Health Library

Eating Whole Grains

Why Grains Are Good

IMAGE Grain products include foods like 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 have as many nutrients as whole grains because most of them have been processed out. An unrefined whole grain contains all of the nutrients found in the grain kernel. This includes the bran and germ. Whole grains have 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. Most or all of the bran and germ are removed during this process. White flour that has been enriched has some 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 plant-based chemicals.

Whole grains are a healthier choice because they have nutrients that 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 servings of grains everyday. Adults need about 5 to 8 servings per day, depending on age and activity level. The list below gives 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 think about where you can switch to whole grains.

  • 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. Set a goal to 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, oatmeal, or another whole grain. 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 these labels must all have the same information, making them easier to understand. The following are whole grains:

  • Oatmeal
  • Whole wheat
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice
  • Popcorn
  • Bulgur
  • Whole grain farro
  • Hulled barley

These are some foods are made with whole grains:

  • 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 makers have switched to whole grain products. Be sure to read the box carefully.

There are many options for grains, so look for foods you may like. If you do not like one, try another. It may take some time to get used to it, but it is 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 January 21, 2021.

DASH diet. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed January 21, 2021.

Whole grains. Department of Agriculture website. Available at: Accessed January 21, 2021.

Whole grains and fiber. American Heart Association website. Available at: Accessed January 21, 2021.