All About Whole Grains

By Charlyn Fargo

October 11, 2019 8 min read

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to grains. Should you eat grains? What is a whole grain? How do you cook them? Here are some answers from a Whole Grains: Breaking Barriers conference held in Boston.

Grains worldwide provide nearly 50% of the calories eaten. All grains start out as whole grains, which contain all three original edible parts of the kernel. Processing can turn a whole grain into a refined grain, which means the bran and germ have been removed to make them easier to bake into bread or milder in taste or give them a longer shelf life.

Without the bran and the germ, about 25% of the grain's protein is lost along with at least 17 key nutrients. Processors add back some vitamins and minerals in the enriching process, but whole grains are healthier, providing more protein, fiber and up to 2 to 3 times more of vitamins and nutrients.

Brown rice, for example, is an intact whole grain, while whole wheat flour has been milled. Whether a grain is still intact or has been cracked split or ground, it's still considered a whole grain as long as all three of the original edible parts (the bran, germ and endosperm) are still present in their original proportions. You can identify a whole grain by the whole grain stamp on the package.

Cooking whole grains is easy. You simply place uncooked grains in a pot, whether it's rice, quinoa, barley or amaranth, then add at least twice as much water or broth, and bring the grain to a boil, then simmer. When it's soft, it's ready and you can drain any excess water off. Grains can simmer anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending on the grain.

Here are some ways to get more whole grains:

1. Substitute half the white flour with whole-wheat flour in your regular recipes for cookies, muffins, quick breads and pancakes.

2. Replace one third of the flour in a recipe with quick oats or old-fashioned oats.

3. Add half a cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice, or barley to bread stuffing.

4. Add half a cup of cooked wheat or rye berries, wild rice, brown rice sorghum or barley to your favorite canned or homemade soup.

5. Use whole corn meal for corn cakes, corn breads and corn muffins.

6. Add three-quarters cup of uncooked oats for each pound of ground beef or turkey when making meatballs, burgers or meatloaf.

7. Stir a handful of rolled oats in yogurt.

Q and A:

Q: Buffets are a challenge for me — I always seem to overeat and end up feeling overloaded. Are there tips to make this easier?

A: Buffets are a challenge for many people. Fortunately, we can make healthy choices without resorting to a restrictive mindset that takes the enjoyment out of the occasion. We often equate eating with getting "more for our money" at a restaurant or an obligatory politeness at a social gathering. Reframe your thinking: Consider the variety of foods as a delightful chance to choose what you want, not a requirement to gorge yourself. One tip for limiting amounts is to choose a salad-sized plate rather than a large dinner plate. Then, instead of just proceeding down the buffet line, filling your plate as you go, look over the whole range of selections and decide which dishes appeal to you most. If you see lots of not-so-healthy, rich foods, choose just one or two that you'd like to savor on this occasion. If you want to sample many foods, put just a few bites of different selections on your plate. Be focused, because this kind of nibbling tends to involve more food than a typical meal. On the other hand, if you find tiny tastes frustrating, be more selective about how many different dishes you sample, and make portions about one-quarter to one-third of normal. Your plate should not be heaped sky-high as you walk away from the buffet table.??Remind yourself this is not likely to be the last time you ever see these foods. Add other foods that will create a healthful, hunger-satisfying meal. Include a source of protein (poultry, fish, meat, cheese, beans, eggs, tofu), keeping the animal protein to one-third or less of your plate. Balance this with at least two-thirds of your plate holding vegetables, fruits and grains (ideally whole grains). Finally, rather than automatically going back for more, give yourself a few minutes to consider whether you are truly hungry. Once you're home, will you really say, "I only wish I'd eaten more?" Overall think of a buffet as a way to sample a variety of foods as just one part of what makes the occasion enjoyable.

Information courtesy of the American Institute for Cancer Research.


This quinoa salad with toasted almonds, dried cranberries and apple is from Cooking Light magazine.


1 small bulb fennel, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes, fronds reserved

1 large or 2 medium shallots, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes

?1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

Big pinch of salt

1 1/2 cups water, for quinoa

1 cup quinoa, rinsed well

1 cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped?

1 bunch flat leaf parsley

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 bunch (about 5 to 6) green onions, chopped (Green parts only)

1 Honeycrisp apple

1 large lemon, juiced

Generous drizzle of any kind of oil (We like hazelnut)

Fine sea salt, to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat the oven to 375 F. Toss fennel and shallots with the olive oil and a pinch of salt, and lay them out on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, or until soft and caramelized at the edges. Once they're done roasting, let them cool. Boil the water with a pinch of salt, and add rinsed quinoa. Turn stove down to medium-low and let the quinoa cook for roughly 15 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Fluff the quinoa with a fork, and let it cool in the fridge. Rinse and dry parsley well and chop it finely. Roughly chops dried cranberries, too, and then toss them with the parsley and green onions.

Core and dice the apple, then add to the cranberry mixture. Squeeze the entire lemon over the apple to season the salad and prevent the apple from turning brown. Once the quinoa and roasted vegetables are cool, add them. Drizzle everything with the oil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Season with more lemon juice, if desired. Mix well and cool completely. Allow the flavors to meld for 20 minutes before serving. Serves 4.

Per serving: 394 calories; 12.3 grams protein; 47.1 grams carbohydrates; 19.9 grams fat; 0 grams cholesterol; 10.4 grams fiber; 39 mg sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: manfredrichter at Pixabay

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