Whole grains are a delicious, integral part of a healthy vegan diet. They’re chock full of nutrients and fiber. Best of all, whole grains are a source of complex carbohydrates and protein that fuels you with boundless energy.
Whole grains help lower cholesterol levels and have been linked to a lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, obesity, and certain cancers.
Rice is the most popular grain, with many types including short grain, long grain, basmati, and even red and black varieties. But it’s also good to introduce other grains into your diet, like millet and amaranth. Quinoa is increasingly popular and has a high protein content.
Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains
Whole grains are actually seeds that contain all of the original components that make up the kernel: germ, bran, and endosperm. The bran is the outer layer of the seed and contains fiber and B vitamins. The endosperm makes up the bulk of the seed, and it has carbohydrate and protein. The germ is the part from which a new plant sprouts and is a concentrated source of nutrients. The germ contains B vitamins, vitamin E, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.
Nutritionally, whole grains are called complex carbohydrates because of the fiber and nutrients from the germ and bran. As a result, they raise blood-sugar levels slowly and keep you fueled with energy for a long time. In addition, eating whole grains is a great weight-loss strategy because they help you feel full and eat less overall.
When a grain has been milled (“refined”), it’s been stripped of the germ and bran, leaving only the endosperm. The resulting product lacks its original nutrients and fiber. Examples of refined grains are white rice and white flour. Without fiber, refined grains are called simple carbohydrates and are absorbed quickly in your digestive system. This causes a fast rise in your blood-sugar levels.
Refined grains are the basis for most junk food, and they should be avoided. This is a serious health concern with our obesity and diabetes epidemics.
If you aren’t used to eating whole grains, you’ll find them chewier and nuttier than refined grains. You may find this unfamiliar at first, but after some time, you’ll discover refined grains will taste plain and uninteresting.
Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs
Some fad diets claim we should avoid all carbohydrates. This advice is over-simplistic, and it’s not healthy or even realistic to omit an entire food group. Carbohydrates are a necessary part of a balanced diet.
Knowing the distinction between whole grains and refined grains helps us understand the complete and accurate facts. Whole grains have complex carbs (“good carbs”) while refined grains have simple carbs (“bad carbs”).
Yes, it’s important that you avoid the refined carbs in junk food (“bad carbs”). But choose to eat whole grains (“good carbs”) and enjoy the many health benefits they provide.
Cooking Whole Grains
The basic method for cooking whole grains is simple.
- In a medium-size pot, add the grain and water (or a vegetable broth).
- Bring to a boil, stir to breakup any clumps, then cover and reduce the heat to the lowest setting.
- Cook until all the water is absorbed and the grain is tender. (The exceptions will be oats and amaranth; they will have a creamy consistency.) See the chart below for cooking times.
Cooking times vary depending on the variety of grain, your pot, and the amount of heat you use.
Because whole grains take longer to cook than refined grains, it’s helpful to cook a large amount at a time. Leftovers keep several days in the refrigerator.
|Start with 1 Cup Dry Whole Grain||Add Water or Broth||Cooking Time||Cooked Amount||Cooked Serving Size|
|Amaranth||2 cups||20-25 minutes (will be creamy)||2-1/2 cups||1/2 cup|
|Barley (hulled)||3 cups||45-60 minutes||3-1/2 cups||1/2 cup|
|Bulgar wheat||2 cups||10-12 minutes||3 cups||1/2 cup|
|Millet||2-1/2||25-35 minutes||4 cups||1/2 cup|
|“Old-Fashioned” Oats||2 cups||5 minutes (will be creamy)||2 cups||1 cup|
|Quinoa||2 cups||12-15 minutes||3 cups||1/2 cup|
|Rice||2-1/2 cups||45-55 minutes||3 cups||1/2 cup|
|Wild rice||3 cups||45-55 minutes||3-1/2 cups||1/2 cup|
|Wheat berries||4 cups||Soak overnight then cook 45-60 minutes||2-1/2 cups||1/2 cup|