Incorporate grains into your meal plan and reap the nutritional rewards.

Have you made grains an essential part of your diet? Now, we’re not talking about the refined kind – donuts, white bread or sugary cereals. We mean whole grains, the kind that provides you with fiber and a wealth of vitamins and minerals, and has a number of benefits. For example, they take longer to digest than their refined counterparts, keeping you fuller longer. Aim for six servings a day, but do keep portions in mind. Here’s a good way to gauge servings: one slice of bread, 1 oz. of dry cereal, or half a cup of cooked cereal, rice or pasta are all equal to one serving.

Not sure where to begin? Or perhaps you’re looking for inventive ways to get your grains? Check out a few staple grains plus a few from the new class.

The classics:

Oats

Though you can’t go wrong with rolled or steel-cut, as both claim the same amount of protein and carbs. Steel-cut goes through less processing, thus having it rank lower on the glycemic index. A hearty bowl of oatmeal is always a first-choice way to start your day – just be sure to steer clear of sweet toppings and go for nuts and berries instead.

Wild rice

Rich in vitamins like niacin and folate, this super versatile grain actually packs fewer carbs and calories than its more popular cousin, brown rice. The nutty and smoky flavor that comes from this grass (yes, it’s actually edible grass) makes it the perfect addition to pilafs, soups, or a simple side to your protein and veggies.

Popcorn

You’re probably surprised this common snack food made the list. Also surprising, popcorn is fat free, sugar free and low calorie. Nix the microwave stuff and snack on a bowl of air popped. Get gourmet and experiment with different spices and hot sauces, or sprinkle with cocoa nibs.

The next generation:

Buckwheat

Because of its seed status (it isn’t a form of wheat or a grain), buckwheat is gluten-free option to help meet your daily quota of whole grains. Rich in flavonoids, antioxidants and B vitamins, it’s common as a form of flour and frequently used for making noodles and especially pancakes. But easy does it on the syrup and skip the butter altogether.

Millet

A source of healthy fats, millet also contains minerals such as iron, magnesium and potassium. Just 100g of millet will provide you with 5% of your Daily Value of potassium. When it comes to the kitchen, it’s a great swap for traditional rice meals, like stuffed peppers or rice balls. It’s also a tasty hot breakfast cereal or pudding-style dessert. Just be aware of its misleading size. One cup raw turns into over 3 cups cooked.

Amaranth

Similar to quinoa, this gluten-free seed contains iron, calcium, fiber and more protein than most grains. Dating as far back as the Aztec era, it can be used as a cereal, paste, or baked in the oven and then eaten as a snack or as crunchy topping.

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