Health benefits of grains and legumes
7 grains and legumes to try
Grains and legumes are filled with nutrients including protein, fibre and antioxidants. Multiple studies have demonstrated a link between eating whole grains and reducing your risk of major lifestyle diseases. The studies found that 2-3 servings of whole grains daily may reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and certain cancers by 20-30%. So if you want to eat more of the grainy stuff but don’t know where to start, here’s the breakdown.
Whole grain barley was grown as an ancient crop but because it has a low gluten content, wheat became the superior choice for bread-making. Pearl barley is hulled to remove the outer layer, so it’s technically no longer a whole grain but it’s still a nutritious addition to soup mixes due to its high fibre content. You can buy this type of Barley in packets labelled “Pearl Barley” in the flour aisle of your supermarket.
Corn is a sweet whole grain that can be eaten as a whole vegetable or made into a range of products including popcorn and cornmeal. It’s a staple crop of the Americas and comes in a variety of colours from yellow to purple. It’s a good source of fibre and contains vitamins thiamine, B6 and C. The yellow variety of cornmeal is more commonly known as polenta and can be made into a corn porridge or mash.
Not officially a grain – lentils fall in the legume category. Unlike other legumes, lentils don’t need to be soaked prior to cooking. There are many varieties of lentils including yellow, red, brown, green or French Puy. Lentils have a nutty flavour and hold their shape when cooked. They’re a good vegetarian source of protein and a great way to add fibre to any dish. Lentils take anywhere from 20-45 mins to cook, depending on the variety. Just add them to your curry or soup, simmer and voila!
A very hardy, gluten-free grain, millet can be ground to make flour, or boiled and eaten like rice. It’s rich in nutritious carbohydrates, dietary fibre and potassium. In India, millet flour is made into leavened pancakes called dosa, and thinner, unleavened flatbread called roti. Millet is great as breakfast porridge, tossed into soups or even baked into cookies or muffins for extra crunch. You can buy millet from any wholefoods store.
The perfect pancake partner, buckwheat is also used to make Japanese soba noodles. Technically not a grain, buckwheat is a gluten-free seed, like quinoa. Buckwheat recently rose to “superfoods” status due to its amount of protein, fibre and antioxidants. It also makes an ideal partner for gluten-free baking.
Black or purple rice is a particular species grown for its natural plant pigments called anthocyanins, which are also found in blueberries and are rich in antioxidant activity. Just like white rice, black rice can come in long or short grains and is frequently used in sushi or desserts. Black rice can be found in most whole food stores.
Originating from the Andes, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) has long been cultivated by the South American Inca people. It comes in white, red, purple and black varieties (sometimes mixed in the one packet). It’s best to rinse quinoa before cooking, otherwise it can taste a bit bitter. Quinoa will cook in about 15 mins or until the liquid is absorbed and is perfect for a variety of dishes such as porridge, muffins, cookies or soups.