5 Alternatives to Traditional Grains

Whole grains are an integral part of a healthy diet but if you believe just whole wheat and brown rice fall in the healthy part of this category, it’s time to discover new horizons.

Quinoa

Though quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a well-established superfood — it’s as nutritious as milk and, despite being a vegetable, is a complete protein asit provides all 9 essential amino acids.

Quinoa takes less time to cook than other whole grains – just 10 to 15 minutes. Second, quinoa tastes great on its own, unlike other grains such as millet or teff. Add a bit of olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice and – yum! Finally, of all the whole grains, quinoa has the highest protein content, so it’s perfect for vegetarians and vegans. Quinoa is a gluten-free and cholesterol-free whole grain, is kosher for Passover, and is almost always organic.

Prepare quinoa as you would prepare rice. Cover it with water or vegetable broth and boil until soft, about 15 minutes. Or, place 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water in your rice cooker. Did you know quinoa also makes a great hot breakfast cereal, similar to oatmeal?

Flax

It may be tiny, but it’s mighty: The flax seed carries one of the biggest nutrient payloads on the planet. And while it’s not technically a grain, it has a similar vitamin and mineral profile to grains, while the amount of fiber, antioxidants, and Omega-3 fatty acids in flax leaves grains in the dust.

Additionally, flax seed is very low in carbohydrates, making it ideal for people who limit their intake of starches and sugars. And its combination of healthy fat and high fiber content make it a great food for weight loss and maintenance — many dieters have found that flax seed has been a key to keeping them feeling satisfied.

Tips for Using Flax Seed

Drink plenty of water. There is so much soluble fiber in flax that it is important to drink plenty of water when eating flax products, otherwise constipation may result.

  • Remember to start slowly if you aren’t used to a high-fiber diet.
  • If you purchase the whole seeds, you need to grind them up to get the benefit.

Buckwheat

Buckwheat, which is commonly found in raw food diet recipes, has a slightly deceptive name that can easily cause confusion. Buckwheat is not wheat, nor is it related to wheat. It is not a grain nor a cereal and is gluten-free. So where does it come from? Buckwheat is derived from the seeds of a flowering plant.

The triangular seeds, known as buckwheat groats, are frequently made into flour for use in noodles, crepes, and many gluten-free products on the market these days. For those practicing a raw food diet, raw buckwheat groats can be found in many recipes for things like granola, cookies, cakes, crackers, and other bread-like products. Buckwheat is a good binding agent and, when soaked, becomes very gelatinous. Soaking, rinsing, and re-drying the groats produces a crunchy buckwheat crispy that is nice as well.

Spelt

Though spelt is part of the wheat family, it’s so distantly related that some gluten-allergic eaters can chow down on it with no problem. Thanks to its flavorful taste, it’s an increasingly popular choice for bread dough, cookies, pizza crust, and pasta. (It’s also hardier than wheat — and grows just fine without added fertilizers — so it lends itself well to organic growing practices.)

Choose spelt over traditional grains for an added boost of vitamin B2, manganese, and niacin

Amaranth

Like buckwheat, amaranth isn’t a grain: This leafy green vegetable, also known as pig weed, is just as likely to turn up as a side dish (for example, stir-fried with garlic).

But amaranth can also be grown in a grain form, with seeds about the size of poppy seeds containing plenty of protein, calcium, and iron. These versatile seeds show up in all kinds of recipes: you can sprout them, pop them, simmer them (try this method with basil and olive oil), or bake with ground amaranth flour in place of unbleached white.