With all the low-carb diets out there these days, it’s easy to think the way to health is by avoiding them altogether… but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, grains are crucial for a healthy diet, insists holistic health counselor Natasha Uspensky. They regulate your blood sugar, provide energy, and assist with weight loss—that is, provided you’re choosing the right ones.
Below, we uncover the grains you should add to your diet—effective immediately—along with some easy recipes that’ll make meal prep a breeze. We promise: You’ll never fear your carbs again.
“Of all the types of rice out there, brown rice is decidedly the healthiest and most highly regarded,” says Uspensky. “Unlike white rice, from which the hull and bran have been removed, brown rice still has the bran, leaving most of the nutrients intact. B vitamins, minerals, fiber, and essential fatty acids are all found in the bran, making brown rice substantially more nutritious than its more refined cousin.”
And it’s easy to make, too. Uspensky adds, “Brown rice is a versatile whole grain that lends itself very well to a variety of cuisines and dishes. Being a gluten-free grain, it’s also easy on digestion, and has many anti-inflammatory qualities.”
Kale Pesto Brown Rice Bowls
Although not really that well-known in the US, barley is actually one of the most ancient grains on the planet. “Barley has a mild, nutty flavor and chewy, almost pasta-like texture that is unique amongst whole grains,” says Uspensky. “Higher in fiber than many other whole grains, barley is excellent for heart and digestive health, cholesterol, and weight management. Barley is also high in molybdenum—which supports liver detoxification, nervous system metabolism, and antioxidant protection—and selenium, which protects against some forms of cancer and promotes healthy thyroid function.”
However, similar to the difference between brown and white rice, hulled barley still has its bran (which is where most of the nutrients reside), whereas pearled barley has the hull and bran removed, so it’s no longer considered a whole grain. Uspensky’s delicious barley soup should be on your winter recipe radar—"There’s just something about the classic combination of mushrooms and barley that is supremely comforting. This vegetarian soup is a perfect dinner for a cold winter evening,” she says.
Vegetarian Mushroom Barley Soup
Popular in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Ethiopian cuisines, farro is technically a form of wheat. “Farro is high in B vitamins, calcium, magnesium, and zinc, all of which play an important role in the body. With high protein and fiber levels similar to that of quinoa, farro is equally filling, stabilizing to blood sugar levels, and beneficial for weight loss,” says Uspensky. “It’s also high in antioxidants like plant polyphenols, which can protect against diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.”
The easiest way to fit it in your diet is in a salad, which is the recipe Uspensky provided. “This heartier take on a traditional Greek salad is more filling and satisfying than its grain-free counterpart,” she says.
Mediterranean Farro Salad
Keep doing your morning oatmeal… oats should be a healthy diet staple, insists Uspensky. “Known for their cardiovascular benefits, oats are high in soluble fiber, beta glucans, and antioxidants, making them amazing for lowering cholesterol and protecting against heart disease,” she says. “Oats stabilize blood sugar, and are an important food for managing and preventing diabetes, as well as encouraging healthy weight loss. The high concentration of lignans also makes oats a powerful food for lowering the risk of hormone-related cancers.”
Another perk? Oats are excellent for digestion and regularity, making them one of the healthiest ways to start the day. Take your trusty oats to the next level with this raspberry overnight oats recipe, which can easily be prepared the night before. “It’s a perfect, super quick, and easy breakfast option that could last for a couple of days—or be a lovely breakfast for mama and a little,” says Uspensky.