By Heidi Skolnik, MS, CN, FACSMNutrition Conditioning, LLCWomen’s Sports Medicine Center at Hospital for Special Surgery
There’s a whole world of grains that many people don’t even realize is out there – each has a unique nutritive benefit, some are even gluten-free! Super grains pack fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals along with carbohydrates. And, of course, you do not need to have Celiac disesase or be gluten sensitive to want to broaden your grain intake and diversify from wheat and corn. The US Dietary Guidelines recommend eating at least 6 servings a day of grains – so why not eat better grains that will do more for you?
It’s the world’s tiniest grain (so small that it can’t be processed or refined) and it is becoming more popular because it’s so versatile. Teff leads the grains in calcium content, which helps strengthen bones and may reduce PMS symptoms. One grain of teff is up to 40% resistant starch, which can help you lose weight if you replace the other carbs you’re filling up on, what I call “carbage” (processed foods like white bread, potato starch, sweets and the like). Teff can be white or dark in color and can be found at your local health food store or online for about $8 per pound. One serving size is about 1/4 cup and 160 calories. Sweeter and milder than wheat, teff has a molasses-like flavor. Teff can be cooked hot for a nice breakfast cereal – 1 cup of teff with 2 cups of water or juice, cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until it’s thick and the liquid is absorbed. Add fresh fruit on top. Teff is also available in tortillas for a great wrap or to make quesadillas (a lot better than refined flour tortillas and gluten-free too!).
Millet is actually popular all around world – in India, it’s ground into their bread. In Africa, they use it in the porridges and to make beer. In this country, a type of millet is used in birdfeed! Millet provides magnesium and B vitamins, two nutrients that have been shown to help reduce muscle/nerve pain like migraine headaches, muscle tension and cramps. Millet is being rediscovered for its possible role in helping control diabetes and inflammation in the body. Millet is a versatile grain that can be prepared like hot cereal, mashed like potato or fluffed like rice. Ground into flour, millet can be used to make dough, pancakes, muffins or bread. Millet can be found in health-food stores bagged. Whole millet costs about $2 a pound. Look for hulled, not pearled – hulled means it’s whole grain and has more fiber.
This grain is known as the “high energy wheat” – it naturally contains lots of fatty acids and more protein than most grains. It has up to 40% more protein than regular wheat. A half-cup of cooked kamut has more protein than an egg! It also has B vitamins and contains omega-3s, which may help the body fight inflammation. It is also higher in vitamin E than common forms of wheat, which helps keep the immune system strong. Buy kamut in a variety of ways at your local health-food store or in the organic aisle at the supermarket: pastas, flour for baking, breads or the whole grain. Depending on the form of kamut, the cost varies from $2 to $4 per pound. It is most important to look for whole-grain kamut to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients.
It’s not technically a grain or wheat – it’s a cousin to rhubarb. Buckwheat is often lumped together with super grains because it has a similar nutritional profile. Buckwheat has high levels of rutin, which helps improve circulation and may lower the “bad” cholesterol. Buckwheat costs about $3 to $7, depending on which form you buy it in. You can buy it as groats – which is the whole grain, as buckwheat pancake mixes and noodles, which are popular in Japan – also known as soba. You may also see buckwheat labeled as “kasha,” which means it’s toasted buckwheats and has a nuttier flavor. Instead of rice, boil 1 cup of kasha or toasted buckwheat with 2 cups water or broth for about 10 minutes; let stand for 5 minutes before sautéing with onions (or other vegetables) for a delicious buckwheat pilaf!