Fiber-rich whole grains' many benefits range from lowering your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even dementia to helping you shed more belly fat. But that's not the only reason to eat more grains. The latest research, says Kelly Toups, RD, program manager of the Whole Grains Council at Oldways, reveals that whole grains "have levels of antioxidants approaching those of fruits and vegetables."
So you're a whole-grain convert already. Oatmeal for breakfast, whole-wheat pasta instead of white, brown rice for quick stir-fries. What's next? Expand your horizons and try two "new" grains: amaranth and freekeh. These rediscovered ancient grains are hot in both nutrition and culinary circles.
FREEKEH: Where There's Smoke, There's Flavor
WHAT IS IT? An Eastern Mediterranean staple, freekeh is made from hard wheat or barley that's harvested when it's still young and green. After being parched, roasted, and dried, the seeds are rubbed to reveal an olive-green grain with a distinctive smoky quality. A half-cup serving of cooked freekeh has an impressive 7 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. It's also rich in lutein, an antioxidant that nourishes eyes.
HOW TO COOK IT Steam cracked freekeh as you would rice, which produces delicate, fluffy results. Bring 1 cup cracked freekeh and 2½ cups water or broth to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove it from the heat, and let it stand, covered, for 5 minutes. You can also cook freekeh in a rice cooker on the brown rice setting.
TRY IT Try substituting freekeh in recipes that call for farro or bulgur. Use it in grain salads with a salty cheese, such as feta, and a sweet vegetable, such as butternut squash or beets, to play off its smoky flavor.
AMARANTH: Tiny but Mighty
WHAT IS IT? Amaranth looks like a tinier version of quinoa, and it has a lot in common with its überpopular cousin. Like quinoa, amaranth is a gluten-free New World grain (technically, a pseudo-grain that's really a seed) that was a staple of the Inca and Aztec diets. A half cup of cooked amaranth has 4.7 grams of protein (which, like quinoa, is a complete protein) and almost 3 grams of fiber.
But the similarities end there. While quinoa cooks up in fluffy, distinct grains, amaranth releases lots of starch when it cooks. The result is a creamy texture in which each grain has a caviar-like pop.
HOW TO COOK IT For the whole-grain version, use 2 cups liquid (water, broth, dairy, or nut milk) per 1 cup amaranth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 to 25 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. You can also pop amaranth like popcorn in a hot, dry skillet for a snack. Megan Gordon, author of Whole-Grain Mornings: New Breakfast Recipes to Span the Seasons, recommends using a few tablespoons at a time because it burns quickly.
TRY IT Amaranth's starchy quality makes it a natural stand-in for polenta. It's also terrific as a breakfast porridge or as a pudding for dessert. "It's a beautiful thickener in soups," adds Maria Speck, author of Simply Ancient Grains. Try amaranth flour in hearty muffins and quick breads. But it's a hefty flour, Gordon cautions, so use it judiciously. "You don't want to use more than 25% amaranth flour. More than that can make your baked goods dense."