17 Great Whole Grains to Add to Your Diet

What Are Whole Grains?

Whole Grains
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According to the Whole Grains Council, a whole grain "contains all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions." The Whole Grain Council notes that whole grains can be processed but still have the same balance of nutrients. 

Some whole grains are already familiar to you, but you may find many more you haven't tried yet, including some that will work on gluten-free diets. Intrigued? Take a look at these 17 healthy whole grains.


Amaranth on white.
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Amaranth is native to Peru and was a major food crop of the ancient Aztecs. It's not technically a cereal grain like wheat, oats and barley, so it's called a 'pseudo-cereal.' It gets included in the whole grain group because it's had a long history of being used like a grain. Amaranth is high in protein and several minerals. It's naturally gluten-free so it can be used in gluten-free cooking because it doesn't contain gluten.

Black Rice

Black rice on white.
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Black rice isn't as well known as white or brown rice, but it can be found in specialty whole foods stores. The pigment that gives the rice its rich purplish-black hue is rich in antioxidants and since it's not refined, it qualifies as a fiber-rich whole grain.


Barley on white.
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Barley is another grain that's been around for ages. It's probably best known as one of the main ingredients in beer, but it's also used as a typical grain. Regular barley has a super tough hull, so you're probably going to find 'pearled barley' in your grocery store. Pearled barley is partly refined, but even though part of the hull is removed, it's still better than an entirely refined grain.

Brown Rice

Brown rice on white background.
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Brown rice is really just white rice in it's natural state. It still has the brownish colored bran covering, so it's a bit higher in fiber and more nutritious than white rice. It takes a bit longer to cook and has a chewier texture, but it cam be used in most recipes that call for regular rice. And just like white rice, brown rice is available in several varieties, including long- medium- and short- grain rice.


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Buckwheat isn't a form of wheat or even a grain -- it's related to rhubarb and is another of the pseudo-cereal. Buckwheat is used to make soba noodles and kasha. It's high in fiber, which is good, but it can be a little difficult to cook and can become too mushy. Buckwheat is also gluten-free.


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Corn surprises some people because they think of it as a vegetable. But corn on the cob, cornmeal and popcorn are excellent whole grains that are gluten-free. Corn is really quite nutritious and has gotten a bad rap because it's high in starch. It's also high in fiber and one of our favorite gluten-free whole grains.


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Emmer is a type of wheat, so it's not gluten free. In fact, it's one of the oldest forms of wheat. Sometime's it's referred to as farro. Be sure to look for whole emmer or whole farrow -- pearled emmer is a refined version.


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Kamut is an ancient form of wheat with a buttery flavor and higher protein content. It's not all that easy to find, but you might find puffed cereal, crackers and Kamut flour in the natural-foods section of the grocery store or whole food speciality stores. 


MIllet on white.
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Millet is a small type of grain commonly used as a porridge or polenta in India, Russia, China and South America. In North America, it's more often used as bird seed. Millet is a gluten-free grain, so it's safe for people with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to consume. It has a mild flavor, and since it's a small grain, you'll always find it in whole-grain form.


Oats on white.
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Oats are well-known as a whole grain, and the nutritional value is the same whether you buy rolled quick cooking oats or longer cooking steel cut oats. They're both good, but if you've got the time to spend, do yourself a favor and cook up the steel cut oats -- they're so good. Oats are gluten-free, but there is concern for cross-contamination


Cooked Quinoa
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Quinoa is a pseudo-grain from South America and is often used like rice. But it's higher in fiber than rice, and it's one of the very few plant-based foods that's a complete protein, meaning it has all the essential amino acids. It's easy to find quinoa that's ready to cook, but make sure you buy pre-rinsed quinoa. Otherwise, you'll need to soak and rinse your quinoa before cooking, or it will taste bitter.


Rye bread.
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Rye is a gluten grain that's high in fiber and low on the glycemic index so it might be good for those who are watching their carbs. It's an important grain found in the Nordic diet. You'll find rye bread and rye flour in the grocery store. In some areas, you might be able to find triticale, which is a hybrid of wheat and rye.


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Sorghum is a grain you may not know much about because most of it goes to feed animals or is made into non-food products. It's a gluten-free grain and sorghum flour can be used in many recipes that call for regular flour.


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Spelt is one of our favorite grains because it has a delicious nutty and slightly sweet flavor. It can be used in most recipes that call for regular or whole wheat flour. Spelt is higher in protein than regular wheat -- and it's also a gluten grain, so it's not going to work for a gluten-free diet. Spelt can be found in either a whole or refined form so be sure to read the label to make sure you're getting "whole spelt."



Teff is an African grain that's related to millet. Teff is the tiniest of the grains and it cooks quickly. It has a sweet, mild flavor and can be served as a porridge or made into a polenta. Teff is gluten-free, high in calcium, and since it's tiny, you don't ever have to worry about whether or not you're buying refined teff. It's always a whole grain.

Whole Wheat

Whole Wheat
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Whole wheat flour has a darker color and heavier texture than white refined flour. It's grown in popularity, so it's easy enough to find whole grain products in the grocery store. Be sure to look for "whole wheat flour" on the list of ingredients. Some products will claim to be "made with whole wheat" but if you see regular flour listed first, then it has more white flour than whole wheat flour.

Wild Rice

Wild rice on white.
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Wild rice isn't really rice -- it's in a different family and originated in North America, around the Great Lakes region. It has a strong flavor and is often mixed with rice or quinoa to make a pilaf. Nutrition-wise, wild rice has more fiber and protein but fewer minerals than brown rice. It's also gluten-free so it's perfect for people who must avoid gluten.

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