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Healthy Tip: Explore Whole Grains

By Alana Sugar, April 13, 2009  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Alana Sugar
Guide to GrainsTwo years ago for my birthday, my friend Margaret gave me a cookbook called The Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood. And, oh, what a splendid gift! I have used it and referred to it many times. We've all heard about the benefits of adding whole grains to our diet, but I still find most people think of that as brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread. While these are absolutely great, I have developed nothing short of a love affair with quinoa, spelt, buckwheat, millet and many others. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so first things first: A whole grain is a grain, such as a wheat berry, an oat groat or a kernel of rye, that has not been stripped or processed. For example, brown rice is whole and white rice is processed; un-hulled barley is whole and pearled barley is processed. By choosing whole grains, you are eating the grain just the way nature designs it, and that means you get the benefit of the "whole" food. Whole grains are super nutritious! They are seeds or kernels of a growing plant. They contain three key parts: The bran which is the tough, fibrous outer skin; the germ which is the embryo or the part that becomes a new plant; and the endosperm which is the starchier part that provides nourishment for the young plant. The bran provides B vitamins, fiber and valuable antioxidants. The germ provides healthy fats, B vitamins and minerals. The endosperm provides mostly starchy carbohydrates with minor amounts of protein and minerals. When a whole grain is processed and refined, the bran and endosperm are removed leaving the starchy "white" part of the grain. Some manufacturers add back missing vitamins. This is called "enriching," but it can never replace the perfection of the grain in its natural, whole state where you find all of the protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, good fats and antioxidants that are naturally present. Here are a few of my favorite grains that you might not be familiar with: Spelt: This ancient variety of wheat is a little denser than the common wheat we are used to today and I simply love it. I always have whole spelt flour on hand. It makes wonderful breads, baked goods and pie crusts. In fact, I use more whole spelt flour than whole wheat flour because I enjoy it so much. Our stores have crackers, pasta, breads, tortillas, English muffins and many other items made from spelt. Want to try baking with some spelt flour? Here's a delicious recipe for blueberry muffins. Quinoa: This delightful little grain comes from high in the Andes Mountains where the Inca cultivated it and named it as the "Mother of all Grains." I use it to make quick and easy pilaf dishes, whole grain breakfast cereal (it's good with nuts and raisins!) and in many recipes that call for rice or couscous. Quinoa is particularly nutritious, containing higher amounts of protein than other grains. In fact, it is considered a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. As well, it delivers vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Try this recipe for Quinoa with Chicken, Spring Peas and Asparagus. Steel Cut Oats: These are whole oat groats that have been cut into only two or three pieces, so they are even closer to the original groat. They are not the regular rolled oats we are used to cooking. Steel cut oats are perfect for the crock-pot overnight. I add water, a cinnamon stick and a pinch of sea salt, and turn it on low. In the morning I have "true" oatmeal - amazing, creamy, nutritious and delicious. I'll add a pat of butter or a bit of chopped walnuts or pecans, perhaps some fresh or dried fruit and a drizzle of raw honey. Buckwheat Flour: I use this along with spelt for pancakes often. One of my favorite breakfast meals is this: Blend together 2 tablespoons each of buckwheat flour and whole spelt flour. Add 1/8 teaspoon baking soda, a pinch of sea salt, 1 egg, and 2-4 tablespoons of plain or vanilla yogurt. Mix it up adding spices or a drop of vanilla if desired. Cook it on a griddle in a little bit of butter or oil. Delicious with fresh fruit, nuts, more yogurt, cottage cheese and pure maple syrup! For a whole grain apple waffle with buckwheat flour, try this. For a comprehensive list of the many grains we carry along with great ideas for buying, storing, and cooking, check out our Guide to Grains. Some of my favorite ways to use whole grains are:
  • Cook up a pot of brown rice, wild rice or quinoa on the weekend and use it for a number of dishes through the week - added to stir fries, soups, stews or heated with a bit of olive oil and parmesan cheese
  • Add a handful of raw brown rice or quinoa to a soup and cook until tender
  • Heat a bowl of cooked whole grains, add dried or fresh fruit, nuts and milk for breakfast
  • Serve a loaf of hearty whole grain bread
  • Substitute equal parts whole wheat or whole spelt flour for half or more of the white flour called for in a recipe.
  • For breadcrumbs, try whole wheat or rolled oat as a substitute for plain
  • Use whole grains to make tabouli and enjoy with fresh vegetables and a dollop of hummus
  • Cook up some buckwheat, whole wheat, brown rice or otherBrown Rice Risotto whole grain pasta and use in place of regular white flour pasta
  • Make your favorite pilaf or rice/risotto dish with brown or wild rice, or even half and half for a nutty, delicious treat. Try Brown Rice Spring Vegetable Risotto
What's your favorite way to eat whole grains? Let me know!




Mom's Cafe Home Cooking says ...
Thank-you so much for a very informative article on whole grains! I will definitely be trying the recipes as well. I like using pearl barley in soups especially vegetable beef. Out of the whole grains listed in your guide I think the only one I haven't used much is quinoa so thank-you for a recipe I can try using it. I haven't used Teff at all as until today hadn't heard of it so next time I'm in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) I will stop by for some. Of the flours I haven't tried amaranth flour, blue cornmeal or teff flours so those are on my list of flours to try.
04/13/2009 1:01:43 PM CDT
CakeSpy says ...
What a fantastic and informative resource. I especially love that you included recipes--I am going to try the blueberry muffin one!
04/14/2009 12:26:49 PM CDT
Health says ...
Im making soup tonight, so I think I will try adding raw brown rice. Good idea. Can almost taste it now!
04/15/2009 2:38:19 AM CDT
Jenn says ...
I recently just started eating quinoa. It is soooo tasty. I cooked it up with vegetable broth and added some veggies and it cooked out like rice and veggies. I am a newer vegetarian and have been trying to figure out ways to keep protein in my diet, since I haven't had the greatest experience with tofu. My fav dish with quinoa was quinoa and black beans. If you like black beans and brown rice, you will LOVE this too!!! You can make it a cold salad, or add to practically anything you would put rice in. Make it sweet or salty. Very versatile!! I am surprised more people don't cook with it, or even know what it is. It makes a lot too. They are teeny tiny, and once you cook them it grows probably 3x. So one cup uncooked will feed a few people . :)
04/15/2009 2:45:09 PM CDT
Pam says ...
You didn't mention farro, but that has become one of my all-time favorite grains. To any one who has discovered and fallen in love with quinoa, I say: try farro, too! It can be eaten plain as a side grain dish, or mixed with vegetables or greens.
04/17/2009 12:03:36 PM CDT
Kimberly says ...
Thank you, this article has been very informing to me, the person who walks down the aisle with the grains and used to wonder what the heck to do with them! I'm cooking challenged but this beginner's course is helping...I do have two wonderful kids to feed and I'm sure they don't want to eat plain veggies forever! TY!
04/19/2009 12:49:52 AM CDT
Jodi says ...
A question about the bulk quinoa at WFM. I bought some last week, because it was a better value than buying pre-packaged quantities. Unfortunately, I didn't note whether the quinoa was pre-rinsed to remove the saponins or not. The saponins make the quinoa really bitter. I know most commercially-produced and packaged quinoa in the U.S. has been pre-rinsed; I just didn't know about the bulk quinoa at WFM. If this sounds way technical, I'll ask the others out there who have bought bulk quinoa--did you just cook it, or did you have to do lots of soaking and rinsing?
04/20/2009 5:09:22 PM CDT
Dorothy says ...
Bulk grains and legumes are TERRIFIC but do not come with instructions. To make life easier I looked up cooking time charts on the Internet and copied them to a blank document. I adjusted them to one page each, then printed and taped them inside my kitchen cabinet doors so I don't have to keep looking things up. Works great!
04/21/2009 7:54:32 AM CDT
derf says ...
try wheatberries make a wheatberry salad by preparing wheatberries til al dente- then add canola oil, rice wine vinegar, diced celery, diced carrot, diced pepper, fresh chopped cilantro, celery and onion salts, black pepper and, to kick it up, add fresh cranberries reduced down til soft with a pinch of sugar to lend tartness and sweetness - yum for more good recipes and food ideas check outhttp://wheretogoandwhattodo.blogspot.com
04/22/2009 6:39:16 PM CDT
Debbie says ...
Will wheatberries or other grains sold at your store grow into plants? I want to find a wheat plant to show my class how wheat actually grows. Where can I find one?
04/23/2009 5:45:27 PM CDT
hsiaw says ...
@Debbie You should be able to sprout plants from any whole, unbroken (not processed or cracked) grain that we sell. I would recommend doing some research into the raw foods movement of sprouting to start the plants growing. It should only take a day or two and then they can be planted in dirt. Good luck!
04/28/2009 9:55:48 AM CDT
Pete says ...
Spelt does not only taste better than other grains, it is like rice free of gluten and therefore way easier and way better to digest - an very important advantage over wheat, rye, etc. especially if you are getting older.
07/19/2009 9:04:42 PM CDT
dtaylor says ...
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE steel cut oats! Add barley to my home-made veggie soup... Panera does a descent job with steel cut oats topped with pecans and strawberries, just leave the cinnimon sugar topping off. Plan to try your overnight crock-pot recipe for steel cut oats! Thanks-
10/20/2009 12:27:06 PM CDT
Barbara Incognito says ...
Would love you to look at Freekeh which is a newbee at Whole foods. It is a wonderful grain 4 times fiber of brown rice start restistant and high in protein. Would appreciate your comments. Thank you Barbara
04/05/2011 5:36:35 PM CDT
education says ...
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09/03/2011 3:49:19 PM CDT
Lana Nile says ...
Do you sell whole grain bread (plain)
05/28/2014 10:54:28 AM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@LANA - We should have tons of whole grain bread options but our exact recipes and vendors will differ between stores. Check with your local store if you're looking for something particular!
05/28/2014 11:37:56 AM CDT