The Hype on Whole Grains

In recent years, grains have been quite the controversial food category. From books like Wheat Belly or Grain Brain to popular diets that eliminate grains like Whole 30 and The Paleo Diet, it may seem like grains are the cause of all health problems. For most people, however, whole grains are part of a healthy diet — it’s when diets are loaded with refined grains (white breads/pasta, cookies, cakes, and pastries) that the risk for weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, and other health conditions increases. Research concludes that whole grains, as part of a balanced diet, can lessen your risk for these diseases. In addition, whole grains are a good source of fiber, B vitamins, iron and magnesium, along with other plant nutrients called phytonutrients. They add a source of plant protein to your diet, too.

If you don’t regularly eat whole grains, aim to swap some of the refined grains in your diet for whole grain options with a goal of making at least half your grains whole. While whole wheat breads and pastas might seem like the obvious choice, you get even more nutritional value by going for intact whole grains like quinoa, spelt berries, even popcorn! If you’ve never tried some of these whole grains fear not. We have tested recipes below, and with a little creativity the options are nearly endless.

5 ways to make whole grains a regular part of your diet:

  1. Start your day with whole grains. Oatmeal is a traditional whole grain breakfast cereal, but get creative and enjoy quinoa as you would oatmeal. Go the savory route with this dandelion and cheddar porridge, and try it with other grains like farro or cracked buckwheat.
  2. Pair your protein with a twist on the traditional with this spelt berry tabbouleh.
  3. Snack on homemade popcorn —  yes, it’s a whole grain! Skip the butter and flavor with herbs and spices like smoked paprika and nutritional yeast.
  4. Blend with beans to make a healthy, protein packed burger like this black bean and bulgur burger.
  5. Don’t forget dessert! Use whole grain flours (substitute up to 50% of the flour with white whole wheat for additional fiber and nutrients) in baked goods or try these tahini quinoa cookies.

Including whole grains in your diet can help fill you up and keep you energized until your next meal. But remember, portion size still matters —  so aim for  about 1/4 of your plate to be whole grains.

Not sure how to cook with whole grains? Use this guide for grain to water ratios and cooking times. Most cooked grains stay fresh in your refrigerator for up to 5 days (or can freeze once cooked for up to 3 months), so make a batch on the weekend for easy access during the week or beyond!  

1 cup whole grain Cups of water Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer

(in minutes)

Amaranth (GF) 2 15-20
Barley, hulled* 3 30-45
Buckwheat (GF) 2 20
Bulgur* 2 15 (covered, heat off)
Cornmeal (polenta) (GF) 3 15-20
Couscous, whole wheat* 2 5 (covered, heat off)
Farro* 2.5 20-25
Kamut® 4 Soak overnight, cook for 45
Millet (GF~) 2 20-30
Oats, steel-cut (GF~) 4 20
Pasta, whole wheat* 6 8-12, drain
Quinoa (GF) 2 10-15
Rice, brown (various) (GF) 2.5 25-45
Rye Berries* 4 Soak overnight, cook for 45-60
Sorghum (GF) 4 25-40
Spelt Berries* 4 Soak overnight, cook for 35-45
Teff* (GF) 4 15-20
Triticale Berries* 3 Soak overnight, cook for 40-50
Wheat Berries* 4 Soak overnight, cook for 45-60
Wild Rice (GF) 3 45-60

* Indicates grain contains more than 3g of fiber per 1/2 cup serving.

(GF) Indicates grains that are naturally gluten-free.

(GF~) Oats are technically gluten-free but are often processed in a facility that also processes wheat.

For the difference between sprouted and whole grains, read more here.