In the past several years, my mother (Cherie) and I (Britney) have found great satisfaction in experimenting with whole grains in our cooking. Here is a list of whole grains that we use. While there are more grains than those listed, this will give you an understanding of the most common types of whole grains and how they can be used.

1) Whole Wheat

Whole-wheat flour, flour with the whole kernel of grain, is high in fiber, calcium, and potassium. Whole wheat may not be easy for everyone to digest, especially if they aren’t used to it, but it starts our list of whole grains.

Uses: There are many different varieties of wheat, but there are three that you will find most frequently: soft white, hard white, and hard red. Soft white flour is lower in gluten, and is best used as a pastry flour in quick breads (breads that include baking powder or baking soda). Hard white is used in wheat breads, as it contains more gluten. Hard red wheat is the highest in protein, and will give you a heavier product than the other two.

Using whole-wheat flour instead of all-purpose flour will make your dough stickier. Do not add more flour, just lightly oil your hands to prevent it from sticking. Some people find that weighing their flour creates a more precise bread, as the flour can be more airy if it has just been ground.

2) Amaranth

Second on our list of whole grains is amaranth. Amaranth has a slightly nutty taste, is easily digestible, and has three times the fiber of wheat. It’s high in calcium, iron, and lysine and is totally gluten free. It has more protein than any other gluten-free grain, but is lower in carbs and contains polyunsaturated fatty acids.

Uses: Popped amaranth makes a delicious treat. You can also add amaranth flour to your flour mix. It cannot be used as an exclusive flour in most cooking because yeast breads won’t raise well and pastry breads will be too heavy because of its high protein and fiber content. It is a great thickener for soups and sauces and is a lovely hot breakfast cereal.

3) Barley

Barley contains 8 essential amino acids and can help regulate blood sugar. A 1-cup serving has over 50 percent of your daily recommended fiber intake, and it is helpful in lowering cholesterol. It also has been attributed with preventing cardiovascular problems, lowering risk of heart failure, type 2 diabetes, and even childhood asthma.

Uses: Barley can be used in a pilaf or as a substitute for rice. It also works beautifully in soups and stews. You can substitute some of the flour in a recipe with barley flour to gain some of the health benefits, but don’t use it exclusively because barley has a low gluten content.

4) Brown Rice

Brown rice is a quick and easy substitute for white rice that immediately turns a bowl full of carbs into a bowl full of nutrients. Like many grains, it’s high in fiber, helps lower cholesterol, and can help lower cardiovascular disease. It is also full of manganese, an antioxidant that fights free radicals, and selenium, which helps regulate thyroid function and immune system functions. It also helps with bone health, as it contains magnesium. Brown rice is gluten-free.

Uses: Brown rice is a good side for any meal and combines well with many flavors. Rice flour can also be used in a flour mix, but don’t use it alone—it will make a finished product that has drier, finer crumbs because it doesn’t bind as well as a flour with gluten.

5) Buckwheat

Buckwheat is not really a grain, and it’s not related to wheat. It’s a fruit seed that’s gluten-free and closer related to rhubarb and sorrel. But you can use it as if it were a grain, roasted or unroasted (the roasted seed is also known as kasha), or as a flour. It’s a good source of manganese, magnesium, and fiber, and it’s a great protein, containing all eight essential amino acids.

Uses: You can grind buckwheat and use it in a flour mixture for baked goods, but we don’t recommend using it alone. Add it to brown rice for a pilaf, boil it to make a breakfast cereal, or add it to soups and stews.

6) Chia

Do you remember Chia Pets? Same stuff. Chia the healthy powerhouse of our list of whole grains. It has more omega 3s than salmon, 15 times more magnesium than broccoli, 3 times more iron than spinach, 6 times more calcium than milk, and 2 times more potassium than bananas. Also, 2 ounces of chia seeds gives you 560mg of vitamin C (almost 1,000 percent of your daily value). Chia is also great at aiding weight loss. Because it turns into a gel when you add water, it keeps you full longer. Chia does tend to be a little expensive, but you don’t need a lot. Use it in tablespoons instead of cups.

Uses: Chia is virtually tasteless, and it doesn’t take much to get the full nutritional benefit, so you can add it to breads, muffins, smoothies—virtually anything! Soak the seeds in water before you add them to food. Chia seeds absorb 10 times their own weight in water.

7) Flax

Flax is a little brown seed with plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, similar to those found in salmon. It can be beneficial in lowering cholesterol, blood triglyceride levels, and blood pressure. It’s a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber, and it contains lignan, an antioxidant that has been shown to significantly reduce cancer, especially breast cancer.

Uses: Flax is easily added to lots of foods. Grind it for your body to absorb maximum nutrients. Sprinkle some on your cereal in the morning, on your salad, or in the dough you are baking, or add 1 tablespoon per serving into your smoothies. You don’t need a lot to get the full health benefits.

8) Kamut® (Khorasan Wheat)

The legend says that this grain was found in King Tut’s tomb, but that is doubtful as its shelf life isn’t that long. Kamut® looks a lot like wheat because it’s a relative of durum wheat, but is larger, sweeter, healthier, and easier to digest than common wheat. It is rich in protein, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. It is often called a high-energy grain because it is especially rich in fatty acids. Kamut® is trademarked, ensuring that whenever you buy it, it is high quality, organically grown, and never genetically modified.

Uses: You can use Kamut® as a substitute for wheat in recipes, but be aware that it has less gluten than normal wheat. The berries, soaked overnight and then cooked on simmer for 45 minutes, are wonderful eaten like oatmeal, as a pilaf, or in salads and soups.

9) Millet

Millet is a grain that is especially gentle on the digestive system, so much so that some recommend using millet as Baby’s first food instead of rice cereal. It is high in fiber and phosphorus and is gluten-free. It also contains the most complete protein of any other true cereal grain, and contains chemicals that lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of cancer.

Uses: Millet can also be used in pilafs as well as in a flour mixture for breads. Mix it with mashed potatoes to make them more nutritious. You can substitute it for white rice in any of your favorite recipes.

Since millet contains no gluten, it is not as good for raised bread by itself, although it will work in flatbread or when combined with wheat or xanthan gum.

Be careful digesting three or more servings of millet a day if you have hypothyroidism, as it can slow the intake of iodine to your body.

10) Oats

Oats are probably one of the most familiar grains on our whole grains list, and they’re wonderful for you! They contain more soluble fiber than any other grain, resulting in slower digestion and an extended sensation of fullness. They also contain beta-glucans, which have been proven to help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, and therefore lower heart disease. They naturally contain no gluten, but are often grown alongside wheat and barley. Oats are only okay for people with Celiac Disease to eat if they are certified gluten free.

Oats typically are sold in a variety of processed forms. Starting with the least processed and moving to more processed, you can find:

  • Oat groats: whole kernel with the tough hull removed, retaining the bran and the germ of the grain

  • Steel-cut oats: groats cut into smaller pieces

  • Rolled oats: steel-cut oats that have been flattened

  • Quick cooking or instant: further processed oats, retaining less of the nutrients than the other versions

  • Oat bran: Just the bran part of the oat kernel

  • Oat flour: Oat groats ground into flour

Uses: You are already familiar with eating rolled oats in porridge form, as granola, or as an ingredient in cookies. We use it frequently as a flour in both yeast and quick breads. Any form of oats, from groats to rolled oats, are great for porridge, but the less they are processed, the longer they need to cook.

11) Quinoa

Pronounced “keen-wa,” quinoa is a supergrain that comes from the Andes of South America, and was one of the Mayan civilization’s staple foods. It not only contains more protein than any other grain, but it is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all eight essential amino acids, just like milk. It is light, easy to digest, and high in lysine.

Uses: A great way to use quinoa is as a substitute for rice. Quinoa makes an excellent pilaf or salad, and cooks the same way white rice is cooked. Quinoa can also be ground like wheat and used in baking, though it is usually used in a multi-grain mixture instead of on its own.

12) Rye

Rye is an excellent source of manganese, containing over 75 percent of your recommended daily value in a serving. It has a lot of fiber that keeps you feeling satiated. It has a deep, rich, hearty flavor, and although it is low in gluten, it is not gluten-free.

Uses: Rye is usually used as a flour, but can also be eaten in its berry form in breakfast cereals or salads. In breads, it is usually used as one third of the total amount of flour.

13) Spelt

Spelt is a member of the wheat family that is still eaten regularly in Europe. It has not been used as often in America, but because of that, it has not been heavily genetically modified. Spelt looks similar to wheat, but has a harder outer shell, and many people describe the taste as nutty and slightly sweet. It is easier to digest than whole wheat, and has less gluten that breaks down easily, making it preferable to people with wheat sensitivities. It has slightly less fiber than wheat, but more protein and fewer calories.

Uses: Spelt is a great substitute for white flour in baking. Because the gluten breaks down more easily than in whole-wheat flour, dough doesn’t need as much kneading as whole-wheat flour to activate the gluten, and may not rise as high. It often needs a bit less liquid because it’s more water soluble.

14) Teff

Teff is a grain that is common in Ethiopia, coming in a variety of colors. The most common is brown. The grains of teff are very small (it takes about 150 teff grains to weigh the same as 1 wheat kernel), which means it needs less fuel to cook, making it an important food source for those living in the desert.

Because the grain is so small, most of the grain consists of the bran and germ portions of the kernel, meaning it is packed with nutrients. Teff is very high in calcium (more than milk), and contains all eight essential amino acids necessary for humans. It is gluten-free, and high in protein, fiber, and many other essential minerals.

Uses: Teff is fantastic as flour. It works great as a substitute for part of the wheat flour in breads. It works especially well for quick breads such as pancakes and muffins. It tastes great in stews, pilaf, or porridge. Since it is so small, it also can be served whole as a substitute for seeds, such as sesame seeds.

Editor’s Note: This article has been adapted from the introduction of Grain Crazy: Recipes for Healthy Living by Britney and Cheri. For ideas on how to use these grains in delicious, healthy recipes, check out this wonderful cookbook!
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Want to make healthy meals for your family, but don’t want to spend an eternity in the kitchen and don’t want your food to taste dull and unappealing? Then Grain Crazy&nbs...
Grain Crazy

Britney Rule

Britney is the mother of three little boys, ages four and under. We're sure you can imagine what her house sounds (and looks!) like. As such, when she writes articles for Familius, they usually start in an effort to solve ongoing problems in her own ... Read More