What are sources of whole grains?

Foods that have been made with unrefined (unprocessed) flours and grains such as millet, bulgur and whole wheat contain the most whole grains. Brown rice, soba noodles, whole-wheat bagels, barley and oatmeal are all great sources of whole grains. Foods rich in bran—the outer layer of the grain seed—are good grain choices, too, thanks to the fiber, B vitamins and antioxidants. Other whole grains include amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa—which are all gluten-free—as well as rye and couscous.

Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The definition of a whole grain is a gran that has all three parts intake—the germ, the endosperm and the bran. Examples of whole grains are: quinoa, millet, bulgur, barley, corn, brown rice, wild rice, wheat, oats, sorghum, spelt, and rye. The best way to identify a whole grain that has been packaged is to look for the whole grain symbol on the packaging.

Judy Caplan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

There are so many sources of whole grain. Here are some well-known ones: Amaranth, barley, buckwheat, oats, millet, bulgur, wild rice, brown rice, wheat berries, kasha, oat bran, and rye berries. Amaranth, quinoa and buckwheat actually belong to a different botanical family than wheat. But essentially all grains have a similar composition. A kernel is an edible seed that has three parts: the bran, endosperm, and germ.

Finding whole grain foods can be a challenge. Some foods only contain a small amount of whole grain but will say they contain whole grain on the front of the package. For all cereals and grains, read the ingredient list and look for the following sources of whole grains as the first ingredient:

  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Whole wheat flour
  • Whole oats/oatmeal
  • Whole grain corn/corn meal
  • Popcorn
  • Brown rice
  • Whole rye
  • Whole grain barley
  • Wild rice
  • Buckwheat
  • Buckwheat flour
  • Triticale
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum

Most rolls, breads, cereals, and crackers labeled as "made with" or "containing" whole grain do not have whole grain as the first ingredient. Read labels carefully to find the most nutritious grain products.

There are so many whole grains to choose from, some with ancient pedigrees and others with modern-day trendiness.

  • Amaranth: This ancient grain from the Aztec culture is a pseudo-grain, as is quinoa. It's not a true cereal grain, but its nutritional benefits are similar, and it can be cooked and used in much the same way.
  • Barley: This ancient grain dates back to early Egyptian civilizations. It has a tough hull, which traditionally made it very slow-cooking, but newer hull-less varieties are sold in grocery stores for quicker cooking.
  • Buckwheat makes delicious pancakes—but it's good for so much more, like soba noodles, kasha and pilaf. It isn't technically a grain, but its nutrients, as well as its nutty flavor and grain-like appearance, put it in the same nutritional basket with whole grains.
  • Bulgur comes from wheat. It's what you get when you boil, dry, crack and sort wheat kernels.
  • Einkorn is thought to be the most ancient wheat variety still around, but it's not found much in the United States. It's higher in protein, phosphorous, potassium and beta-carotene than most grains.
  • Farro, also known as emmer, is an ancient strain of wheat. Some Italians claim farro makes the best pasta. But be sure to avoid labels that say "pearled" and look for "whole-grain farro" or "whole farro."
  • Freekeh, also known as farik or frikeh, has a smoky flavor that comes from the way it's prepared. It's a hard wheat (often durum) that's harvested young and green, then roasted and rubbed.
  • Khorasan has a rich, buttery flavor and is higher in protein, amino acids and many vitamins and minerals than modern wheat.
  • Millet, also known as fonio, isn't really one grain; it's a group of several small, related ancient grains, including pearl millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, finger millet (ragi) and fonio.
  • Quinoa is pseudo-grain related to beets and Swiss chard but similar to grains in appearance, taste and nutritional benefits.
  • Sorghum, also called milo, is one tough grain, thriving in areas like the Great Plains, where other crops can't survive.
  • Teff is a nutritious, easy-to-grow type of millet, but it's largely unknown. If you've eaten Ethiopian food, you've likely encountered it in the spongy injera flatbread that appears at most Ethiopian meals.
  • Triticale is a hybrid of durum wheat and rye that grows well without commercial fertilizers or pesticides, making it popular for organic and sustainable farming.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.