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Great Grains

Live longer on a diet full of whole grains

Grains, especially whole grains, are full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. And a recent large-scale, long-term Harvard study reveals that eating more whole grains has been linked to longer life.

Researchers estimate that every one-ounce serving of whole grains reduced a person’s overall risk of an early death by 5 percent, and their risk of death from heart disease by 9 percent. So make these grains part of your meals and reap the health benefits.

Amaranth, classified as a pseudo-grain, is so popular in South America that it’s sold on the street like popcorn. This peppery tasting grain is a protein powerhouse (it has a higher complete protein level than most grains), containing all essential amino acids. It has been shown to lower cholesterol and is gluten free.

Barley is a cereal grain high in soluble fiber. It is believed to be effective at reducing total cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. It may also lower triglycerides and increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels, but the research on that has been mixed. Barley may also help prevent stomach cancer or prolong life in those who have the disease.

Usually thought of as a grain, buckwheat is actually the seed of a plant related to rhubarb. Buckwheat ranks low on the glycemic scale and is high in the essential amino acids lysine and arginine. This gluten-free food lowers cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.

Bulgur, also known as kasha, is 100 percent whole wheat that’s been steamed or parboiled, and then dried and ground into bits. A cup of cooked bulgur has only 150 calories, 8 grams of fiber, and nearly 6 grams of protein. This low-fat grain is also a good source of iron, magnesium and B vitamins.

Corn, America’s No. 1 field crop, provides about 21 percent of human nutrition across the globe. It is loaded with vitamin A, containing more than 10 times that of other grains. High in antioxidants and carotenoids associated with eye health, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, corn is another gluten-free grain.

Cornmeal, ground from dried corn, is a rich source of dietary fiber (1 cup contains about 36 percent of the daily fiber requirements for women and 23 percent for men), iron and phosphorus. Cornmeal is gluten free.

Considered the most ancient of the wheat varieties available today, einkorn hasn’t been grown much in the United States, though recent interest is creating a resurgence in planting this hearty wheat. Compared to modern-day wheat, einkorn has higher levels of protein, essential fatty acids, minerals and some vitamins like beta-carotene. People who have gluten sensitivity (but not Celiac disease) may find einkorn products easier to digest.

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Farro, with its nutty flavor and chewy texture, works well in soups and stews. This ancient grain is high in fiber, protein and iron.

Freekeh is wheat that has been harvested while it’s still young and green. Because of this early harvesting, freekeh retains more nutrients, providing higher amounts of protein, fiber and minerals than wheat harvested when it’s mature. It also ranks low on the glycemic index.

Hominy, made from kernels of corn soaked in an alkali solution of either lime or lye, is a low-fat, low-calorie wonder. A University of Maryland Medical Center study found that ample amounts of vitamin B-6 may help prevent carpal tunnel, rheumatoid arthritis and vision problems, such as macular degeneration. Vitamin B-6 also aids the body’s production of serotonin, a chemical that may enhance mood or prevent depression. One cup of cooked grits provides .46 milligrams of vitamin B-6 (the daily recommendation is 1.1 milligrams to 1.4 milligrams). Hominy is also a good source of folate.

Kamut, an Egyptian word for wheat, is another super old wheat. With its buttery flavor, kamut contains high levels of healthy fats, protein, selenium and zinc. And it’s found in everything from breads and cereals to snacks and baby food.

Gluten-free millet comes in white, gray, yellow and red varieties. It can be used in its whole form or ground and used as flour. Millet is especially rich in magnesium, which is important for bone health.

Oats, a favorite in breakfast cereals, provide a whole host of health benefits: lower LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduced risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Oats help you feel fuller longer, which helps control weight, and they can help improve bowel health. Some studies show early introduction of oats in children’s diets may help reduce their risk of asthma. Oats are high in protein and healthy fats, and low in carbohydrates, and they contain polyphenols that have strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-itch properties.

Generally classified as a grain, quinoa is actually an edible seed related to beets, chard and spinach. Quinoa cooks quickly, is gluten free and comes in red, black and white varieties. It is an excellent source of protein, which builds muscle and boosts metabolism.

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Rice is the biggest food source in 34 countries of the world. Brown rice, considered unpolished, retains its germ and bran, which makes it more fiber rich and nutritious. The health benefits of brown rice are abundant: It helps lower cholesterol and contains vitamin B1, essential for a healthy heart and nervous system. Other nutritional benefits include fiber, manganese, magnesium and selenium.

Rye was considered a weed when it first appeared in wheat fields. But farmers realized that it grows more rapidly than wheat, can withstand flood waters and thrives during drought. Rye is a versatile source of dietary fiber, especially a type called arabinoxylan, which is known for its high antioxidant activity. Studies show rye’s health benefits are numerous, including improved bowel health, better blood sugar control and overall weight management. A small Finnish study found that rye may reduce inflammation in people with metabolic syndrome.

It might not be on your go-to list, but sorghum—the fifth most important cereal crop in the world—should be. In addition to being gluten free, this grain contains a compound called policosanol, which may lower cholesterol. Ethiopian flatbread injera is made from sorghum, and sorghum can also be fermented to make beer.

Spelt is found mostly in bagels, breads, noodles and tortillas. This ancient grain is higher in protein than modern wheat.

Teff is gluten-free and higher in calcium than other grains, providing 123 milligrams of the mineral per cup. It is also high in resistant starch, a type of carbohydrate that acts like fiber and helpful in weight loss. Teff is small, so it is often eaten whole and can be cooked in porridge, added to baked goods or made into polenta.

Worldwide, wheat is the third most-produced grain, behind corn and rice. In this country, wheat accounts for about two-thirds of all grains consumed. However, much of the wheat we eat is refined or enriched, so it’s important to check nutrition labels for the words “whole wheat.” A diet high in wheat has been found to reduce stroke risk 30 percent to 36 percent, type 2 diabetes risk 21 percent to 30 percent and heart disease risk 25 percent to 28 percent. Wheat is also associated with weight maintenance, healthier blood pressure levels, less inflammatory disease and a reduced risk of asthma.

(Photo: Depositphotos)

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