9 Healthy Whole Grains to Put in Your Grocery Cart

These days, it’s trendy to fear carbs. But when you consider the science, there are many compelling reasons to keep healthy carbs on your plate. Whole grains offer a whole lot of health benefits, from supporting a healthy, happy gut to reducing your risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. So if you’re looking for the holy grail to good health and longevity, stop overlooking the holy grain (and other plant foods like fruit, veggies, and beans!).

What Are Whole Grains?

A whole grain includes all three parts of the plant’s seed: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. Refining removes the bran and the germ, leaving behind only the endosperm. That strips away most of the benefits, so you lose fiber, protein, antioxidants, and other important nutrients. And it leaves behind mostly “white,” high-glycemic carbs, which spike your blood sugar and don’t keep you full for very long. Unfortunately, most Americans eat too many refined grains, and not enough whole grains, which means they’re missing out on the amazing benefits of nutritious and filling carbs.

How Many Servings Do You Need?

The dietary guidelines recommend 6 servings of grains per day, at least 3 of which should be whole grains. A serving is 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, or ½ cup of cooked grains. It’s okay to start slowly, by making simple swaps in your day: Try 100-percent whole-wheat bread instead of white, brown rice instead of white, and oatmeal instead of a sugary cereal. Even just one serving of whole grains a day is a great first step and will provide you with some benefits.

9 Whole Grains to Put in Your Grocery Cart

There are many different types of whole grains, so experiment with a few different varieties to find the ones you like. Here are nine super options, plus tasty ways to try them.

Barley: Barley provides the most fiber of all the whole grains, which may be one reason it’s so good at protecting your heart. Pearl or pearled barley has had some of the bran removed, but it’s still high in fiber. Add it to slow-simmering soups, with meaty mushrooms and beef stock.

Brown rice: There are so many ways to fall in love with brown rice, from short to long grain, basmati to jasmine, and colors ranging from red, black, to purple—you can even go wild! Admittedly, they all take a bit longer to cook than white rice, but the extra nutrients and phytochemicals are worth the wait. Cook up a big batch, freeze into portions, and serve as a side dish for fresh stir-fries.

Buckwheat: Naturally gluten free, buckwheat is second only to oats in protein content, and it’s great for keeping your gut happy. Swap your spaghetti for soba noodles, tossed with a spicy sesame sauce or floating in miso soup.

Millet: A tiny grain often found in birdseed, millet has high levels of magnesium and antioxidants. So eat like a bird, and try it puffed as breakfast cereal, raw and crunchy in your granola, or as a thickener for soups and stews.

Oats: An old-fashioned favorite, oats are probably already sitting in your pantry. Their high soluble fiber levels make them a regular on heart-healthy foods lists. The less processed the better, so opt for steel cut and traditional over the quick-cooking and flavored varieties. But you can still save precious time in the morning, by making big batches of overnight oats or crunchy granola.

Quinoa: Technically, quinoa is a seed, not a grain. (Fun fact: Quinoa is more closely related to beets than grains!) But with a fast cooking time and high protein content, it’s a superfood staple worth starring on your grocery list. Add it to your burrito bowls with black beans, grilled shrimp, spicy salsa, and top with a good dollop of guacamole.

Rye: High in fiber and antioxidants, rye is a great choice if you’re trying to lose weight or manage diabetes. Enjoy it like the Scandinavians do, as a dense, dark bread served with smoked salmon and fresh dill or even a simple spread of pure nut butter. 

Teff: The secret ingredient of runners, this ancient grain from Ethiopia is an excellent source of iron and magnesium. Enjoy it as a delicious porridge or in pancakes, to fuel long runs, or even just long work days.

Whole wheat: Bread and pasta, sure, but did you know couscous and bulgur are made from wheat, too? They’re quick and easy choices—just be sure to pick the whole-grain varieties. Toss bulgur in tabbouleh, the minty green Mediterranean salad. Or try farro, the ancient Italian grain, stirred into soups and risottos.

19 Comments   Join the Conversation

19 CommentsLeave a comment

  • What about the potassium content of whole grains. My husband is supposed to limit his potassium intake

  • Is there a recommended area on here so that I could find recipes or at least a how to on using these grains? I’m very interested buy dont really dont know what to use them with or how

  • Hi Tracy- I am a diabetic (Type 2) and need help finding the right whole grains that won’t spike my glucose levels.

  • There is no such thing as “Healthy Whole Grains”. They do more harm than good to most people. Human physiology does not support this high carbohydrate/blood sugar inducing philosophy that is purported in this article. This way of thinking is the cause of the current obesity/diabesity epidemic in the world today. Low carbohydrates in the form of vegetables as well as a high proportion of HEALTHY fats fulfill all the macronutrient health needs of the human body. There is no human need for grains in the diet.

  • This is a great article and I wish more people would eat whole grains. It’s easy to fall into that trap of a no carb diet to lose weight, myself included. However, my pantry is well stocked with these whole grains and absolutely leave me feeling very satisfied after consumed. It’s important to note that like anything, moderation and portion control are key to healthy eating habits. Thank you for a great, easy read!

  • I have read that brown rice contains a substance that retards nutrient absorption. Is this true?

  • I think the author needs to consider the LATEST science before telling everyone it’s ok to eat grains. If she’s from South Africa she would have heard of the Banting diet. I used to eat what was considered a healthy diet and ended up with T2 diabetes. Now I’m doing a low carb high fat way of eating and am off all medications. Grains cause inflammation.

  • Nice summary Tracy, it’s important to understand that there are grain options out there. I like that you suggest how to incorporate the different grains to recipes as well. I was wondering where you rank Spelt?

  • I have constipation problems, I leave on movicol or laxative, I’m tired of taking these everyday since I was in my 20s and now I’m on my 40s. I drink water, eat fruits and vegetables and eat my grains. I mind my weight and exercise everyday.
    Can you help please

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