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The 11 Healthiest Whole Grains to Eat – Real Simple

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Grains are an essential part of a healthy diet—they’re a plant food that provides us with crucial vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates that fuel our muscles and brain with energy and more. But not all grains are created equal. There are whole grains (those that still contain the bran, germ, and endosperm) and refined grains (in which the bran and germ have been removed, leaving just the low-fiber endosperm behind). Let’s jump into which types of grains are the healthiest for your body.

Crystal Hughes

Expert-Approved Whole Grains

Here are the healthiest grains to eat, according to nutrition expert Malena Perdomo, MS, RDN, CDE.

Barley

Barley is traditionally served in soups, salads, grain bowls, and more. It contains a higher amount of dietary fiber than any of the other grains, plus it has an array of phytochemicals and the soluble fiber beta-glucan. These antioxidants may help to reduce bad cholesterol and build immunity. And the beta-glucan promotes gut health. A quarter cup of uncooked hulled barley is 160 calories, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 8 grams dietary fiber, and 6 grams protein. It’s also high in manganese, selenium, and thiamine (a B vitamin).

This Chicken Thighs with Barley and Peas recipe is made all in one pan for easy clean-up.

Quinoa

Antonis Achilleos


This South American grain typically cooks in just 15 minutes, which makes it a much-loved ingredient for those who meal prep. Quinoa is super nutritious, too: It’s a source of complete vegetable protein because it contains all essential amino acids. It also contains fewer carbohydrates and more protein in comparison to other grains. Quinoa is also high in magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and folic acid. A quarter cup of uncooked quinoa is 170 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams fiber, and 6 grams protein. Mix some quinoa with sweet potatoes, kale, and pesto for a nutritious meal.

This Spinach and Artichoke Quinoa Casserole is topped with crunchy potato chips, keeping the entire dish gluten-free—and it’s vegan!.

Try reheating leftover quinoa with a pat of butter, raisins, and a spoonful of maple syrup to replace your morning oatmeal.

Amaranth

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Amaranth is a small-sized, gluten-free whole grain. The protein content of amaranth ranges from 14 percent to 15 percent, higher than both buckwheat and rye. It has phytochemicals and is high in magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous. A quarter cup of uncooked amaranth is 200 calories, 32 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams dietary fiber, and 7 grams protein.

Buckwheat

GREG DUPREE

This gluten-free whole grain is typically eaten as cereal (kasha), used in Japanese noodles (soba noodles) and in granola, pancakes, or crepes. It contains antioxidants that are associated with the prevention of cancer and heart disease. Buckwheat is also high in soluble fiber: Not all of the grain is digestible, which may help improve blood cholesterol and manage blood glucose. A quarter cup uncooked is 160 calories, 31 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of protein, and 4 grams of dietary fiber. Buckwheat is also high in magnesium, copper, and manganese.

Get buckwheat into your life with this Quick Nutty Noodles recipe. If you’re looking for gluten-free noodles, double-check the package. Many soba noodles contain some wheat in addition to the gluten-free buckwheat.

Teff

Here’s an easy way to remember teff: It’s the tiniest grain of all, and the main ingredient in Ethiopian injera, a popular flatbread. It’s one of the highest protein grains, alongside amaranth. A quarter cup of uncooked teff is 180 calories, 35 grams of carbs, 4 grams dietary fiber, and 6 grams protein. It’s gluten-free, and an excellent source of iron and magnesium. Teff is also a solid source of fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, thiamin, and vitamin B6, and can provide over 100 percent of daily value of manganese.

Oats

Jennifer Causey

Oats contain polyphenols, which act as antioxidants and are a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. They are also high in beta-glucan, a type of soluble fiber that helps lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and may reduce the risk of some type of cancers. Oats also may help lower blood pressure. They’re a good source of fiber, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, thiamin, manganese, and selenium. Oats are naturally gluten-free, but may be processed with other grains that contain gluten, so be sure to check the label for the gluten-free certification.

These Make-Ahead Oatmeal Peanut Butter Bars are a nourishing grab-and-go breakfast or satisfying afternoon snack.

Remember, oats can go savory too. Try topping oatmeal with sautéed vegetables, a jammy egg, and a drizzle of soy sauce for a satisfying dinner.

Farro

Victor Protasio


Farro is a well-known grain in Italy and the Mediterranean. There are two main types: Traditional farro (that isn’t processed) and pearled farro (that’s processed to make it quicker to cook). The flavor is nutty, chewy, and hearty. The fiber-rich grain can be prepared in salads, soups, or in place of rice. A quarter cup of uncooked dry farro is 200 calories, 11 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, and 2 grams of protein.

Try this Farro and Squash Salad at your next cookout for a healthy side dish. It’s also excellent packed into lunch boxes. Add some chicken or shrimp for extra protein.

If you like risotto, give farrotto a try. It’s made using the same method—adding hot stock to the grain a little at a time until the farro becomes tender. For maximum creaminess, stir regularly.

Bulgur Wheat

Greg DuPree


Most people know bulgur as the main ingredient in tabbouleh salad. A quarter cup uncooked is 120 calories, 27 grams of carbs, 4 grams dietary fiber, and 4 grams protein. It’s high in fiber and manganese, and is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, and niacin.

Dinner will be on the table in 15 minutes with this Rosemary Lamb Chops and bulgur recipe from cookbook author Ali Rosen.

Freekeh

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Freekeh has a chewy texture, smoky flavor, and is great for salads or as a side dish. A quarter cup uncooked is 140 calories, 4 grams of fiber, and 5 grams of protein.

Use freekeh wherever you would rice or farro. It also makes an excellent salad base, much like bulgur.

Millet

This gluten-free Asian grain is used in porridge, to make congee, and stir-fried dishes. A quarter cup uncooked millet is 190 calories, 37 grams of carb, 4 grams dietary fiber, and 6 grams protein. Millet is high in antioxidants, high in manganese, and is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, thiamin, and niacin.

Rye

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman.

Often consumed ground into flour for baked goods, rye is a member of the wheat family, though it is lower in gluten than typical wheat. Rye flour is often sold as light, medium, or dark. Opt for dark or pumpernickel varieties for the most fiber. You can also cook rye as a whole berry, like wheat berries. A quarter cup of uncooked rye contains 143 calories, 32 grams of carb, 7 grams dietary fiber, and 4 grams protein.

Brown Rice

Max Kelly

Chewy, nutty, and widely available, brown rice is an excellent, inexpensive, and gluten-free whole grain to work into many meals. Use it anywhere you would white rice; just remember it takes up to 50 minutes to cook. A half-cup of cooked brown rice contains 109 calories, 23 grams of carb, 2 grams dietary fiber, and 2 grams protein.

When you use cold leftover brown rice in this Tofu Fried Rice, the meal will come together in just 20 minutes.

Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

Simply stated, grains are hard, edible dry seeds that grow on grass-like plants called cereals. Cereal grains are the single biggest source of food energy in the world. While refined grains—white rice, fluffy white bread, sugary breakfast cereals, and so on—provide fewer health benefits to your body, whole grains tend to be high in many nutrients, like fiber, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, phytonutrients, and more. However, there is quite a bit of discrepancy in the health benefits of various whole grains. Some whole grains (like corn or brown rice) have less nutrient density than others, such as oats and barley.

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