Carbs have been getting a bad rap for ages, blamed for bloat and excess poundage, while protein sports a halo for its lean-machine power.And while it is true that refined carbs—found in the form of processed foods—can contribute to flab, the carbs from whole grains are a dietary must. “Protein is good for building muscles, but it’s impossible to train for an endurance event without eating carbs,” says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, author of The Doctor’s Detox Diet. “You need the glycogen and the carbohydrates for energy to fuel your body through running, biking, swimming—whatever you are doing.”Not only do whole grains keep you running strong, they’re filled with fiber, which can lower cholesterol, reduce heart disease risk, and stabilize blood sugar levels. So we asked Dr. Gerbstadt to concoct 10 super-simple ways to work them into your daily diet.
1. Bread chicken breasts with whole-grain crumbs.
Plus, if you doctor up the crumbs with herbs, you’ll amp up the vitamins and the flavor. “Oregano makes it taste Italian, and it contains a lot of healthy phytochemicals.” In fact, research from Long Island University has found that oregano may kill prostate cancer cells, the second leading cause of cancer death in American men.
2. Eat oatmeal for breakfast.
An FDA analysis found that this morning staple has a powerful effect in lowering total cholesterol. If you can’t commit to the steel-cut kind before you’ve had your AM coffee fix, make it easy on yourself: just buy instant oatmeal (go for pure oats, not sugar-sweetened packets) and add a cup of hot water.Oatmeal isn’t your thing? Munch on a whole-grain cold cereal. “Read the packaging at the store to find one that’s high in fiber.” (You’ll want to shoot for 5 grams per serving.)
3. Make sandwiches on whole-grain bread.
They’re an ideal post-gym snack. “If you just finished a workout, you want two slices of whole-grain bread and three ounces of lean meat,” says Gerbstadt. “That gives you 15 grams of carbohydrates and 21 grams of protein, which is the perfect amount to rebuild your muscles and to restock your glycogen stores.”
4. Boil up whole-wheat pasta.
You may even find you like the firmer texture better than traditional varieties. “It’s less likely to be soggy and overcooked, and the flavor can be nutty. Add red sauce, pesto, or oil and garlic, and you’ll look like a gourmet with no trouble at all.” Stick to a ½-cup to 1-cup serving; then, bulk up the meal with lean protein and vitamin-packed vegetables.
5. Experiment with buckwheat or soba noodles.
Soba is the Japanese name for buckwheat, a fruit seed that is ideal for people who are sensitive to wheat or gluten. “The noodles cook very fast—great for nights spent late at the office or gym—and are tasty when tossed with a little sesame oil and toasted sesame seeds.”
6. Buy brown rice.
The milling required to convert brown rice into white destroys most of the vitamins and all of its fiber. It takes a little longer to cook, so it may be worth it to invest in a rice cooker. “You can come home from work and put it on, and you can eat two hours later. It’s fool proof.” (See: Fit Food: The Benefits of Brown Rice.)
7. Gnaw on corn on the cob.
It’s gluten free, and research shows it’s high in antioxidants and carotenoids that are associated with eye health. If it’s not farmer’s market season, buy it frozen, then thaw it and toss it in your salad or cook it up as a side. “Go easy on the butter or drizzle it with olive oil.”
8. Try quinoa.
Even if it sounds weird, you won’t be alone: The United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 “The International Year of Quinoa.” "It’s a whole grain that looks like couscous, and it has some of the highest protein levels of any grain. If you rinse it before you cook it, it gets rid of any bitter taste.” (Try this MF recipe: Quinoa Paella with Chicken and Chorizo.)
9. Cook barley soup.
Barley is a cereal grain that’s loaded with fiber and selenium, which helps prevent cellular damage from free radicals. “Brown a little bit of lean steak, add it to a carton of beef broth, and toss in some barley, and you’ve got soup that will keep in the fridge for three days.”
10. Choose whole-grain energy bars.
Not all refueling snacks are created equal: Research has found that some are no better for you than candy bars. “Look at the ingredient label and make sure that whole grain is the first or second ingredient. And make sure the sugar content is less than 5 grams and there’s no more than three grams of fat.”