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.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.