Grains are an important part of a balanced diet since they are a plant-based source of vitamins, minerals, and carbohydrates that deliver energy and other nutrients to our muscles and brain.
However, not all grains are equal. There are two types of grains: whole grains (those that still have the bran, germ, and endosperm) and refined grains (those that have been stripped of their bran, germ, and endosperm) (in which the bran and germ have been removed, leaving just the high-carb endosperm behind). Let’s define grains quickly before we get into which ones are the healthiest for your body.
Grains, simply put, are hard, edible dry seeds that grow on grass-like plants known as cereals. Cereal grains are the world’s single largest source of food energy.
While refined grains—white rice, fluffy white bread, sugary breakfast cereals, and so on—provide essentially no health benefits to your body, whole grains tend to be high in numerous nutrients, such fiber, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, phytonutrients, and more.
The health advantages of various whole grains, on the other hand, vary significantly. Some, such as corn or rice, have lower nutrient density than others, such as oats and barley, even in full form.
Here are the 11 healthiest grains to eat, according to nutrition expert Malena Perdomo, MS, RDN, CDE.
Barley is commonly used in soups, salads, grain bowls, and other dishes. It has a higher dietary fiber content than any of the other grains, as well as phytochemicals and the soluble fiber beta-glucan. These antioxidants may aid in the reduction of bad cholesterol and the development of immunity.
160 calories, 34 grams of carbs, 8 grams of dietary fiber, and 6 grams of protein are found in a quarter cup of uncooked hulled barley. Manganese, selenium, and thiamine are also abundant (a B vitamin).
This South American grain cooks in 15 minutes on average, making it a popular item for meal preppers. Quinoa is also extremely healthy, as it is a complete vegetarian protein source, including all of the essential amino acids.
In comparison to other grains, it has fewer carbs and more protein. Magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, and folic acid are all abundant in quinoa.
Uncooked quinoa contains 170 calories, 29 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, and 6 grams of protein per quarter cup.
Amaranth is a small-sized, gluten-free whole grain. The protein content of amaranth ranges from 14 percent to 15 percent, which is higher than both buckwheat and rye. It has phytochemicals and is high in magnesium, manganese, and phosphorous.
A quarter cup of uncooked amaranth has 200 calories, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of dietary fiber, and 7 grams of protein.
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 of uncooked is 160 calories, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 5 grams of dietary fiber, and 5 grams of protein. Buckwheat is also high in magnesium, copper, and manganese.
Here’s an easy way to remember TF: It’s the tiniest grain of all, and it’s the main ingredient in Ethiopian Injera bread. It’s one of the highest protein grains, alongside amaranth. A quarter cup of uncooked teff has 180 calories, 37 grams of carbs, 4 grams of dietary fiber, and 7 grams of 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 the daily value of manganese.
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 types of cancer. Oats may also 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.
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 has 200 calories, 37 grams of carbohydrates, 7 grams of dietary fiber, and 7 grams of protein.
8. Bulgur Wheat
Most people know bulgur as the main ingredient in tabbouleh salad. A quarter cup of uncooked is 160 calories, 34 grams of carbs, 5 grams of dietary fiber, and 5 grams of protein.
It’s high in fiber and manganese and is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, and niacin.
Freekeh has a chewy texture and is great for salads or as a side dish. A quarter cup uncooked is 160 calories, 6 grams fiber, and 7 grams of protein. It’s a very good source of iron, too.
10. Wild Rice
This style of rice has more protein and fiber than brown rice. A quarter cup of uncooked is 160 calories, 35 grams of carbohydrates, 3 grams of dietary fiber, and 4 grams of protein.
This gluten-free Asian grain is used in porridge, to make congee, and in stir-fried dishes. A quarter cup of uncooked millet has 210 calories, 42 grams of carbs, 3 grams of dietary fiber, and 5 grams of protein.
Millet is high in antioxidants, high in manganese, and is a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, thiamin, and niacin.