Porridge, hot cereal, mush – gruel? Whatever you call it, warm whole grains are a healthy way to start your day.
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To get the best variety and benefits, look beyond your bowl of oatmeal to find great grains that are excellent for your health.
Dietitian Laura Jeffers, MEd, RD, LD, suggests seven nutritious options to help get your morning off to a good start.
This pseudocereal (not a true grain, but a seed) was a staple food of the Incas, Mayas and Aztecs.
How to prepare it — Mix ½ cup amaranth and 1½ cup water in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes. Serves 2.
Why give it a try — This tiny seed contains all essential amino acids, making it a plant source of complete protein. It’s also gluten-free.
Pronounced “keen-wah,” this nutty-tasting ancient superseed is native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Peru. Recently surging in popularity, experts say it’s worth the hype.
How to prepare it — Rinse 1 cup of quinoa. Place in a small saucepan with 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Serves 2.
Why give it a try — This protein powerhouse contains 8 grams per cup (one of the only plants that contain a complete protein). It’s also gluten-free — and contains 15% of your daily FDA-recommended iron.
Cornmeal mush? Yes, please. Polenta is what the Italian, French and Swiss call a simple boiled cornmeal. This versatile dish can be consumed hot, or left to cool and then sliced, baked or grilled.
How to prepare it — Polenta has a reputation for being high maintenance. Try this method. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in ½ cup polenta and ¼ teaspoon salt. Stir frequently and reduce heat. Simmer, stirring often, for about 30 minutes. Add more water if it dries out. Serves two people.
Why give it a try — Polenta made from organic corn is a good source of vitamin C, and the carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. And, it’s yet another gluten-free option!
Kamut is actually the brand name for an ancient, recently rediscovered strain of Egyptian wheat: Khorasan wheat.
How to prepare it — Soak ½ cup Kamut overnight in 1 cup water. Drain, rinse and put in a small pot. Cover with an inch of water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 25 minutes until water is absorbed.
Why give it a try — This ancient wheat is higher in protein, selenium, zinc and magnesium than modern wheat.
Yes, birdseed. But hold on. This grain is certainly fit for human consumption. In Ancient Rome, it was used for porridge, while it was traditionally ground and used in flatbreads in India and Ethiopia.
How to prepare it — Lightly toast ½ cup millet in a small saucepan for 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Add 1½ cup water or orange juice and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Serves 2.
Why give it a try — Also gluten-free, millet is high in fiber, iron, B vitamins, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium.
Another not-true-grain, buckwheat is a triangular seed related to rhubarb. Its roasted groats (kasha) are an Eastern European staple enjoyed with milk, or sauteed mushrooms and onions.
How to prepare it — Rinse 1 cup of buckwheat groats in hot water. Place in a small saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 20 minutes until tender. Serves 2.
Why give it a try — You’ll get all 9 essential amino acids, including lysine and arginine. Plus, it’s a very good source of manganese and a good source of copper, magnesium, fiber and phosphorus. Despite “wheat” in its name, buckwheat’s actually wheat-free and gluten-free!
Brown rice is an inexpensive staple that so many of us have in our pantry – and tend to forget it’s there. (Just note that brown rice spoils faster than other types of rice due to its high oil content!) If you don’t have it, it’s just as easy to find as white rice.
How to prepare it — Place 1 cup cooked brown rice and 1 cup of water in a small pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 7-8 minutes until thickened. (This breakfast is perfect for using up leftovers!)
Why give it a try — It’s an excellent source of manganese, and a good source of selenium, phosphorus, copper, magnesium and niacin.
Now for the tasty, healthy toppings
Your options are endless. Mix and match any of the following — and you’ll never have a dull breakfast bowl again!
Milks — Low-fat dairy nondairy (almond, coconut, soy).
Fruits — Blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, mango, banana, strawberry, raisins, dates, figs.
Nuts — Chopped pecans, walnuts, brazil nuts, hazelnuts, almonds — or their butters.
Spices — Cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice, vanilla or almond extract.
Processed or refined grains have the fiber-rich outer layers which contains B vitamins and minerals and germ layer that contains essential fatty acids and vitamin E,” Jeffers says. “So try to keep your grains whole whenever possible.”