Heart-Helping Grains We Love

Whole grains come in many forms, from wheat, corn and oats to more exotic varieties, such as teff and bulgur. Whichever grains suit your palate, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get three to five servings of grains per day, with at least half of these coming from whole grains.

Why the focus on whole grains? They contain a number of nutrients vital for good health. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, whole grains are a source of nutrients such as iron, magnesium, selenium, B vitamins and dietary fiber. Recent findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that whole grains’ healthy benefits -- such as lower blood cholesterol -- are likely due to their fiber content.

While you may be well-versed in the usual suspects when it comes to whole grains, some “newer” types are worth considering. They help you add variety to your diet, meet your daily goals, and derive the health benefits. Here are a few to try:

  • Amaranth is an ancient grain high in iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. It also has more protein than many grains (about 13 to 14 percent). Amaranth can be combined with other grains in breads and muffins, turned into polenta, "popped" over high heat and added to trail mixes, or simply mixed with spices and seeds. “Amaranth has an earthy, nutty flavor and can be used in so many ways,” says registered dietitian Debi Zvi. “Make baked goods, porridge, flat bread, or add it to soups, stews and casseroles. Try popping amaranth like popcorn and sprinkle it on frozen yogurt, or add it to bread or granola.”

  • Quinoa is higher in protein than many grains. It comes in black, yellow, red and white, though we commonly see it in white. Zvi loves using this grain -- in any color -- for a variety of dishes. You can use it in salads, stuffing, and mixed with grilled vegetables, she says. She even recommends adding some slivered almonds and fresh berries for a tasty treat.

  • Sorghum (also called milo) is often eaten like popcorn, cooked into porridge or added in baked goods as a substitute for wheat flour. It also comes in syrup form, which Zvi says is sweet, and can be used as a glaze for roasted vegetables, drizzled on popcorn and more. Sorghum is also rich in healthy plant compounds called phytochemicals.

While these lesser-known whole grains are delicious, good for you, and can add variety to your meals, there are still other ways to incorporate more grains into your diet. Some of our favorites:

  • At breakfast, choose whole-grain cereals, whole-grain toast, waffles or pancakes, which are full of fiber. Try Kellogg's Raisin Bran -- it’s made with whole-grain wheat and wheat bran, and just 1 cup contains 7 grams of dietary fiber.

  • For a snack, spread whole-grain crackers, whole-grain toast or whole-grain chips with hummus, almond butter, fresh salsa or a low-fat dip.

  • For lunch and dinner, opt for sandwiches made on whole-grain bread or any number of dishes that incorporate oats, corn, bulgur, brown rice, teff, rye or buckwheat.