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
- 1/2 cup brown rice, organic
- 2 small beets scrubbed or peeled, julienned or sliced into thin strips with a peeler
- 2 cups veggies of choice (optional)—sliced avocado, julienned carrots, steamed or raw broccoli, sliced bell peppers all work great
- 1 lemon, 1/2 zested, then the whole thing juiced
- 1 tbsp fresh herbs, chopped (I used dill)
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cup kale raw, stems removed, torn into smaller pieces
- 1 clove garlic, smashed
- 1 lemon zested, then juiced
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts (optional)
- Sea salt to taste
- 1 block tofu, organic
- 1 orange, juiced
- 1/4 cup organic, low-sodium tamari
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp Sriracha (optional)
- Prepare the tofu and marinade in advance. Place it between two paper towels and cover with something heavy to drain some of the liquid. Then, slice lengthwise into 1/4-inch slices.
- Whisk together the orange juice, tamari, ginger, garlic, olive oil, and Sriracha. Place tofu in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or baking dish. Pour the marinade over it, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 hours.
- When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove tofu from the refrigerator and place on a lined baking sheet.
- Bake for 15 minutes, flip, and spoon some marinade over it. Bake for 10 minutes, flip again, and spoon rest of the marinade over it. Bake for 5 more minutes, then remove from oven.
- Make the brown rice according to package instructions.
- Toss the shaved beets with the other half of the lemon juice and a tsp of olive oil. Let sit.
- Combine all ingredients for the kale pesto—except the olive oil—in a food processor.
- Process on high for a minute, pausing to scrape the sides. Slowly add in the olive oil and process until relatively smooth.
- Once the rice is done, toss it with the chopped herbs, pesto, lemon zest, and 1/2 the lemon juice. Adjust salt to taste.
- Divide the rice among three bowls. Top each with 1/3 of the baked tofu, shaved beets, and whatever other veggies you want to add.
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
- 1 cup barley
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 carrots, scrubbed and diced
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
- 1/4 lb button mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 3 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme, minced
- Sea salt and pepper, to taste
- Soak porcini mushrooms in 3 cups boiled water.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and sauce for 2-3 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown. Add barley and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.
- Remove the porcinis from the water and reserve all liquid. Sort through them and remove any hard bits.
- Add porcinis to the pot and cook, stirring for about a minute. Add the soaking liquid and 3 more cups of vegetable broth, as well as the bay leaves and fresh thyme.
- Bring to a boil. Then, lower heat and simmer, covered, until the barley is soft—about 20 to 30 minutes.
- Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
Quinoa’s suddenly hit peak “health food” status… and for good reason. “Technically an ancient seed, quinoa is one of the most protein-rich plant foods we can eat, containing all nine essential amino acids,” says Uspensky. “It’s high in the minerals iron, magnesium, and manganese, keeping red blood cells healthy and aiding in energy production. Quinoa also contains nearly twice as much fiber as other grains, which promotes digestive regularity, lowers cholesterol, and keeps you fuller longer, thus reducing cravings and stabilizing blood sugar.”
And its versatility is evident, too—quinoa can be made into flour for baking, and is even used in salads and porridges. But we’re totally crushing on Upsenky’s quinoa patty recipe.
Broccoli Quinoa Patties
- 1 cup water
- 5 large broccoli florets
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1/4 cup organic whole grain or gluten-free breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup organic cheese, shredded (I used raw cheddar)
- 1 large egg
- Sea salt and pepper to taste
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Cook quinoa according to package instructions. Let it cool.
- While the quinoa is cooking, sauté the onion over medium heat until translucent. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl to cool.
- Add more olive oil to the pan and cook the broccoli florets until they’ve softened a bit. Let cool and then chop. Add to the onions.
- Add the cooked quinoa to the broccoli and onions. Mix in the shredded cheese and breadcrumbs. Add the egg and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Heat up some more olive oil in your pan. Make 1/4-cup sized patties out of your mixture, and place on the pan. Cook over medium heat for about 7 or 8 minutes per side. Do not allow the patties to burn.
- To freeze, wrap uncooked patties in plastic wrap and place in a Ziploc freezer bag. Defrost in the fridge, and then cook as directed above.
- Optional add-ins: Beans and/or sweet potatoes are some of my favorites to mix things up. If you add beans, these patties become a complete meal.
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
- 3 cups vegetable stock
- 1 cup uncooked farro, rinsed and drained
- 1 large cucumber, seeded and diced
- 2/3 cup roasted red peppers, diced
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 cup sheep’s milk feta cheese, chopped
- 1/2 a red onion, diced
- 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1 can organic garbanzo beans
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1/4 tsp dried oregano
- A pinch of garlic powder
- Sea salt and black pepper, to taste
- Combine the stock and farro in a medium saucepan, and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Remove from heat and drain. Let cool.
- Whisk together the dressing ingredients.
- Transfer cooled farro to a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients. Toss with the dressing until combined.
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.
Raspberry Coconut Overnight Oats
- 1/2 cup organic old-fashioned rolled oats
- 2/3 cup unsweetened almond or coconut milk*
- 1/3 cup coconut yogurt*
- 1 tbsp chia seeds
- 1/2 tsp organic vanilla extract
- 2 tsp organic maple syrup
- 2 tbsp unsweetened coconut flakes
- 1/2 cup organic raspberries
- Whisk together all ingredients (aside from the raspberries) in a bell jar.
- Refrigerate overnight.
- In the morning, top with raspberries and some extra shredded coconut. Enjoy!
- Coconut milk yields a thicker oatmeal, whereas using almond milk will make it come out a little runnier.
- I used coconut yogurt to make the recipe vegan, but feel free to use organic Greek yogurt if you prefer it.
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