11 Healthy Whole Grain Foods (Plus Recipes!)
Here’s a list of 11 healthy whole grain foods (gluten-free options included), plus 12 healthy recipes where whole grains are the star of the meal!
Whole grains are a pretty misunderstood food group, especially considering how (unnecessarily) carb-phobic we all are right now! Let’s be clear: your body was designed to run on carbs. As a registered dietitian, I’ve got to tell you that carbohydrate containing plant foods are some of our most nutrient-dense choices and the foundation of an anti-inflammatory eating pattern.
Also, grains are not the only foods that have carbs: so do avocados, lentils and kale! So really, it’s not about whether or not you eat carbs, it’s about the quality (whole as often as you can!) and quantity (matching to your energy needs and ability to tolerate them). Also, grains aren’t just carbs. They contain plant-based protein, microbiome-boosting fibre and minerals important to a plant-based or vegan diet. If you’re here for plant-based diet tips, you’ve come to the right place!
To help clear the confusion, I wanted to share a list of (yes, healthy!) whole grain foods you can enjoy on a daily basis. Plus, I’ve got some fun recipe ideas that will help you elevate whole grains beyond a basic boiled side dish. Since there is a lot of information in this post, here’s a handy table of contents to help you get to the goods, fast.
- What are whole grains?
- Whole wheat vs whole grain: what’s the difference
- Is whole grain flour healthy?
- Gluten-containing whole grains list
- Gluten-free whole grains list
- 12 Yummy Whole Grain Recipes
What are whole grains?
We’ve heard the term ‘whole grain’ so often that it can feel like nothing more than a marketing term…and it’s absolutely true that not all ‘whole grain’ foods are that healthy. I’m looking at you, ‘made with whole grain’ sugary breakfast cereal. It’s also worth noting that not every single morsel we put into our mouth needs to be super nutrient dense. This dietitian likes her vegan ice cream, licorice and yes, cereal alongside her nutrient-dense whole foods.
A whole grain food is one that has all three original parts of the grain, the endosperm (inner part), the germ and the bran. So, flours can be 100% whole grain, as long as nothing has been removed and these are a great choice for wholesome home baking. I will often talk about ‘intact’ whole grains, which means that they have not be milled, rolled, steamed or otherwise transformed from the original grain as it grows. So an intact form of grain would be wheat berries (also called wheat kernels) or steel cut oats while quick oats or whole wheat flour can be considered 100% whole grain.
Whole Wheat vs Whole Grain
While all whole grain wheat flour will be 100% whole wheat, not all whole wheat flour is 100% whole grain. In Canada, up to 5% of the kernel can be removed from milled whole wheat flour and still be called whole wheat, so whole wheat is not always 100% whole grain. It’s pretty close though…not really worth losing sleep over.
Is whole grain flour healthy?
While I absolutely think that whole grain flours have a place in a healthy diet, I think that we tend to consume WAY more flours than intact whole grains in our food culture so I tend to focus on encouraging people to eat more intact whole grains. It’s about more whole foods, not restricting other choices.
What’s more, we tend to be overly focused on eating wheat. Many of us eat wheat 3-6 times a day and few of us eat alternative grains such barley, rye or millet. As long as you tolerate wheat, eating it can be very healthy; however, eating only wheat means we are missing out on the nutrition that is found in eating a variety of grains.
How you cook or process that grain flour also matters. Many whole grain breads are so fluffy and soft that they have a very high glycemic impact on your blood sugars, which isn’t a great idea for those concerned with blood sugars or chronic inflammation. Instead, I tend to recommend my clients look for heavy, 100% whole grain sourdoughs or sprouted grain breads for more fibre, more protein and a lower glycemic index.
While we’re on the topic, I should also mention that whole grain pastas, cooked al dente, are also a great choice on an anti-inflammatory diet. So no dissing pasta, okay?
Whole Grains List
Gluten-containing whole grain foods you should eat more of
The internet really fear mongers about gluten…claiming that gluten causes inflammation and gut dysfunction for all. But it’s not true. Yes, some of us don’t do well with it…but others thrive on it! I find in practice that often, it’s about the types of gluten-containing foods we eat (hyper-processed, high sugar, low fibre) than the actual gluten itself.
- Wheat BerriesWheat berries look similar to brown rice, and have a dense, chewy texture and slightly nutty flavour that is super satisfying. Wheat berries also contain more protein and fibre, cup for cup, than quinoa…making it an excellent locally grown grain choice on a plant-based diet.
- Farro, Spelt and Kamut BerriesFarro, Spelt and Kamut are ancient cousins of modern wheat; each has a slightly different flavour profile and texture but they are similar to wheat berries. They may be a bit easier to digest for those that are wheat or FODMAP intolerant – but they still contain gluten so they are not suitable for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten intolerance.
- Bulgur (Cracked) WheatWhole grain bulgur is wheat berries that have been cut, or ‘cracked’ into smaller pieces and steamed. A great whole grain substitute for couscous (which is essentially a tiny pasta) in salads like tabbouleh.
- Whole Oats (Groats)Whole oat groats also look similar to wheat berries, and you can use them in a similar way. When they are cut, they become steel cut oats. When they rolled, they become rolled or old fashioned oats, and if rolled finely and steamed, quick or instant oats. Oats are fantastic because of their soluble fibre content, which is very soothing to the gut and helps promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Conventional oats do not contain gluten per se, they are however cross-contaminated with gluten. Look for 100% gluten free oats if needed. Just check on the label.
- BarleyBarley comes in two forms, pot or pearl. Pot is whole grain and has most of its bran intact, while pearl has been polished (pearled) for longer and lacks the bran. However, barley is also high in soluble fibre, so even pearl barley is a great fibre pick for gut health. Barley has a lighter, milder taste than wheat.
- RyeRye groats are harder to find, but 100% rye flour is one of my favourite flours. It has a dark, earthy flavour and a light gluten structure – meaning it’s not a straight 1:1 swap for wheat flour in all recipes. It works well in cookies and muffins and quick breads blended with another stronger flour, such as spelt.
Gluten free whole grain foods you should eat more of
Need to be low gluten, or gluten free, due to IBS, an allergy, celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity! Don’t give up on whole grains! There are plenty of wonderful, nutrient-dense gluten free whole grains for you to choose from.
NERDY FYI: Most gluten free grains such as buckwheat, quinoa and millet are not true grains, they are actually seeds that we cook like grains.
- QuinoaQuinoa is probably the most popular gluten free grain after rice, well known for its ‘complete’ amino acid profile. However, people often mistake quinoa for being high in protein. In fact, one cup of cooked quinoa only has 8.5g of protein – excellent as a grain, but not enough to carry an entire meal…you probably still want some legumes, hemp hearts or tofu to round out the meal. Heads up, I find quinoa flour quite bitter, not an easy one to bake with.
- Black, Brown, and Red RiceRice is a staple the world over; however, you might be surprised to learn that brown rice isn’t really that high in fibre. One cup of cooked brown rice has just 3 grams of fibre. Still delicious though! For more stable blood sugars, look for long grain basmati or jasmine rice as the starch structure varies in different rices and basmati or jasmine have a lower glycemic impact. I also really like black and red rice for their chewy textures and flavour. Also, I know this is a post about whole grains but I’ve gotta say, if white rice is a cultural staple for you, enjoy it! Don’t let any dietitian tell you it can’t be part of a healthy diet. Just get your fibre somewhere else, like more legumes or vegetables!
- MilletMillet is probably my favourite gluten free grain these days. It has a milder, wheat-ier flavour than quinoa and a fluffier texture that works well in a variety of dishes. It’s slightly lower in protein than quinoa, at 6.5g per cooked cup but boasts a variety of minerals such as iron, zinc and potassium.
- Buckwheat GroatsThe confusingly named buckwheat has nothing to do with actual wheat; it is the seed of a plant related to rhubarb! Buckwheat flour is dark in colour and richly flavoured and is a common ingredient in pancake and crepe recipes. You can also toast buckwheat groats for a crunchy addition to salads, or cook it as a grain.
- SorghumA true gluten free cereal grain, sorghum can be found in groats but is most commonly used as a flour. It has a lovely texture that approximates wheat flour in baking, and is great when blended with millet or rice flour. Sorghum is similar in protein content to quinoa and boasts more minerals than millet.
12 Yummy Whole Grain Recipes to Make Now
Whole grains have such an incredible variety of textures and flavours, they are worth making them the star of your meal!
Whole Grain Recipes: Snap Pea Salad with Roasted Buckwheat
- 1 pound sugar snap peas sliced
- ¾ cup dry buckwheat groats
- ⅓ cup fresh mint leaves thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil
- ¼ teaspoon salt
Ginger Cashew Dressing
- ¼ cup cashew butter
- ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons water
- 4 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- pinch dried chile flakes
- Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit (175° Celsius). Prepare a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a small bowl, toss buckwheat with olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Spread on baking sheet and place in oven.
- Roast for 15-16 minutes, until buckwheat is a deep golden colour, stirring half way through cooking as the edges will roast faster than the middle. Remove from oven and set aside.
- Meanwhile, mix up the dressing. Add the cashew butter, lime juice, water, ginger, sesame oil, maple syrup, salt and chile flakes to a wide mouthed jar and blend with an immersion blender until smooth.
- To assemble, arrange the snap peas, buckwheat and mint in a shallow serving dish. Drizzle with dressing and serve.
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Posted By: Desiree Nielsen · In: Mains, Plant-Based Diet, Side DishesSours: https://desireerd.com/whole-grain-foods-you-should-eat/
Wheat berries are a true whole grain! You may not recognize the name, but without these kernels, there would be no flour. Wheat berries are loaded with nutrients and are as easy as rice to prepare -- perfect for a meal any time of year.
What are wheat berries?
Wheat berries are whole wheat kernels. They look like thick, short grains -- similar to brown rice. Industrious folks grind them into whole wheat flour for baking; you may not have the time to regularly grind your own flour, but it’s a fun thing to try at least once.
When boiled, cooked wheat berries have a chewy bite and subtle nutty, earthy flavor. They’re sturdy enough to handle bold salad dressings and still delicate enough to taste delicious with some milk, honey and cinnamon.
If you like sprouts on salads and sandwiches, add a little water to wheat berries and you can grow your own wheat sprouts.
Why are wheat berries “Healthy Eats”?
Since the wheat kernel is left intact, virtually none of the nutrients are stripped away. A cup of cooked wheat berries has about 300 calories and is packed with fiber, protein and iron. Tasty sprouts are loaded with vitamin E, a cell-protecting antioxidant, and magnesium, which is good for healthy bones and muscles.
What do you do with wheat berries?
Look for wheat berries at a health food store or in the natural foods section of your local supermarket.
Prepare wheat berriesin salted boiling water -- just like other grains. Add cooked wheat berries to soups or even chili. Serve hot as a side dish with hearty mushrooms or cold for a satisfying salad full of flavor and whole grain goodness. Wheat berries have nutty flavor so they’re great with fresh vegetables and dried fruit such as cherries or cranberries.
Wheat berry recipes to try:
FARRO VS. WHEAT BERRIES: WHICH IS THE BETTER ANCIENT GRAIN?
Only three years ago–during those university days–my meal decisions only really ever revolved around whole grain rice and white rice. It wasn’t until recent years that I’ve really paid attention to exploring other grains, especially ancient grains. Maybe they’ve always been around, and I just never noticed–the student loan budget tended to limit the options. But I can safely say that that has only made the newfound culinary diversity so much more of a luxury.
Two ancient grains that have particularly caught my attention recently are farro and wheat berries. They look almost the same, are both whole grains, and share similar taste and texture. But how do they match up against each other nutritionally?
What is farro?
Farro is the whole kernel of three different species of wheat: emmer, einkorn, and spelt. Despite a recent revival of popularity in the west, farro has fed many parts of the world for thousands of years. This ancient grain had a long history in the Fertile Crescent– the area around the western parts of modern-day Middle Eastern countries stretching into parts of eastern Egypt–even before reaching Ancient Rome in 44BC.
By the beginning of the 20th century, farro had quickly been replaced by other grain products, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t include it in our diet. In fact, farro actually comes with tremendous nutritional values. A single cup of uncooked farro offers 20 grams of fibre and 24 grams of protein. It is also rich in vitamin B3, magnesium, zinc, and iron.
As the modern diet tends to lack fibre, farro would be an excellent addition to our meals. And if you’re a plant-based eater, the protein content will definitely provide an adequate boost. It also contains a wide spectrum of antioxidant compounds including polyphenols, carotenoids, phytosterols, and selenium.
How to cook farro.
Perhaps one of the most daunting feelings when it comes to incorporating an unfamiliar ingredient to your diet is the lack of knowledge on how to prepare the food. Cooking farro is actually super easy. Take a 2:1 water-to-grain ratio and add them into a pot. Bring to a boil then let it simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed by the grain. From then on, you can add it to your favourite soups, salads, or in place for a bowl of rice!
What are wheat berries?
Wheat berry is the whole kernel of the common wheat. Although wheat berries cook and eat like grains, they are botanically a type of fruit called caryopsis. It is unclear how early people began using wheat berries, but as archaeological evidence suggests that wheat was cultivated as early as 9600 BCE in the Fertile Crescent region, it is probable that wheat berries also became a common grain in that region.
Like farro, wheat berries aren’t as popular as other ancient grains like quinoa, but they are also nutritional powerhouses when it comes to protein and fibre. A single cup of uncooked wheat berries offers 24 grams fibre and 26 grams protein. It also offers a bounty of B vitamins, potassium, and iron.
Wheat berries are one of the best options when it comes to adding fibre to the diet. In terms of fibre and protein, they tend to offer a tiny bit more than farro, but both of their respective vitamins and minerals make them both great options to put on rotation depending on what your body requires.
How to cook wheat berries.
These delicious ancient grains tend to be tougher and chewier, thus requiring a longer cooking time–around 40 to 50 minutes–but they are totally worth the effort! Take a 2:1 water-to-grain ratio in a pot. Bring to a boil, cover, then let simmer for about 50 minutes, or until wheat berries are soft. Soaking the wheat berries overnight can also help reduce the cooking time by about 10 minutes.
Have you tried cooking with farro or wheat berries? Both of these ancient grains are super healthy rice alternatives to add to our diet. Share with us your favourite ways to cook them!
Daniel is a Digital Marketing and Content Strategist at SPUD. He graduated from UBC with a degree in English and International Relations with a focus on environmental topics. A wordsmith by day and a bookman by night, he's a self-proclaimed gastronomic snob, a buck-a-shuck addict, a sub-par skier, and a devoted kingsguard of the oxford comma. He also frequents the dog park with a schnauzer named Duke. | Instagram: @dannnyellow
What Is the Difference Between Quinoa, Farro, and Wheat Berries?
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Once upon a time, most people just cooked pasta or rice when it came to grains. Nowadays, the variety of starch-based side dishes has increased tenfold; couscous, freekeh, bulgur, and the like are now a ubiquitous sighting that line grocery store aisles and pop up just as frequently as pasta in recipes. This upsurge certainly can make it much more difficult to narrow down a side dish, especially when all those options look similar and are cooked the same way: in a small pot in boiling water. While deriving the difference between pasta and rice is much more evident to the eye, discerning the difference between quinoa, farro, and wheat berries (and the latter two especially) is a bit more complicated. Read on to determine the difference between all three.
While most refer to quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”) as a grain, it’s actually a seed, and one that’s thousands of years old, getting its origins from the Andes Mountains. The quinoa seeds stem from a flowering plant (a relative of spinach!) that, after being harvested, goes through a manufacturing process to get rid of the bitter outer coating. The result is the quinoa that’s packaged and sold in stores, one that’s round in shape, similar to a lentil. It’s sold in a variety of colors, including the omnipresent yellow and tan, as well as orange, red, pink, purple, black, and some varieties often come packaged with multiple colors.
Quinoa is an extremely healthy substitute for pasta or something similar, boasting more protein than other grains or seeds. Is also contains all the necessary amino acids that our bodies can’t make on their own. Furthermore, it’s high in calcium, lysine, vitamin B, and iron, plus it’s gluten-free.
While quinoa’s flavor isn’t particularly overpowering—a combination of brown rice and oatmeal, with a bit of crunchy nuttiness—it can be easily dressed up to suit everyone’s taste preferences. If it’s too plain on its own, try it with a bit of olive oil or butter, or add your favorite dressing, a handful of dried cranberries, a salty cheese such as feta, and a leafy green (try massaged kale or spinach), to turn it from just a basic side into a bona fide main dish.
Farro, unlike quinoa, is a grain (one that’s not gluten-free) and an ancient grain at that, having been domesticated over 10,000 years ago. It’s a type of hulled grain, similar to barley and einkorn, which gets its name from the fact that the hull sticks to the grain when harvested. The hull is removed while the grain is processed, producing farro.
While farro has an almost identical shape to rice, uniquely oblong in stature, it’s a dark shade of brown, similar to brown rice, and designated as either semi-pearled or pearled. Its flavor is much more muted, unlike quinoa’s potent nuttiness, but it’s just as soft and tender as rice. Plus, it’s a healthy alternative that’s high in calcium, magnesium, fiber, and iron. Farro is a great substitute for arborio rice in risotto, as a crunchy addition in salads, or simply a side to roast chicken or fish.
A wheat berry is a wheat kernel—a whole grain form of wheat—meaning it’s the original source of all wheat products (including flour) before any refinement or manufacturing occurs. Wheat berries are almost identical to farro, flaunting that tan and somewhat reddish-brown color, but take a long time to cook and are a bit chewier and lighter than farro.
During the manufacturing process, since the wheat kernel is left totally intact, none of the nutrients are taken away, leaving an extremely healthy grain packed with fiber, iron, and protein. It pairs quite nicely with winter ingredients, like Brussels sprouts and butternut squash, and can easily star as the main item in salads.
Check the bulk items aisle in the grocery store where you can stock up on all three grains, or look in organic grocery stores where you’ll find brand names like Bob’s Red Mill and Ancient Harvest.
Garlic Mushroom Quinoa
Spice up your quinoa side dish with a ton of minced garlic, cremini mushrooms, thyme, and Parmesan cheese. Get the Garlic Mushroom Quinoa recipe.
Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
Quinoa stars in this Mediterranean-inspired salad, which is studded with black olives, roasted peppers, corn, cilantro, and feta cheese. Get the Mediterranean Quinoa Salad recipe.
Cheesy Quinoa Cakes with a Roasted Garlic and Lemon Aioli
DianaEatingRichly / Genius Kitchen
While zucchini and other vegetables make great fritters, try out this version where quinoa is the main ingredient. Cooked quinoa, fontina, green onions, and a bit of flour is pounded together to make patties, which are fried in olive oil and then slathered with a garlic, lemon aioli. Get the Cheesy Quinoa Cakes with a Roasted Garlic and Lemon Aioli recipe.
Easy Mushroom Farro Risotto
Farro has a lovely nutty flavor and a delicate chew which transforms this risotto into a hearty and rustic dish. Parmesan cheese and butter adds a creamy texture, while the acidity of the white wine and umami from the wild mushrooms and thyme deliver a delicious and balanced flavor. Get our Easy Mushroom Farro Risotto recipe.
Mediterranean Kale, Cannellini, and Farro Stew
Warm up on cold days with this winter-ready soup, packed with everything from carrots to farro to yellow onions and feta cheese. Get the Mediterranean Kale, Cannellini, and Farro Stew recipe.
Farro Cranberry and Goat Cheese Salad
Farro is a great grain to substitute in salads, especially if you’re craving something other than lettuce. This version is simple to make: Just cook the farro, add dried cranberries, crumbled goat cheese, a couple of spices, and the dressing. Get the Farro Cranberry and Goat Cheese Salad recipe.
Farro Risotto with Squash and Kale
The addition of farro makes this a healthier version of risotto—one that still manages to be uber creamy, thanks to roasted and then pureed butternut squash. Get the Farro Risotto with Squash and Kale recipe.
Wheat Berry Recipes
Three Cheese and Wheat Berry Spinach Pie
This is basically a crustless cheese pie, stuffed with spinach, wheat berries, garlic, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, eggs, and nutmeg. Get the Three Cheese and Wheat Berry Spinach Pie recipe.
Autumn Wheat Berry Salad
Real Food & Ice Cream
Wheat berries are dressed up with roasted butternut squash, cranberries, slivered almonds, and orange zest, making this a super easy and light dish for lunch. Get the Autumn Wheat Berry Salad recipe.
Wheat Berry Cinnamon Porridge
Show Food Chef
Swap out oats with wheat berries for this sweet and healthy breakfast staple. Just cook the wheat berries normally, then infuse it with warm cinnamon and vanilla-infused milk. Get the Wheat Berry Cinnamon Porridge recipe.
Related Video: A Senegalese-Inspired Grain Bowl from Chef Pierre Thiam
Header images courtesy of Shutterstock.
Amy Schulman is an associate editor at Chowhound. She is decidedly pro-chocolate.
Quinoa wheat berry vs
People often ask us, “Which grain is healthiest?”
In our opinion, there is no “healthiest” grain, just as there is no healthiest vegetable. As the chart we posted elsewhere on our site illustrates, each grain has its own little specialties.
For example, teﬀ and oats are especially high in manganese, essential to the formation of bone and cartilage and to many other functions. Kamut® khorasan wheat and durum wheat have 6 to 8 times more selenium than is found, on average, in gluten-free grains; selenium helps regulate thyroid function and prevent cellular damage from free radicals. Barley is highest in ﬁber, and quinoa trumps them all in folate. So how can we say which one is “healthiest?”
We’re also not fond of this question because we don’t believe in “eating by the numbers.” Eating should be a pleasurable experience, relaxing with friends and family while enjoying healthy, delicious foods. If you base your diet largely on minimally processed whole foods, there’s no need to count calories, ﬁber grams – or even whole grain grams.
That said, you may well have some medical reason for delving deeper into the nutrient content of diﬀerent grains, or you may just be curious. To help you out, we’ve looked up all the common grains in the USDA’s Nutrient Database and entered their nutrient values in a spreadsheet, to make them easy to compare.
Click here to download the Grains Compared spreadsheet.
Compare the nutrients in whole and reﬁned grains
You may also be interested to see how reﬁning grains (removing their bran and germ) impacts the nutrients in a grain. Did you know that reﬁning grains takes away half to two-thirds of a wide range of nutrients? It’s true that some reﬁned grains are then “enriched” — some of the missing nutrients are added back in — but enrichment of wheat, for example, generally adds back only ﬁve of the missing nutrients, and does so in amounts diﬀerent from their original proportions.
Whole Wheat vs Reﬁned Wheat vs Enriched Wheat
White Rice vs Brown Rice vs Enriched White Rice
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