When people hear of a Mediterranean diet, visions of endless baskets of bread and olive oil or pizza may come to mind. And while these foods are certainly eaten by various populations living near the Mediterranean, the Mediterranean diet really focuses more on whole grains. Whole grains are those that have not undergone much processing and retain their original seed including the bran, germ and endosperm. Which grains have you never tried?
Barley- barley’s not just in beer! Barley is often used in soup, but can be paired with fruit and nuts and eaten as a breakfast cereal or cooked with onions and garlic as a side dish. Barley contains soluble fiber, which helps reduce blood sugar and cholesterol. Pearled barley has had the outer husk and bran removed but one cup of pearled barley still contains 6 grams of fiber per serving.
Kitchen hack: if you cook a batch of barley you can easily use it all week long to make salads, pilaf, breakfast cereal, and soups.
Bulgur- bulgur is a relative to wheat and is frequently used in tabbouleh salad, a beautiful blend of tomatoes, cucumbers, garlic, fresh parsley, mint, lemon juice and olive oil eaten in traditional Arabic cultures.
Kitchen hack: bulgur does not take much time to cook so you should keep it on hand for the days that you have little time in your kitchen. It cooks in a minute and goes great in salads.
Couscous- there are many varieties of couscous, a tiny pasta native to North Africa. It is often used as a side dish and becomes fluffy when cooked. Similar to barley, couscous comes in a “pearled” form, which tends to be lower in fiber than whole wheat couscous.
Kitchen hack: couscous cooks in a minute and it has a neutral flavor with a fine texture. Everyone loves it! Serve it under stews or roasted veggies and add a little fresh lemon for flavor.
Farro- pronounced far-oh, farro is an ancient relative to modern day wheat. It is a good source of iron and contains 7 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein per half cup serving. Farro makes a great side dish or can be used in grain salads such as tabbouleh.
Kitchen hack: use farro the same way you would brown rice. It is best to cook it in a rice cooker or instant pot. Leftover farro can be used in soups and salads.
Oatmeal- there are multiple varieties of oats with the most nutritious being the least processed. Steel cut oats take longer to cook but can be made in large batches and reheated when needed. Ginger, cinnamon or vanilla can be added to oatmeal as well as dried fruit or nuts to keep this hearty grain, interesting.
Kitchen hack: rolled oats are convenient any time of the day or night. By keeping them on hand you ensure they will get eaten. Top them with fresh fruit for a simple breakfast or late night snack.
Polenta- my mother made polenta when I was a kid. This course, corn-based grain dish is frequently used in Italian cuisine. Tomato sauces or other vegetables often top polenta. In the past, polenta may have been made from chickpeas, farro or other grains.
Kitchen hack: you can make polenta or buy it in the produce section of the grocery store. Use it like pasta and top with tomato sauce and steamed veggies.
Rice- rice has been harvested in West Africa for close to 3,000 years. Whole grain, brown rice has a low glycemic index and eating two servings per week has been found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to consumption of white rice.
Kitchen hack: experiment with different varieties of brown rice to find one you and your loved ones like the best. If you cook a large batch in a rice pot, then freeze it in family-sized servings you can easily reheat it when you have a busy day.
Whole grain pasta- the calorie, carbohydrate and serving size for refined, white pasta is the same for whole wheat pasta, but the fiber content is significantly different. Whole wheat pasta contains 2 ½-3 times as much fiber as refined pasta per serving. Toss in extra vegetables like peppers, onions, mushrooms or spinach to add more color, texture and nutrients to your pasta dishes.
Kitchen hack: whole grain pasta has a rich, nutty flavor. For best results, be careful not to over cook it. In fact it is often better if you undercook whole grain pasta and allow it to finish cooking in its sauce for a minute or two.
Submitted by Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD
Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian and owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati. She shares her clinical, culinary, and community nutrition knowledge through cooking demos, teaching, and freelance writing. Lisa is a regular contributor to Food and Health Communications and Today’s Dietitian and is the author of the Healing Gout Cookbook, Complete Thyroid Cookbook, and Heart Healthy Meal Prep Cookbook. Her line of food pun merchandise, Lettuce beet hunger, supports those suffering food insecurity in Cincinnati. For more information, visit her website: https://soundbitesnutrition.com/