downloading the Food Monster App — with over 15,000 delicious recipes; it is the largest plant-based recipe resource to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy! And while you are at it, we encourage you to also learn about the environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet.
Here are some great resources to get you started:
- Weekly Vegan Meal Plans
- Plant-Based Health Resources
- Plant-Based Food & Recipes
- Plant-Based Nutrition Resources
- The Ultimate Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition
- Budget-Friendly Plant-Based Recipes
- High Protein Plant-Based Recipes
- Plant-Based Meal Prep
Easy Ways to Help the Planet:
- Eat Less Meat: Download Food Monster, the largest plant-based Recipe app on the App Store, to help reduce your environmental footprint, save animals and get healthy. You can also buy a hard or soft copy of our favorite vegan cookbooks.
- Reduce Your Fast Fashion Footprint: Take initiative by standing up against fast Fashion Pollution and supporting sustainable and circular brands like Tiny Rescue that raise awareness around important issues through recycled zero-waste clothing designed to be returned and remade over and over again.
- Support Independent Media: Being publicly funded gives us a greater chance to continue providing you with high-quality content. Please consider supporting us by donating!
- Sign a Petition: Your voice matters! Help turn petitions into victories by signing the latest list of must-sign petitions to help people, animals, and the planet.
- Stay Informed: Keep up with the latest news and important stories involving animals, the environment, sustainable living, food, health, and human interest topics by subscribing to our newsletter!
- Do What You Can: Reduce waste, plant trees, eat local, travel responsibly, reuse stuff, say no to single-use plastics, recycle, vote smart, switch to cold water laundry, divest from fossil fuels, save water, shop wisely, Donate if you can, grow your food, volunteer, conserve energy, compost, and don’t forget about the microplastics and microbeads lurking in common household and personal care products!