Carbs have come in for a bit of a bashing in the last few years, but as you may know, not all carbs are equal. Cakes, biscuits and some cereals might contain sugar and have low levels of fibre, but complex carbs – those are the ones that are largely unprocessed – tend to be rich in minerals, fibre and contain some protein too. Typified by wholegrains, complex carbohydrates definitely have a place in a healthy diet. Here are a few you might add to your menu;
Not technically a grain, amaranth is part of the Chenopodiaceae family which includes quinoa and beetroot and thus contains no gluten. It cooks like rice and can also be popped in oil like corn kernels. Unusually rich in magnesium, calcium and iron but also a good source of lysine, an amino acid most often found in animal protein so great for vegetarians and vegans.
Barley is especially rich in soluble and insoluble fibre, especially beta-glucan, which binds to cholesterol in the gut preventing it from being absorbed. Rich in selenium, B1 and magnesium, barley helps blood glucose management and so is ideal when combined with a little protein for reducing appetite and achieving consistent energy levels.
Despite the somewhat confusing name, buckwheat is a seed, not a grain and contains no wheat and thus no gluten either. Buckwheat is the richest food source of rutin, a flavonoid with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential that is great for heart health.
Bulgur is a composite of groats, themselves the husks of several wholegrains. It’s richer in fibre than most other grains (18g per 100g) and also contains gluten so not for everyone.
Made from young green wheat, freekeh has a firm texture with a smoky dark flavour. As it is essentially wheat it contains gluten and so might be used in recipes if a stronger flavour is called for.
Millet is similar to wheat in most aspects except that it contains no gluten and is a decent source of magnesium and potassium.
The original superhero amongst grains, oats are a concentrated source of minerals and have a favourable balance of protein to carbohydrates. Oats contain beta-glucan that binds to cholesterol in the intestines preventing it from being absorbed into the blood. Oats are gluten free but do contain avenin, a first cousin of gluten but still suitable for coeliacs when processed in a wheat free environment.
Unlike most grains quinoa (technically a seed) is a worthy source of protein as it has the full complement of amino acids making it a rare grain-based complete protein. All grains contain flavonoids, but quinoa contains two – quercetin and kaempferol – that can discourage inflammation.
Rye is part of the wheat family and so contains gluten. It is a richer source of lignans than most other wholegrains, a substance that can lower the risk of breast cancer in post-menopausal women and cardiovascular disease in the general population.
From the same family group as wheat and rye, spelt offers a slightly different mix of proteins that makes it more suitable for people with a sensitivity to regular wheat although it does contain gluten.
This tiny North African grain has a gentle yet slightly sweet flavour and has a slightly higher concentration of minerals than most other wholegrains including vitamin C, which is rarely found in grains.
Harvested from a type of grass so not technically a grain, wild rice has twice as much protein as regular rice and offers a nutty flavour with a chewy texture.