7 Whole Grains You Should Know About

Grains are a diet staple around the world for good reason. They’re excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals — with whole grains being the healthiest of the bunch. Whole grains retain all three parts of the seed (the bran, germ and endosperm), which makes them more nutritious than refined grains. You’re probably already familiar with some whole grains, such as brown rice and oats, but there are many others that can add variety to your cooking. Here are seven whole grains you should know about.

7 Whole Grains You Should Know About

1. Barley

Barley is an ancient grain that can adapt to various growing locations around the world, according to the Whole Grains Council, a nonprofit consumer-advocacy group. “Egyptians buried mummies with necklaces of barley,” the council says. “And centuries later in 1324 Edward II of England standardized the inch as equal to ‘three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise.’”

You can find barley in two forms — hulled (whole) and pearled (refined) — but only hulled barley is technically a whole grain. “Hulled barley is high in minerals such as selenium, manganese, magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, phosphorus and potassium, as well as B vitamins and fiber,” Healthline says. Plus, according to the Whole Grains Council, the fiber in hulled barley might be even more effective at reducing cholesterol than oats.

2. Buckwheat

Bowl with cooked buckwheat on tableCredit: belchonock/Getty Images

Technically speaking, buckwheat is part of the pseudocereal family, meaning it’s a seed that’s consumed like a grain. “Botanically, buckwheat is a cousin of rhubarb, not technically a grain at all — and certainly not a kind of wheat,” the Whole Grains Council says. “But its nutrients, nutty flavor and appearance have led to its ready adoption into the family of grains.”

Buckwheat is high in fiber, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and iron, as well as B vitamins, according to Healthline. Its husk also contains resistant starch, which can improve digestive health and control blood sugar. Plus, buckwheat has high levels of rutin, an antioxidant that can improve blood circulation and lower cholesterol.

3. Bulgur

Bulgur wheat — also referred to as cracked wheat — occurs “when wheat kernels are cleaned, boiled, dried, ground by a mill, then sorted by size,” the Whole Grains Council says. It’s a popular base for many Middle Eastern dishes, including tabbouleh. And because it already has been precooked, it only needs a quick boil before it’s ready to eat.

Bulgur is high in magnesium, manganese and iron, according to Healthline. And it’s low in fat. Plus, it’s very high in fiber, providing 33 percent of the recommended daily value per cooked cup. “Research has linked higher intakes of bulgur and other whole grains to less inflammation and a lower risk of heart disease and cancers like colorectal cancer,” Healthline says.

4. Millet

You might know millet as a birdseed ingredient, but it offers many benefits to human diets, as well. There are several types of millet, which people around the world have consumed for thousands of years. “In fact, millets are the leading staple grains in India, and are commonly eaten in China, South America, Russia and the Himalayas,” according to the Whole Grains Council.

Millet is high in fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, manganese, zinc, potassium and iron. Plus, it’s a good source of protein and antioxidants. “Research has linked millet intake to health benefits such as reduced inflammation, lower blood triglycerides and improved blood sugar control,” Healthline says.

5. Quinoa

raw and cooked quinoa in two bowlsCredit: letterberry/Getty Images

Like buckwheat, quinoa is technically a pseudocereal. According to the Whole Grains Council, it’s related to Swiss chard and beets. But it’s been consumed like a grain for thousands of years, originating in South America and lately gaining superfood status.

“This ancient grain is packed with more vitamins, minerals, protein, healthy fats and fiber than popular grains such as whole wheat, oats and many others,” Healthline says. Plus, it’s an excellent source of antioxidants that can help the body fight inflammation, heart disease and certain types of cancer. And it’s one of the few plant-based complete protein sources, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids.

6. Rye

Rye, a member of the wheat family, once was viewed as a weed growing among more popular wheat crops, according to the Whole Grains Council. But because it’s able to thrive in wet and cold regions, it gained a foothold in Northern European and Russian cuisines.

Rye is actually a healthier alternative to wheat. It contains more minerals and fewer carbs, according to Healthline. And it’s incredibly high in fiber. “Rye is unusual among grains for the high level of fiber in its endosperm — not just in its bran,” the Whole Grains Council says. “Because of this, rye products generally have a lower glycemic index than products made from wheat and most other grains.” Look for whole rye or rye berries on the ingredients list to make sure you’re getting the whole grain.

7. Spelt

Uncooked whole spelt in a bowl with a wooden spoon on the tableCredit: Karisssa/Getty Images

Spelt is a type of ancient whole wheat, which was “widely cultivated until the spread of fertilizers and mechanical harvesting left it by the wayside in favor of wheats more compatible with industrialization,” according to the Whole Grains Council. But now it’s making a comeback as people recognize its health benefits.

Spelt can take the place of common whole wheat in many recipes. It’s similar to wheat in nutrition — high in manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and iron, as well as fiber and vitamin B3. And it actually contains more zinc and protein than wheat, according to Healthline.

Main image credit: fcafotodigital/Getty Images


Elinor Dorrian
Elinor Dorrian3 months ago

Spelt breand and rye bread are delicious.

Gino C
Past Member 3 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Sophie A
Sarah A3 months ago

Thank you

Karen Martinez
Karen Martinez3 months ago

Great information. We eat quinoa, barley, and bulgur wheat regularly. Thanks for the article.

Marija M
Marija M3 months ago

Interesting, tks very much for sharing this article.

Naomi R
Naomi R3 months ago


Lesa D
Lesa D3 months ago

thank you Mary...

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn3 months ago

Many thanks to you !

Angela K
Angela K3 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Shae Lee
Shae Lee3 months ago

Thank you for sharing