Alternative Grains

May 12, 2012

Laura, Registered Dietitian

Whole grains . . . what do these words make you think of? Maybe wheat bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole wheat pasta? These are all great, nutritious whole grain options, but there are so many more options out there! Expanding your horizons when it comes to whole grains may add some nutrients to your diet as well as give your taste buds a treat. All whole grains are high in fiber and contain many vitamins and minerals, specifically iron, folate, and B vitamins. Each grain has a slightly different nutritional profile.

Quinoa: Though not technically a grain, quinoa is often referred to as the “super grain.” Compared to wheat, it has about twice the vitamin E, iron, and protein and three times as much folate. Quinoa has a mild, nutty flavor with a subtle crunch.

Amaranth: Amaranth has twice as much iron as most other grains. One cup cooked contains about 10% of the recommended daily intake of calcium. It is also very high in magnesium.

Teff: Teff is the smallest grain—over 100 kernels could fit on one wheat kernel. Much like amaranth, teff is a good source of iron, and magnesium, and calcium.

Spelt: Spelt is especially high in niacin, a vitamin important for heart health and maintaining a healthy metabolism. Note: Spelt is closely related to wheat, so individuals with celiac disease should avoid spelt.

Tips for Adding Alternative Grains to Your Diet:

  • Try granola with a mix of whole grains. Kind brand granola is a great start as it contains six different types of whole grains and is gluten free! Eat it plain, with milk, or sprinkle it on yogurt.
  • Cook different grains as a hearty hot breakfast cereal. Bob’s Red Mill brand offers a variety of grain mixes for hot cereal. An easy start is steel-cut oats—like rolled oats but not rolled. They have the same nutritional profile but a slightly different texture and taste.
  • Replace rice with quinoa for a side dish. It requires the same cooking method as rice and compliments almost any meal. Harmons deli offers a variety cold quinoa salads that are great for a summer picnic or quick lunch.
  • When making pancakes, substitute half (or all) of  the flour with a new grain. Teff, buckwheat, and even cornmeal are great options.
Brannon, Carol Ann. Ancient and Alternative Grains. Today’s Dietitian. 2007;9(5):10.