Health Library

Eating Whole Grains

Why Grains Are Good

IMAGE Grain products include items such as bread, rice, pasta, oatmeal, cereal, and tortillas. Unfortunately, most of the foods we eat are refined grains, such as white bread, white rice, pasta, and pretzels. Refined grains do not contain as many nutrients as whole grains because most of the nutritional value is processed out of them.

An unrefined whole grain contains all of the nutritional elements of the grain kernel. This includes the bran and germ. Whole grains contain more B vitamins, fiber, carbohydrates, minerals, and proteins.

White flour, which is the base of many of our foods, is made by refining whole grains. During the refining process, most or all of the bran and germ are removed. White flour that has been enriched has certain nutrients added to it, such as iron and some B vitamins (including folate). However, other important nutrients are lost, including vitamins E and B6, magnesium, copper, zinc, and phytochemicals.

Whole grains are a healthier choice because the ingredients they contain may help to lower the risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Soluble fiber, which is found in oats and barley, can lower cholesterol levels.

How to Get Your Grains

It is easy to get plenty of serving of grains everyday. The amount of servings an adult needs varies depending on age and activity level. The requirements range from about 5-8 servings per day. The following list gives you some examples of single servings of grains. Some on the list are refined grains, others are whole grains. Look at some of your favorites and determine where you can make substitutions.

  • 1 cup flaked cereal
  • ½ cup of cooked oatmeal, grits, or cream-of-wheat cereal
  • ¼ cup nugget or bud-type cereal
  • 3 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 1 pancake or waffle, 4 inch diameter
  • ½ English muffin, hamburger roll, pita, or bagel (frozen kind; those from bagel shops can be up to 4 servings)
  • 1 slice of bread or dinner roll
  • 1 tortilla, 6 inch diameter
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or barley
  • ½ cup quinoa, bulgur, millet, or other whole grain
  • ½ cup pretzels
  • 5 whole wheat crackers

Finding the Whole Grain

The US Department of Health and Human services recommends at least half of the grains you eat be whole grains. The more whole grains you eat, the better off you are. Ultimately, you can make all your grains whole grains.

The trickiest part about eating whole grains is figuring out which grains truly are whole. To do this, check the nutrition label. The product is a whole grain if the first ingredient is whole wheat or oatmeal. Do not be fooled by brown breads, some are dyed to be that color. Also, a food label that reads wheat bagel, stoned wheat, or seven grain is not necessarily whole grain. The good news is that labels are standardized, making them easier to understand.

The following are whole grains:

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Popcorn
  • Some cold breakfast cereals, such as Cheerios, Granola or muesli, Grape-Nuts, Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat, Total, Wheat germ, or Wheaties
  • Some hot breakfast cereals, such as Oat Bran, oatmeal, Roman Meal, or Wheatena
  • Some crackers, such as Triscuits or Wheat Thins

Many cereal manufacturers recently switched to whole grain products. Be sure to read the box carefully.

There are many options for grains, so find foods you like. If you do not like one substitution, try another. It may take some time to make the adjustment, but in the end it will be worth the effort.


Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture

Eat Right—Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

Canadian Resources

Dietitians of Canada

Health Canada


All about the grains group. Department of Agriculture Choose My Plate website. Available at: Accessed Updated July 27, 2015. Accessed January 21, 2016.

DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated March 3, 2013. Accessed January 21, 2016.

Whole grains. Department of Agriculture website. Available at: Updated January 19, 2016. Accessed January 21, 2016.

Whole grains and fiber. American Heart Association website. Available at: Updated August 6, 2015. Accessed January 21, 2016.