Few things are as comforting and satisfying, especially on a chilly morning, as a bowl of hot oatmeal. But when it comes to cooking a pot of whole grains for breakfast, many people rarely make it past oats.
That’s a pity, because whole grains such as quinoa, wild rice, wheat berries, bulgur and barley aren’t just for dinner — they also deserve a place in your breakfast bowl.
Although exact nutrient profiles vary, whole grains are generally good-to-excellent sources of many B vitamins and several minerals.
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By including a variety of whole grains in your diet, you benefit from a more diverse array of nutrients than if you stick to just a few favorites.
Most whole grains are also a good source of protein and a good-to-excellent source of fiber. Intact whole grains provide a slower, steadier release of energy (glucose) into your bloodstream than do grains that have been stripped of their outer bran (white rice, for example) or ground into flour for bread or pastries.
If you tend to feel better and stay satisfied longer when you eat a higher-protein breakfast, you can still include whole grains in your breakfast rotation. Quinoa, buckwheat, amaranth and hard wheat berries are grains highest in protein. To further boost protein, use milk for some of the cooking liquid, stir in an egg at the end of cooking or finish with some nuts or a spoonful of nut butter.
To sweeten your breakfast grains, think beyond brown sugar and honey. Diced fresh fruit, mashed banana or dried fruit will provide natural sweetness as well as nutrients (be aware that some dried fruit has added sugar).
Adding a dash of vanilla and a “baking” spice such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger or cardamom can add aroma and the illusion of sweetness.
An easy way to start branching out at breakfast is with one of the multigrain hot cereals from companies such as Bob’s Red Mill. Follow the instructions on the package. Or, pick a whole grain you like to cook for dinner, cook up a batch for breakfast, then dress it up as you would oatmeal. Cooking times for whole grains vary from 15 minutes to an hour.
For most people, the longer cooking times are only realistic on weekend mornings — or in advance.
The great thing about cooked whole grains is that they reheat wonderfully with the addition of a little extra liquid. Leftover cooked grains from dinner can be turned into breakfast the next morning, as long as you cook them in water and not a savory broth. This is a fantastic (and necessary) timesaver if you find you barely have time to make instant oatmeal in the morning. If you are caught in an instant-oatmeal rut, switching to the less-processed thick-cut or steel-cut oats, or another whole grain, will probably feel more satisfying.
People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity need to avoid wheat, rye and barley.
But what about oats? Although the oat itself does not contain gluten, oats are frequently contaminated with wheat during growing or processing. If your doctor says that pure, uncontaminated oats are OK for you, be sure to buy prepackaged oats that are labeled gluten-free.
Carrie Dennett is a graduate student in the Nutritional Sciences Program at the University of Washington. Her blog is nutritionbycarrie.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.