Quick! When I say, “Mediterranean diet,” what do you picture? Wine? Olive oil? Pitas and bread?

All yummy, and all correct!

But a Mediterranean diet is also plant-based!

A Mediterranean diet comprises fruits, veggies, healthy fats and proteins, but with only modest portions of animal protein…We should be looking to the Mediterranean diet for a healthful, plant-based approach towards eating. Whole grains are a part of their healthy diet too, and while grains and carbs have been under scrutiny in recent years, please note that true, 100% whole grains have experienced minimal processing to keep the bran, germ and endosperm intact, whereas processed grains have removed the most nutrient dense components, the bran and the germ.

Adopt an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean diet, including whole grains, to shift your health towards better weight loss, less risk of many diseases, including cardiovascular disease, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Just make sure to use true whole grains, many of them featured below.

Admittedly, many of these whole grains hail from other countries, rather than the Mediterranean region, but here are some of my favorites to stock the kitchen. And, I’m of course sharing one of my all-time go-to salad Mediterranean recipes, Tabouleh. Easy to make; hard to spell!

Stock your pantry with these whole grains and discover yummy, plant-based meals that support great health!

Barley

Think beyond beer, my friends! You’ve likely seen barley featured in soup, and it’s also ideal to create a yummy pilaf salad or to accompany fruits, seeds, or nuts in a warm breakfast bowl.  With its soluble fiber, barley supports healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels. One of my favorites for a salad but with a bit more processing to remove the outer husk and bran, is pearled barley. Still providing fiber, pearled barley is a yummy addition to your dinner table. Please note, barley contains gluten.

Bulgur

Totally underused and unappreciated, bulgur is an overall winner with its quick cook time. Unlike many whole wheat products, bulgur has not been stripped of its bran and germ. This both allows its texture to closely resemble and to be an ideal substitute for ground beef or to serve as a perfect nutty addition to salads. My favorite ways to enjoy bulgur include seasoning the grains into a taco filling or an Italian sausage substitute. Bulgur wheat is a super source of protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients!

Farro

Never heard of Farro? Pronounced far-oh, this ancient relative to modern day wheat, comes in three varieties: whole grain, semi-pearled, and pearled. If you are unfamiliar with this grain, know that you will want to stick with the whole farro, which leaves the germ, bran, and endosperm intact for higher nutritional benefit. These little grains are bursting with fiber and protein (7g each/half cup serving) as well as magnesium, zinc, antioxidants, B vitamins, and iron.

Farro in particular, has been shown to support healthy immune systems, decreased inflammation, and modulate healthy blood sugar levels and cholesterol.

It is perfect in a wide variety of foods including soups, casseroles, stuffings, and salads, including a substitute in the tradition bulgur crafted tabbouleh.

Oatmeal

Think beyond the small, instant package and put aside your brown sugar and your frown. Oatmeal is is a power packed grain, providing a blank palate, just waiting to take on pretty much anything you throw its way: cinnamon, ginger, vanilla, almond, berries, nuts, or fruit. The options are endless for a comforting start to your day!

There are multiple varieties of oats, each being processed at a different level. The one you’re likely most familiar, Whole Rolled Oats, are steamed, rolled, and flaked, so they take less cooking time. The least processed oatmeal variety, Steel Cut Oats (also called Irish Oats) are chopped a few times with a steel blade. Less processing requires a longer cook time. The trade off?… A firmer texture with a an earthy, nutty flavor, so best to cook them in water rather than to use in baking.  A steel cut oatmeal cereal can be prepared ahead of time or made in a crock pot and reheated.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is an excellent source of manganese, and a good source of the trace mineral selenium, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, and niacin/ vitamin B3. Unlike white rice, its counterpart, brown rice retains its bran and germ and is not subjected to extensive processing that removes the nutrients, essential fatty acids, and fiber. What’s more whole grain, brown rice has a low glycemic index and eating two servings per week has been found to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to consumption of white rice.

Brown rice can be added to soups, used with a stir fry, sprinkled in salads, or even used in a sweet or savory breakfast bowl. A perfect meal prep food, if you cook a large batch of brown rice, simply freeze portions to reheat easily when you have a busy day.

Tabouleh Salad, serves 8 salads

No cook time is required, since the bulgur wheat requires only a 30 minute soak time. This salad is best prepared ahead of time, so the flavors can meld under refrigeration before serving.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups bulgur
  • 2 cups very hot water
  • 1 cucumber, chopped
  • 1 large tomato, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 cups chopped fresh parsley

Dressing

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp pink salt (or to taste)
  • Black pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Pour hot water over bulgur and allow to stand until water is absorbed, about 30 minutes.
  2. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
  3. Serve immediately or chill for future use, up to 3 days.
This salad is great with feta cheese and kalamata olives for added protein and flavor.