Five or six years ago, when someone mentioned eating more whole grains, I only thought of brown rice and stale wheat bread with chunks of grains imbedded in the crust. Someone introduced me to steal cut oatmeal, but it was never my thing. One day I realized that popcorn is a grain, and when we pop it, we eat the whole thing.Therefore, popcorn = a whole grain.

You're welcome. Then, when I made the decision to try out a vegan diet, the world opened up.

Someone had given me some great advice: when making drastic, elective changes to your diet, introduce new items before taking out the old ones. Simple, right? But I had a pretty broad range of food interests. Like any good Texan, I loved TexMex and Southern comfort food. Italian food rocked my world, and the little French Bistro near my apartment had the best desserts. What else could be out there? A quick Google search lead me to a program called The 21-day Vegan Kickstart). (http://www.pcrm.org/kickstartHome) I'm not trying to convert anyone, by the way, but the kickstart, designed by doctors and nutritionists, did two things that made transitioning to a healthy, whole-foods diet easier for me. It introduced me to foods that I'd never heard of or never considered, and it gave me weekly meal plans with shopping lists and recipes that even my picky, carnivorous husband devoured. It was a 21-day taste adventure, and everything I tried was a complete success. I still eat the Confetti Couscous salad when I find wheat-free cous cous.

And the buckwheat pancakes... Oh my. Which brings me to my point: Whole Grain doesn't have to mean crunchy rice and stale, chewy bread. I mean, whole grain bread can be delicious, as I'm sure you've discovered by now, but it's not all there is. Here are some grains and grain-like seeds that could make eating whole foods a lot more interesting:

Amaranth (http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/amaranth-may-grain-of-the-month-0)
Amaranth is a nutrient powerhouse, full of calcium, iron, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, and complete, gluten-free protein that is similar in nutritive value to that of animal products. Studies suggest that it may have heart-health benefits, such as reducing LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while improving blood pressure. You can eat it as a cereal or make savory dishes. Amaranth flour, or even the tiny, whole seeds, can be added to either gluten-free or wheat breads in the same way that millet can.

Buckwheat (http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/buckwheat-health-benefits)
My personal favorite, buckwheat is not technically a grain. It's a seed, and it's packed with perfect protein, magnesium, copper, manganese, phosphorous, fiber, antioxidants, flavonoids (like rutin), and lignans. The list of potential benefits of buckwheat include cancer prevention, asthma prevention, lower cholesterol, better blood pressure, better blood sugar regulation, gallstone prevention, and cellular health. (http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=11)

Millet (http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/health-benefits-of-millet)
Millet has plenty of protein and fiber, but it also seems to have blood sugar regulating properties. You'll find it in many of our gluten-free breads or on the same aisle where you find rice. Many cultures use it to make porridge or a base similar to polenta that can be topped with stew or a saucy dish.

Teff (http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/teff-and-millet-november-grains-of-the-month)
Teff is an excellent source of calcium and "resistant starch," a type of fiber that seems to benefit gut health and blood sugar regulation.

A lot of the links I've included share recipes, but I would encourage you to look into even more. Every one of these links mentions making porridges, but you can also make pancakes, breads, granolas, rice-like dishes, and even parfaits. Buckwheat pancakes are life changing. Life changing, I tell you. Now go forth and explore the wonderful, varied world of whole grains, and, while you're at it grab some incredible edible seeds like quinoa and chia, which share many of the same benefits as whole grains. We would love if you would share some of the recipes you try in the comments below!

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