What’s All The Hype on Whole Grains?

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that half of the grains we eat be whole grains. We have heard a lot lately about whole grains and ancient grains. Are they the same? Are they gluten-free? Let’s look at whole grains, ancient grains, and grains that are ideal for those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

There are two main types of grain products: whole and refined grains.

  • Whole grains contain the three key parts of a seed: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Some examples include whole wheat, rye, barley, corn, popcorn, brown rice, oats, bulgur (cracked wheat), millet, quinoa, and sorghum.
  • Refined grains are milled (ground into flour or meal) resulting in the removal of the germ and bran, leaving only the endosperm. This process strips the grain of important nutrients, including B-vitamins, iron, and fiber, which makes the grains less healthy. Refined grains have a softer texture. Examples include white flour, white rice, and white bread.
  • Enriched grains means that some or many of the nutrients lost during processing are added back, such as B-vitamins and iron.
  • Fortified grains adds nutrients that don’t naturally occur in the grain such as folic acid and iron. The food label will indicate if the product is fortified. Whole grains may or may not be fortified. Enriched and fortified grains lack fiber.

What Are “Ancient” Grains?

According to the Whole Grains Council, ancient grains are those “that have remained largely unchanged over the past few centuries.”  Although not new, they are relatively new to the Western world.

There are many choices when deciding to incorporate whole grains into your eating plan. Whole and ancient grains are the healthiest grains. They have been tied to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers as well as aiding in other health issues with their high fiber content.

Many whole grains contain a protein called gluten. People diagnosed with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity should avoid this protein. There are grains that are naturally gluten-free and safer to consume provided they have not been cross-contaminated with another gluten-containing grain.

Here are some of the many whole and ancient grains available today:

 Whole Grains That Are Gluten-Free


  • Nutrients: fiber, calcium iron, potassium and 9g of protein per cup
  • Uses: coatings, add to vegetables or salads


  • Main nutrient: magnesium
  • Uses: can be steamed and eaten like rice or added to a salad


  • Is a type of grass
  • One serving provides almost half of the daily fiber recommendation
  • Uses: as a sweetener, ground into flour, can be popped like popcorn or cooked and eaten like rice


  • Nutrients: iron, zinc, calcium, protein, and fiber
  • Uses: ground into flour, added to stews, cooked like oatmeal or rice and as a meat replacement


  • Nutrients: protein, fiber, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, B-vitamins, and calcium
  • Uses: cooked as a side dish, in salads, use as a meat replacement, add to stews and soups


  • Is a seed, not a grain or wheat
  • Nutrients: similar to quinoa
  • Uses: ground into a flour for breads, crackers, pancakes, breakfast cereal and is in soba noodles

 Whole Grains that Contain Gluten


  • There are many varieties-hulled, hulless, some flours are whole grain, pearl barley is not
  • Nutrients: B-complex, vitamin E, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium
  • Uses: baked goods, flavorings, added to soups and stews, used in the production of malt


  • May be whole or refined
  • Nutrients: iron, magnesium, and zinc
  • Used as an alternative to wheat


  • Nutrients: B vitamins, fiber, iron, magnesium, and manganese
  • Uses: tabbouleh salad, in soup, as a stuffing, and added to other dishes


  • Similar to bulgur but contains more nutrients
  • Nutrients: protein, fiber, zinc, manganese, phosphorus
  • Uses: baked good, breads, pastas, waffles, and pancakes


  • Nutrients: protein, fiber, B vitamins
  • Uses: rice replacement, in salads


  • Nutrients: protein, fiber
  • Uses: casseroles, soups, pilafs, salads, as a hot cereal, as granola

Increasing whole grains and reducing refined grain intake in your diet is much easier today. From the examples above, there is more to “whole grains” than just eating whole wheat products. Experiment with different products, using them in many different ways, to find those that appeal to you the most to boost your fiber and protein intake as well as many other vitamins and minerals. Your body will thank you.

Watch this quick video for more helpful tips on Whole Grains.