Choosing Whole Grains is Good for Your Health

Whole grains are grains that are made up of all parts of the grain—the bran (fiber-rich outer layer), the endosperm (middle), and the germ (the nutrient-rich inner part). Whole grains must be 100% of the original kernel. They include grains such as amaranth, barley, buckwheat, corn (whole cornmeal and popcorn), millet, oats, quinoa, rice (brown and colored) rye, sorghum (milo), teff, triticale, wheat (spelt, emmer, farro, Kamut, durum, bulgur, cracked wheat and wheat berries), and wild rice.

Whole grains are a good substitute for processed, refined grains such as white bread, white rice, and white pasta, and when used in place of processed grains can help to improve your blood sugars and keep you full. Whole grains contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than white flours. They also raise blood sugars at a slower pace. But, because whole grains are a source of carbohydrate, your portion still needs to be modified.

It is recommended to make at least 1/2 of your grain intake whole grains. When looking for a whole grain, check for the whole grain stamp or check the ingredient list—the first ingredient should say whole. Labels that make claims, such as, "made with whole grains," "seven grain," or "multigrain" are not necessarily whole grains.

1
Buckwheat Groats and Kasha

Buckwheat
Chushkin / Getty Images

Buckwheat groats are not actually a grain, but rather the fruit of a leafy plant. They are a gluten-free food, typically made into flour to make things such as pancakes, noodles, and other gluten-free products. When buckwheat is roasted, it is called kasha. Kasha has a more intensive nut-like flavor. Buckwheat and kasha can be used in whole grain cereals as well as eaten on their own. Some studies suggest that buckwheat can help to reduce blood pressure. Buckwheat is also a good source of fiber and protein. Substitute buckwheat for your morning cereal or use the flour to make whole grain pancakes, but remember to keep your portions in check.

1/2 cup cooked of buckwheat contains 78 calories, .5 g fat, 0 g  saturated fat, 4 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate, 2.25 g fiber, <1 g sugar, 3 g protein.

2
Bulgar

Bulgur tabbouleh with asparagus
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Bulgur is a whole grain that is most commonly found in tabouli. Bulgar wheat has been partially cooked and dried so that it is quick and easy to make. It has a slightly nutty flavor and a tender, chewy texture. You can use bulgar as a breakfast cereal or side dish for lunch or dinner. It can also be used as a substitution for brown rice, couscous, quinoa or other grain varieties. Add it to soups, salads or veggie burgers.

1/2 cup cooked contains 76 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 5 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 3 g protein. 

3
Spelt

Close-Up Of Organic Spelt Husks In Wooden Container On White Background
Heinz Tschanz-Hofmann / EyeEm / Getty Images

Spelt is an ancient whole grain with a nutty, slightly sweet flavor. It is typically ground into flour but can also be cooked as is and used in side dishes. Spelt is rich in fiber and protein and is also a good source of calcium, magnesium, and B-vitamins. Protein can help to keep you full and keep your immune system strong.

1/2 cup of cooked spelt contain about: 123 calories, <1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 5 mg sodium, 25.5 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 6 g protein.

Keep in mind that spelt contains more carbohydrate per 1/2 cup than the other grains mentioned, which is particularly important if you are following a consistent carbohydrate diet or are looking to reduce your carbohydrate intake. As a general rule, always limit your grains to no more than 1 cup or 1/4 of your plate per meal.

Sources:

Holzmeister, Lee Ann. Hot breakfast cereal. (2014, November/December). Diabetes Self-Management, 31 (6), 60-64.

Lehman, Shereen, MS. Splet—ancient healthy whole grain.

Murray, Jennifer. What is buckwheat? Buckwheat defined.

Whole Grain Council. What is a whole grain?