13 Healthy Whole Grains & Why You Should Eat Them

Carbohydrates are often ignored in a diet but it is actually a source of fuel for your body. However, the refined carbohydrates found in white bread, cookies, candies, and sugary cereals are bad for your health. Eating too many of these foods isn't just bad for your weight but also it can raise the risk of heart diseases and diabetes. Switching to healthy whole grains is a good option as it will prevent these health conditions from occurring in the first place [1] .

whole grains

What Are Whole Grains?

A grain is called a whole grain if it contains the three parts of a seed - the bran, germ and endosperm. Whole grains are divided into two categories - cereals and pseudocereals. Cereals comprise of cereal grasses like wheat, oats, corn, rice, sorghum, barley, millet and rye. Pseudocereal comprises of non-grasses like amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat.

100 per cent whole grains are a key component of a well-balanced diet as they are highly nutritional, unlike refined grains that are stripped off its nutrients once they are processed.

Healthy Whole Grains And Why You Should Eat Them

1. Whole wheat

Whole wheat is a primary ingredient found in baked products, noodles, pasta, bulgur and semolina. Being a versatile cereal grain it is high in gluten. If you aren't gluten sensitive, you can make the most of it as whole wheat is high in antioxidants, dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat is a better nutrition alternative to regular wheat. But make sure to check the label which says 100 per cent whole wheat while shopping for whole wheat products.

2. Whole oats

Oats are rich in avenanthramide, an antioxidant that protects the heart from various diseases and has been linked to a lowered risk of colon cancer and low blood pressure as well[2] . It is also loaded with fibre, vitamins and minerals. When you are shopping for whole oats, buy steel-cut oats, rolled oats and oat groats. Avoid instant oatmeal as those have high-fructose corn syrup which is bad for health.

3. Whole grain rye

Whole grain rye is considered more nutritious than wheat because it contains more minerals with less carbohydrates and doesn't cause a spike in blood sugar levels [3] . Rye is an excellent source of fibre with 16.7 g in a 100 g serving. Studies have shown that the intake of dietary fibre help in the slow absorption of carbohydrates, which prevents the blood sugar levels to rise rapidly[4] ,[5] .

4. Brown rice

Brown rice has more nutrients than white rice because the former one contains the entire grain and the latter one has both the germ and bran removed. Brown rice contains all the nutrients including magnesium, iron, calcium, B vitamins and phosphorous. It consists of an antioxidant called lignan which lowers the risk of heart disease, blood pressure, inflammation and cholesterol [6] . Brown rice also has brown aromatic varieties like basmati rice.

5. Barley

Whole barley is a great addition to your healthy diet because barley contains plenty of both soluble and insoluble fibre. It is available in two forms - whole barley and pearled barley. Whole barley is a very good source of minerals and vitamins like manganese, magnesium, selenium, copper, zinc, iron, potassium, phosphorus, B vitamins and fibre. It also boasts of phytochemicals which reduce the risk of chronic diseases, says study[7] .

whole grains list infographics

6. Quinoa

Quinoa is considered a superfood because it is a complete protein source and is rich in vitamins, minerals, healthy fats and fibre. This whole grain is packed with antioxidants like kaempferol and quercetin which has the potent ability to reduce chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and chronic inflammation [8] , [9] . Quinoa is free of gluten, has a mild flavour, and subtle chewiness.

7. Buckwheat

Buckwheat is another pseudo-grain that is good for people with celiac disease. It is packed with nutrients like manganese, copper, magnesium, iron, phosphorous, fibre and B vitamins. Buckwheat is high in resistant starch, a dietary fibre that passes to your colon to feed the healthy gut bacteria which is essential in the proper functioning of the digestive tract [10] . Those who are sensitive to gluten can consume buckwheat as it's gluten free.

8. Wild Rice

Wild rice is another whole grain consisting of the bran, germ and endosperm. It is a powerhouse of protein and has a delicious nutty flavour that makes wild rice pricey. Wild rice is excellent for those with celiac disease or for those who have gluten or wheat sensitivities. Wild rice is an excellent source of fibre, manganese, magnesium, vitamin B6, zinc, and niacin. Consuming wild rice every day will improve heart health and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes [11] .

9. Corn

Corn is a popular whole grain snack that many people enjoy eating. Whole, unprocessed corn is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, antioxidants and B vitamins. Whole corn increases the healthy gut flora and also it's high in antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin which is said to reduce the risk of macular degeneration and cataracts, according to a study [12] .

10. Spelt

Spelt contains essential nutrients such as fibre, B vitamins, zinc, iron, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus. However, this whole grain contains antinutrients like phytic acid which slows down the absorption of iron and zinc, but the antinutrients can be reduced by fermenting, sprouting or soaking the grains. People who are gluten sensitive should avoid having spelt.

11. Sorghum

Sorghum has a mild texture with a nutty flavour. It is free of gluten and contains unsaturated fats, fibre, protein and minerals like potassium, calcium, phosphorous and iron. In addition, sorghum is known to have more antioxidants than blueberries and pomegranates. According to a study, sorghum contains a compound called 3-Deoxyanthoxyanins (3-DXA) which has a strong ability to lower the risk of colon cancer [13] .

12. Whole grain millet

According to the Whole Grains Council, millet is the world's most important grain. There are several varieties of millets found such as kodo, foxtail, finger, proso, pearl and little millets. All of these are free of gluten and high in antioxidant activity [14] . Foxtail millet has been shown to reduce triglyceride levels and increase good cholesterol, according to a study [15] .

13. Amaranth

This whole grain is high in calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous and potassium and is the only grain to contain large amounts of vitamin C, according to the Whole Grains Council. It is a powerhouse of protein, contains anti-inflammatory and cancer-preventive properties, benefits heart health, and a rich source of phytosterols [16] ,[17] , [18] .

Ways To Add Whole Grains Into Your Diet

  • Enjoy whole-grain cereals like oats or bran flakes during breakfast.
  • Choose whole grain bread over refined white bread for making sandwiches.
  • Substitute white rice for wild rice, brown rice or quinoa.
  • Instead of dry breadcrumbs, you can use rolled oats or crushed whole-wheat bran cereal for deep-frying recipes.
  • You can add wild rice or barley in soups, stews, and salads to get an extra dose of nutrition.
View Article References
  1. [1] Steffen, L. M., Jacobs, D. R., Stevens, J., Shahar, E., Carithers, T., & Folsom, A. R. (2003). Associations of whole-grain, refined-grain, and fruit and vegetable consumption with risks of all-cause mortality and incident coronary artery disease and ischemic stroke: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 78(3), 383–390.
  2. [2] Meydani, M. (2009). Potential health benefits of avenanthramides of oats. Nutrition Reviews, 67(12), 731–735.
  3. [3] Nordlund, E., Katina, K., Mykkänen, H., & Poutanen, K. (2016). Distinct Characteristics of Rye and Wheat Breads Impact on Their in Vitro Gastric Disintegration and in Vivo Glucose and Insulin Responses.Foods (Basel, Switzerland),5(2), 24.
  4. [4] Lattimer, J. M., & Haub, M. D. (2010). Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health. Nutrients, 2(12), 1266–1289.
  5. [5] Post, R. E., Mainous, A. G., King, D. E., & Simpson, K. N. (2012). Dietary Fiber for the Treatment of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: A Meta-Analysis. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, 25(1), 16–23.
  6. [6] Peterson, J., Dwyer, J., Adlercreutz, H., Scalbert, A., Jacques, P., & McCullough, M. L. (2010). Dietary lignans: physiology and potential for cardiovascular disease risk reduction. Nutrition Reviews, 68(10), 571–603.
  7. [7] Idehen, E., Tang, Y., & Sang, S. (2017). Bioactive phytochemicals in barley. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 25(1), 148–161.
  8. [8] Shaik, Y. B., Castellani, M. L., Perrella, A., Conti, F., Salini, V., Tete, S., ... & Cerulli, G. (2006). Role of quercetin (a natural herbal compound) in allergy and inflammation.Journal of biological regulators and homeostatic agents,20(3-4), 47-52.
  9. [9] M Calderon-Montano, J., Burgos-Morón, E., Pérez-Guerrero, C., & López-Lázaro, M. (2011). A review on the dietary flavonoid kaempferol.Mini reviews in medicinal chemistry,11(4), 298-344.
  10. [10] Skrabanja, V., Liljeberg Elmståhl, H. G., Kreft, I., & Björck, I. M. (2001). Nutritional properties of starch in buckwheat products: studies in vitro and in vivo.Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry,49(1), 490-496.
  11. [11] Belobrajdic, D. P., & Bird, A. R. (2013). The potential role of phytochemicals in wholegrain cereals for the prevention of type-2 diabetes. Nutrition Journal, 12(1).
  12. [12] Wu, J., Cho, E., Willett, W. C., Sastry, S. M., & Schaumberg, D. A. (2015). Intakes of Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and Other Carotenoids and Age-Related Macular Degeneration During 2 Decades of Prospective Follow-up. JAMA Ophthalmology, 133(12), 1415.
  13. [13] Yang, L., Browning, J. D., & Awika, J. M. (2009). Sorghum 3-Deoxyanthocyanins Possess Strong Phase II Enzyme Inducer Activity and Cancer Cell Growth Inhibition Properties. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 57(5), 1797–1804.
  14. [14] Chandrasekara, A., & Shahidi, F. (2010). Content of Insoluble Bound Phenolics in Millets and Their Contribution to Antioxidant Capacity. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58(11), 6706–6714.
  15. [15] Sireesha, Y., Kasetti, R. B., Nabi, S. A., Swapna, S., & Apparao, C. (2011). Antihyperglycemic and hypolipidemic activities of Setaria italica seeds in STZ diabetic rats. Pathophysiology, 18(2), 159–164.
  16. [16] Silva-Sánchez, C., de la Rosa, A. P. B., León-Galván, M. F., de Lumen, B. O., de León-Rodríguez, A., & de Mejía, E. G. (2008). Bioactive Peptides in Amaranth (Amaranthus hypochondriacus) Seed. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 56(4), 1233–1240.
  17. [17] Martirosyan, D. M., Miroshnichenko, L. A., Kulakova, S. N., Pogojeva, A. V., & Zoloedov, V. I. (2007). Amaranth oil application for coronary heart disease and hypertension.Lipids in health and disease,6(1), 1.
  18. [18] Marcone, M. F., Kakuda, Y., & Yada, R. Y. (2003). Amaranth as a rich dietary source of β-sitosterol and other phytosterols.Plant foods for human nutrition,58(3), 207-211.
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