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15 Healthiest Whole Grains – Best Whole Grain Foods

Carbohydrates get a negative reputation because so many people reach for the wrong ones: refined carbohydrates in white bread, sweets, Cookies, sugary cereals and all sorts of other goodies and drinks. However, according to a 2019 study published in the Lancet, low intake of whole grains is actually the leading dietary risk factor for death and disease in the US.

By including these healthy grains in your diet, you can avoid health problems like heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, and possibly asthma and Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, consuming too many refined carbohydrates is associated with negative outcomes, such as a higher risk of ticker problems.

“Whole grains are an important part of any nutritious diet,” says Stefani Sassos, MS, RDN, the registered nutritionist for the Good Housekeeping Institute Control. Start slow and keep it simple by swapping out some refined carbohydrates in your diet for 100% whole grains. “

These 15 grains are worth placing at the top of your shopping list.

full grain

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This is pretty easy as long as you don’t let food marketers fool you. It’s easy to find in bread and pasta products, but make sure the label says “100% Whole Wheat Bread”. Terms like “multigrain” and “wheat” do not fit. When buying a whole grain product, pay attention to the ingredients and make sure the whole grain product is at the top of the list. Each serving should contain at least 2 or 3 grams of fiber.

Whole grain oats

Breakfast: oatmeal with bananas, blueberries, chia seeds and almonds

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Oats are particularly rich in avenanthramide, an antioxidant that protects the heart. When you buy this whole grain, it doesn’t matter whether you see the word “whole” or not, as it does with wheat products. Oats in the ingredients list means that the product is made from whole oats.

However, when buying flavored oatmeal, avoid those that contain high fructose corn syrup. Better yet, stick with the unsweetened variety and mix in some fruit or a hint of honey or maple syrup.

Brown rice

Side view of cooked brown rice

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If you choose white rice rather than brown rice, around 75% of its nutrients – including almost all of the antioxidants, magnesium, phosphorus, and B vitamins found in healthy bran and germs – will remain in the bottom of the grinding chamber. If possible, opt for brown rice, which contains brown aromatic varieties like basmati and jasmine. It gets even more exotic with red and black rice, both of which are considered whole grain products and are rich in antioxidants. Although wild rice is technically a grass, it’s also considered whole grain and is high in B vitamins like niacin and folic acid.

Whole rye

Freshly baked rye bread

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According to nutritional research by the nonprofit The Organic Center, rye has more nutrients per 100-calorie serving than any other whole grain. It has four times more fiber than standard whole grains and provides you with almost 50% of your recommended daily amount of iron. One problem: most rye and pumpernickel breads in grocery stores are made with refined flours. Be persistent and look for “whole rye” at the top of the ingredient list for the healthy benefits.


Close up of broken freekeh grain with spoon

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This Arabic grain is a low-carbohydrate form of ancient wheat that contains up to four times more fiber than brown rice. Freekeh kernels are harvested young and then roasted. They contain more vitamins and minerals such as immune-boosting selenium than other types of grain. Once in your stomach, Freekeh acts as a prebiotic, stimulating the growth of healthy bacteria that aid digestion. (This is different from a probiotic, which is a beneficial live bacterium that you consume). Look for it in Middle Eastern markets, health food stores, and Amazon.

Whole grain barley


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People who regularly ate half a cup of whole barley during a five-week USDA study saw a decrease in their cholesterol levels of nearly 10% compared to those who did without it. Try adding raisins or dried apricots to fast-boiling barley and serving them as a side dish. Just make sure it’s whole grain barley, not “mother of pearl” which means the bran and germ have been removed.


Bake healthy buckwheat crpe

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Many people with celiac disease can tolerate this whole grain along with quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum. And it’s one of the best grain-based magnesium sources, a miracle mineral that does everything from relieving PMS symptoms to improving nerve function; and manganese, which boosts brain performance. And hooray for that – a great excuse to enjoy a good buckwheat pancake!


Bulgur on a dark background.  Vegetarian oriental food.

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For all practical purposes, bulgur is considered whole grain, although processing can remove up to 5% of its bran. It’s so good for you, but we’re putting it on the list. The grain that tabbouleh salad is made from is a great source of iron and magnesium. The fiber and protein powerhouse (one cup contains nearly 75% of the fiber you need for the day and 25% of the protein you should be consuming) can be used in salads or soups. Plus, it cooks in just a few minutes.

Andean millet

cooked quinoa

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While technically a seed and not a grain, this age-old South American concentrate is full of protein than any other grain, and every uncooked cup of the stuff (about three servings) contains 522 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. Your family will likely enjoy its light, nutty flavor at the dining table for a change of pace. And it holds up well, making it an easy lunch to prepare for work or school.

Whole grain couscous

Couscous with tomatoes and basil

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Most of the couscous you see in stores is pasta made from refined wheat flour. So, when looking for the healthiest couscous, look for the whole grain variety that is easiest to find in health food stores. If you skip the refined version and go for the whole grain type, you’ll get 5 extra grams of fiber per serving.


Sweet corn


Corn can be very healthy for you when whole. Whole grain corn is a good source of B vitamins, magnesium, and phosphorus, and is also believed to promote healthy intestinal flora that can fight off diabetes, heart disease, and chronic inflammation. Yellow corn is also rich in antioxidants.

The easiest way to eat it? Popcorn. You can buy the kernels and microwave them with a paper bag, or do it the old-fashioned way on the stove.


popped organic amaranth on wooden spoon and in bowl

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This grain is a protein winner: according to the Whole Grains Council, it contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a complete protein. It has a lot of magnesium and phosphorus; It can also be anti-inflammatory and is safe for people with celiac disease. Amaranth can be added to soups, cooked to a pulp, or popped like popcorn!


healthiest grains

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This cereal is much more popular in other parts of the world outside the US, but is gaining popularity here in part because it is gluten-free. Sorghum is also rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals (which can help control cholesterol levels), as well as manganese, a mineral that is critical to a healthy metabolism. Like amaranth, sorghum can be popped like popcorn; It’s also a great base for a grain bowl.


healthiest grains of Farro

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Farro, an ancient wheat grain with a nutty flavor, is high in fiber and is a healthy source of iron and magnesium. A quarter cup of cereal contains 6 grams of protein; Although it’s low in gluten, it’s not completely gluten-free, so it’s not a good choice for people with celiac disease. Try adding some cooked farro to a salad or using it as a base for a fish or meat dish.


healthiest grains

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Technically, teff is a seed, but is considered part of the grain family. It’s also gluten-free and found in many gluten-free products. Try baking breads, muffins, or cakes with teff flour for its sweet and nutty taste.

Leah Zerbe is the online editor for Rodale News, where she covers the food system and environmental health issues.

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