Exploring whole grains

We hear a lot about the benefits of whole grains – so much so that you may find yourself wondering what, exactly, is a whole grain?

By definition, a whole grain is a grain that is not refined. Whole grains contain the bran, endosperm, and germ of the crop. Maintaining the bran, endosperm, and germ makes whole grains very dense in nutrients. We often refer to whole grains as being the optimal type of food for the 25% starch portion of your plate.

By including more whole grain products in your diet, you will be consuming more fibre, which slows down the digestion of carbohydrates, helps you stay fuller longer, and helps with blood sugar balance. Whole grains are also packed with different vitamins, minerals, protein, and antioxidants. Bonus: whole grains are great for appetite control and taste delicious! Watch the video below to hear registered dietitian Heather Feldmann discuss whole grains, or keep reading to find out about the different whole grain options.


Farro is a thicker grain that has a bit of a nutty flavour. A species of wheat, farro is good in soups and can also be served on the side, similar to rice. It is not gluten-free, so if you are concerned about consuming gluten, you may want to skip this one. Try this Italian ancient grain salad with farro!


Oats are a delicious source of complex carbohydrates and fibre. Oatmeal, or overnight oatmeal makes a nutritious and hearty breakfast. Oats can also be ground into flour and used in baking, like this oat-based griddle cake recipe. Oats are gluten-free, however, are often processed in a facility that has gluten. Be sure to check the packaging for certified gluten-free, if you are on a gluten-free diet.


Amaranth, a small grain, is one of the more exotic whole grains. A great source of fibre, magnesium and iron, Amaranth was originally cultivated by the Aztecs, and tastes slightly like corn. Amaranth works well as a salad topper, and can also be popped like popcorn for a healthy snack alternative. Try this Mexican ancient grain salad with amaranth!


Barley is a variety of wheat, and one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world. With good levels of protein, magnesium, and B vitamins, barley is also very high in fibre! Barley has a firm and chewy taste, which lends itself well to grain salads, soups, and as a rice substitute. Try this hearty barley mushroom soup!


According to the Whole Grains Council, Sorghum is the fifth most important cereal crop in North America. A versatile and drought resistant crop, this grain is gluten-free and has a longer cook time, but is delicious. Try adding fresh herbs to your sorghum and enjoying as a side dish. Try this Mediterranean ancient grain salad with sorghum!


Millet is a whole grain that was long used in India as a base for curry, and has a similar nutrient profile to sorghum. In comparison to refined grains, millet has a higher protein, fibre and antioxidant content, plus – it’s gluten-free. Millet makes a wonderful option for breakfast if you are looking to venture outside the realm of your typical oatmeal. It can be used for other meals, not just breakfast! Try this Indian ancient grain salad.

Brown rice, black rice, and wild rice

Brown rice, black rice, and wild rice are all great whole grain rice options.

Wild rice that is native to Asia is harvested as a vegetable, while the other three types of wild rice are grown in North America and are harvested as a grain. Wild rice is higher in protein and fibre than regular white rice, and has a chewy texture and nutty flavour.

Black rice, also known as forbidden rice, was named forbidden because in ancient China, the rice was so coveted and believed so nutritious that it was forbidden for all but royalty! This means you should definitely try this nutty, and chewy grain – the dark colour is a result of anthocyanin, which has antioxidant properties.

Brown rice is white rice’s more nutritious sibling, with the bran and germ intact! Brown rice is nutty and chewy and is an easy replacement for white rice.

Try this zesty vegan glory bowl with any type of rice!


Quinoa was a staple of the Incas in the Andean region of South America. There are three main varieties of quinoa: red, white, or black. With a texture that is fluffy and crunchy, quinoa has a mild, nutty and pleasant flavour. Quinoa also contains all eight essential amino acids, and is a good source of iron and B vitamins. Try this nutty pea and quinoa bowl!

If you’re looking for more whole grain recipes, check out our recipe page for more ways to use whole grains. If you have more questions about whole grains, or would like to book an appointment with one of our registered dietitians, contact us today.


Natalie Siu-Mitton, Registered Dietitian

Whole Grains Council