Adding whole grains to your salad not only provides added color, flavor and texture, they also provide B vitamins which are important for energy levels, and fiber to keep you satisfied for longer. Whole grains take a simple salad and make it hearty and full of crunch. Here are five grains to add to your salad, just remember that the grain is not the main ingredient and stick to one-third to one-half cup serving.
Barley can be considered the cousin of the oat. While this grain is celebrated in the world of alcohol (many beers, whiskies, and gins wouldn’t exist without barley), it’s underrated in the world of nutrition. Barley may actually reduce blood glucose levels and blood pressure for those at moderate risk for Type II diabetes and hypertension. Barley’s fiber can also help control cholesterol and visceral fat levels, as well as food intake. Make a barley-based salad with green beans and slivered almonds for a crisp crunch and plant-powered punch.
Like barley, kasha (or buckwheat) also has been shown to lower blood pressure and blood glucose levels and contribute to a lowered cardiovascular disease risk. But while barley has more of a bland flavor, kasha has a naturally nutty flavor to it, especially when the granules are toasted in the oven or pan for a few minutes. Plus, the grain is gluten-free, a win for those with gluten sensitivity, digestive issues or Celiac disease. Make a salad with steamed shredded cabbage, carrots and water chestnuts topped with a low-fat sesame dressing, and add an egg while cooking the kasha for added protein and texture.
A beneficial health anomaly, quinoa is one of the few plant foods that supplies all of our essential amino acids (usually only proteins in animal products can do that) which are required for proper muscle growth and function. While it is also gluten-free, studies have shown that when included in a gluten-free diet, quinoa significantly increases the nutrient uptake in the gluten-free diet, adding a healthy dose of minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous and folate, as well as filling fiber and protein. Add a cupful to a bed of greens, fennel and chopped baked sweet potatoes for a subtly sweet and nutty alternative salad topper
Don’t be surprised by its lack of sweetness. Wheat berries consist of the entirety of the whole grain form of wheat, a trifecta of germ, endosperm, and bran. With a nutrient profile similar to quinoa, wheat berries also contain heavy doses of vitamins B1 and B3 as well as copper and selenium, which help anti-inflammatory and immune responses and healthy thyroid function. Toss with blood oranges, red onions and feta for a sweet and tangy salad.
Similar to barley in appearance and flavor, farro (or emmer in certain parts of the world), is a slightly chewier alternative to the former grain. Despite nearly identical nutrient profiles, farro packs a lot of fiber in such little granules - 8 g per 1/2 cup serving! When eaten regularly, its contribution to fiber intake helps prevent constipation and lower cholesterol while supporting a healthy gut environment. Add it with tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and a hint of balsamic vinaigrette for a refreshing Mediterranean salad.
Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian in New York City and the author of two bestselling diet books: The F-Factor Diet and The Miracle Carb Diet: Make Calories and Fat Disappear – with Fiber.