As the word is spreading about the importance of low glycemic eating many people would like to replace the usual potato, pasta, and white rice based side dishes with something more healthful. Vegetables are an obvious healthy choice. Whole grains, however, are a bit of an unfamiliar territory.
You may be wondering which grains are considered low glycemic? How do you prepare them? Do they taste good?
Surprisingly, there are quite a few low glycemic grains to choose from. They all have different flavors and work well in a variety of dishes. Some are great for soups and stews, others are better in salads, and still, others are great for baking. The best way to figure out which low GI grains work best in your favorite recipes is to get into the kitchen and start cooking.
The Most Popular Low Glycemic Grains:
Barley is a low GI grain with a chewy consistency and a distinct flavor. Containing both soluble and insoluble fiber, it helps the body to get rid of toxins. High fiber content makes barley very filling. Pearl barley is a bit more processed than pot barley and will also cook faster. Barley is wonderful in soups and stews as it makes them creamy. It can also be used as a base for vegetable and grain bowls.
Barley Glycemic Index: 20-37
Barley Glycemic Load: 8-16
Barley Nutrition: key nutrients in barley include fiber, protein, magnesium, manganese, vitamin E, the B-complex vitamins, zinc, copper, iron, calcium, potassium, sulfur, and phosphorus.
Is barley gluten free? No.
Despite its name, buckwheat is not related to wheat. Although it’s not a grain but a fruit seed of a plant that belongs to the rhubarb family, in cooking buckwheat is treated as any other low glycemic grain. It can be cooked in water or stock and served as a side dish either plain or mixed with sautéed onions. It also makes a great base for veggie bowls and pairs especially well with mushrooms and goat cheese. Buckwheat tastes delicious served for breakfast just like a regular cereal with milk and a little bit of natural sweetener.
Buckwheat glycemic index: 45-51
Buckwheat glycemic load: 13-15
Buckwheat nutrition: Buckwheat is high in protein and fiber which makes it very filling. Key nutrients in buckwheat are B vitamins, potassium, lysine, phosphorus, vitamin E, calcium, and iron.
Is buckwheat gluten free? Yes.
Bulgur is produced by steaming, drying, and then cracking whole-wheat kernels. This low glycemic grain tastes great in salads, casseroles, stews, soups, pilafs, and baked goods. Bulgur is very popular in Middle Eastern cooking and is often served as a tabouleh salad. Bulgur is very easy to prepare as it only has to be soaked in hot water for 30 minutes to 1 hour or you can also cook it in water for about 15 minutes.
Bulgur glycemic index: 46
Bulgur glycemic load: 12
Bulgur nutrition: Key nutrients in bulgur include fiber, manganese, magnesium, potassium, choline, B vitamins, iron, and calcium.
Is bulgur gluten free? No.
Oats are probably the most widely used low GI grain. You can find them sold in different forms which are not always low GI. The low glycemic forms of oats are steel-cut oats, rolled oats, oat bran, and oat groats. The high glycemic forms of oats are instant oatmeal that is usually sweetened and various quick cooking oats. I would like to emphasize that instant oatmeal is a very high glycemic form of oats and there is nothing healthy about it. Regular rolled oats don’t take a long time to cook either and can be used in any recipe that calls for instant oats.
Rolled oats glycemic index: 45-55
Rolled oats glycemic load: 9-11
Rolled oats nutrition: Oats are high in protein, fiber, and fat – a combination which makes them very filling. Key nutrients in oats include magnesium, iron, manganese, phosphorus, calcium, zinc, B vitamins, and vitamin E.
Are oats gluten free? Oats are gluten-free but can often be contaminated during processing and packaging.
Though a herb rather than a true grain, quinoa has gained a reputation as a “super-grain” because of its high nutritional value. A new convenient food, it is quick and easy to prepare and can be served as a side dish or added to soups, stews, and salads. It also tastes great as a breakfast cereal. Quinoa kernels are coated with saponin, a bitter compound that repels insects and birds. If you find that quinoa tastes bitter, make sure to presoak it and then rinse well before cooking.
Quinoa glycemic index: 53
Quinoa glycemic load: 13
Quinoa nutrition: Quinoa is considered a complete protein because it contains all essential amino acids. Key nutrients in quinoa include fiber, vitamin B6, copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, vitamin B3, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamin B2.
Is quinoa gluten-free? Yes.
Rye has been cultivated for nearly 2,000 years and is especially popular in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. Whole rye comes cracked and in the form of flakes and berries and can be cooked as a cereal. Rye isn’t used very often as a side dish because it has a very strong flavor. However, rye bread is absolutely delicious. It’s very dense and heavy and is a wonderful low-glycemic alternative to high glycemic white bread made from highly processed white flour.
Rye glycemic index: Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the glycemic index of rye.
Rye Glycemic load: N/A
Rye nutrition: Key nutrients in rye include protein, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, copper, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B3, vitamin B2, vitamin B1, and zinc.
Is rye gluten-free? No.
7. Wild Rice
Wild rice is not a type of rice, but an aquatic grass seed native to North America. It contains more protein than rice and is richer in the amino acid lysine. Wild rice has a mild distinctive flavor and works well in grain salads and soups and makes a great base for veggie and grain bowls. Wild rice can be quite expensive, so if you wish to cut the cost try mixing it with basmati rice or buy a pre-made wild rice/ brown rice/white rice mix. Wild rice takes a long time to cook, so it is better to soak it overnight before cooking it.
Wild rice glycemic index: 53
Wild rice glycemic load: 12
Wild rice nutrition: Key nutrients in wild rice are protein, fiber, vitamin B6, folate, riboflavin, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, copper, and zinc.
Is wild rice gluten-free? Yes.
Whole grains are delicious, easy to store and cook, and are readily available in grocery stores and on-line. They are also nutrient rich and can be a part of a healthy diet. Although the above whole grains all have a low glycemic index, they are close to or have a medium glycemic load. So it’s better to eat them in small portions (which will be different for everybody) and always pair them with vegetables and some protein.