You may be familiar with whole-wheat pasta and brown rice, but alternative whole grains offer different health benefits and textures to lighten up heavy, carb-based meals. Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber, which keeps you full longer and helps you maintain a healthy weight, but this isn’t the only benefit. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, eating 90 grams of whole grains each day lowers colorectal cancer risk by 17 percent. Here, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite alternative grains to help ward off cancer.
Quinoa is an excellent replacement for white rice in your favorite Mexican or Asian dishes. This edible seed can be black, red, yellow, or white. Indigenous to the Andean region of South America, quinoa has been cultivated for about 5,000 years, so it’s often referred to as an “ancient grain.” One cup of cooked quinoa provides eight grams of protein and five grams of fiber, plus it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies don’t naturally produce. Typically cooked in water, substitute chicken or vegetable broth for extra flavor, and add any vegetables, proteins, and spices for a versatile dish.
Farro is a nutty, chewy grain often used to replace arborio rice (a type of white rice) in risotto dishes. Traditional farro must be soaked overnight before cooking, but the semi-pearled and pearled varieties cut cooking time significantly. However, some of the bran has been removed from these varieties, so while it packs less of a whole-grain punch, any type of farro acts as an excellent replacement for rice when you crave a satisfying chew. Farro can be served at breakfast, with some berries and creamy yogurt, or at dinner, in your favorite risotto recipe.
Barley gives dishes a similarly nutty flavor and chewy texture as farro, but provides a significant amount of the mineral selenium, which plays a role in liver enzyme function and can help detoxify cancer-causing compounds in the body. Selenium also helps prevent inflammation, which may decrease tumor growth rates. Barley is one of the more forgiving grains, meaning it’s difficult to overcook. For this reason, barley holds up well in hearty winter stews and adds texture to light summer salads.
Spelt is a variety of grain that is most commonly seen in grocery stores as an alternative to white flour. Spelt flour can be used as a white-flour replacement for most recipes, including hearty breads and sweet baked goods. It’s a particularly good substitute in pizza crust, as it won’t become tough or leathery once baked. Spelt can also be found in whole-grain form, and is a great substitute for less nutrient-packed grains like rice. Spelt’s protein and fiber levels are impressive, and it also contains significant amounts of iron, magnesium, zinc, and potassium, among other minerals.
Teff is a fairly small grain—about the size of a poppy seed—that is most often ground into flour. Teff flour is used to make the traditional Ethiopian bread called injera, a pancake-like fermented bread that pairs well with spices like ginger, fenugreek, and turmeric. Teff provides the most calcium of any whole grain, which is essential for strong bones and teeth. Calcium also has positive effects on our muscles, heart, and blood. Teff makes a delicious breakfast porridge, or teff flour can replace white flour in recipes for more nutrient-rich baked goods.