In Praise of Whole Grains



The quick answer:  To optimize value and nutrition, eat a variety of whole grains, (unless you have a tolerance problem).


Grains:  Good or Bad?

Grains really are the staff of life—2/3 of the world population would starve without them.  Depending on the region, rice, wheat or corn are popular forms.  Over the last century health enthusiasts have advocated a return to eating grains whole, rejecting the modern refined form for lack of vital nutrients.  (Whole grains are high in nutrients and low in calories; it’s the opposite for refined grains.)  Society has generally ignored this guidance, preferring the sweetness of refined grains, though this is now changing. 

In recent years advocates of the Atkins, or of the Paleo diet, have argued against grains.  In addition, a small, but growing, fraction of the population do not tolerate gluten so must avoid certain grains (wheat, rye, barley, spelt, karmut, triticale, and sometimes oats).   Celiac disease is a potentially fatal form of gluten intolerance.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010 recommends eating at least three services of whole grains daily.  The Whole Grains Council notes these proven benefits of eating whole grains, vs. refined forms:

  • Risk of stroke reduced 30-36%.
  • Type 2 diabetes risk reduced 21-30%.
  • Heart disease risk reduced by 25-28%
  • Better weight control
  • Reduced risk of asthma, inflammatory diseases, high blood pressure, and gum disease or tooth loss.

In our home, we eat a variety of whole grains and avoid refined white flour (except for making sauce or the occasional cake).  Here’s a summary of recent posts about grains:

The Whole Darn Grain:  This was the first post on grain and it introduced the “fiber-greater-than-sugar” rule for purchased cereal products.

Are Carbs Good or Bad?  A post influenced by Gary Taubes’ book, Good Calories, Bad Calories, provided ten steps to a lower, and healthier, glycemic index.

The Bread of Life:  We eat our weight in flour each year; for most less than 10% is whole grain.  This post solicited reader’s favorite bread recipes.

A Few Good Women:  The story of May Yates, a food heroine, who fought for whole wheat bread in England. 

Flour and The Hundred Years War:  Discussed the issue of freshness and preservation of whole grain flours and suggested grinding close to time of use.

The Good Breakfast:  This is the easiest meal to make completely healthy.  See the link to Healthy Recipe #1:  Breakfast Compote.

Waking Up In The Bread Aisle:  This popular aisle visit discussed the practice of “slotting fees,” then examined the bread for sale in a typical supermarket and found just 3 of 70 met the fiber health rule. 

Trouble In The Cereal Aisle:  In this post we spend a Friday evening in the cereal aisle and find just 8 of 128 meet our fiber-greater-than-sugar rule.

Healthy Change

Comment:  Whole grains are one of the best food values but we think it best to enjoy a variety.  Please comment on how you include whole grains in the diet of your family, or share a favorite recipe. 

Need a reminder? Download our Healthy Change reminder card. Print and fold, then place in your kitchen or on your bathroom mirror to help you remember the Healthy Change of the week.

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Reader Comments (12)

Amen! I am not afraid of grains! Don't let Mercola or anybody else bully you, friends. I have a friend diagnosed with Celiac disease for most of her life, I understand this is truly a hard thing to live with, and I feel for her. But because of her real problem, I am growing tired of hearing people say they are 'intolerant' because eating "bread" gives them bloating or makes them "fat". I smell refined grains in combo with refined sugars. Gluten-free versions of refined foods are not the answer, I also suspect...
What I love about this blog which I just found tonight is, that I am passionate about health of all kinds but you seem to have the time to read all the books I want to read but fall asleep with, cuddled up with a toddler or baby and a 'three-peated' Five Little Monkeys book nestled amongst piles of folded laundry yet to be put away and rice to be swept from under the highchair, bikes to be put back in the garage, school permission forms waiting to be signed on the counter..... Thanks for making my life a little easier.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJamie

I love putting a variety of grains in my home made bread. Half of the flour is freshly ground wheat (red and white) and half is a mixture of other freshly ground grains. I grind buckwheat, millet, barley, brown rice and steel cut oats.

We also use brown rice instead of white in our dinners and steel cut oats to make oatmeal in the morning. I would love some advice about quinoa. I'm a bit nervous to grind it for bread and things I've made with it have a strange taste.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJodi

We love whole grains, we only have brown rice or wild rice, which I think is much tastier anyways.
I grind my own wheat in my blendtec blender to make pancakes, and muffins, and banana bread. I have yet to make my own bread, someday I will get to that. We'll make wheat berry sloppy joes which I prefer over meat ones. We put flax seed in our smoothies. I make homemade granola with oats and nuts and seeds. My husband loves oatmeal, I am not a fan because of the texture, but I have been wanting to try steel cut oats, I have heard they have a chewier texture. We have a quinoa mac n cheese that is so yummy. I still need to experiment more with grains, but I feel good about what we do eat, and it is fun to try new things.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmy (vintagefern)

i have a quick question about flax seed—i accidentally bought whole flax seed instead of ground a few months ago, and i am not sure what to do with it! i read somewhere (the elusive "somewhere"...) that the whole flax isn't be as beneficial as ground, maybe because it's harder for your body to break up? i have no idea—i could be making that up. anyway, i stirred it into my oatmeal once and i just had flax stuck in my teeth all day. i tried grinding it up in my food processor and the blades weren't grinding it—i think i didn't have enough in there, or something. do you have suggestions on how to grind it up? or suggestions for recipes with whole flax? i don't want to waste the bag!

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhannah

The whole flax-seeds tend to go undigested and therefore don't do much good. I just grind mine in my blender but you can also use a coffee grinder.

We've been eating whole grains for a long time, but over the last year I have been soaking or fermenting (sourdough) the majority of the grains we eat. When I first learned the importance of this from Nourishing Traditions, I thought it sounded like too much work but I find the grains to be so much more digestible this way (less bloating). I've also been reading about magnesium and how most of us are deficient; whole grains are a great source, but if you don't soak or ferment, the phytic acid in the whole grains binds to the minerals and makes them unavailable to you. The soaking really isn't that hard, you just have to think ahead and put the grains in a pan with water and a little acid and then cook them about 12 hours later. One exception is brown rice, it doesn't have much phytic acid so I don't soak it. Anyway, just some food for thought for those who don't seem to digest whole grains very well.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

I enjoy quinoa in place of oatmeal for breakfast sometimes (some of the kids love it as well). I use whole spelt instead of wheat in all of my baked goods- even cookies and cakes. That's pretty much it for grains in our house. I guess I need to be a bit more adventurous!

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Here is a great article about phytates: http://www.curetoothdecay.com/Tooth_Decay/whole_grains_cause_tooth_decay.htm

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLindsey

Hi Hannah

You asked about grinding flax seed. In addition to the grinding methods mentioned by Lindsey, we use a Cuisisart Spice and Nut Grinder. It's affordable, easy to use and small enough for most of our uses. We typically grind 1/8 cup for our daily Breakfast Compote.

Freshly ground grains are perishable so we try to grind at the time of need. If I grind too much of a grain like wheat, I save the extra in an airtight bag in the freezer. Best to you.

June 7, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

I've come to love my wheat grinder. I grind up equal parts brown rice, barley, oat groats and spelt, and use that mix instead of white flour for non-yeast recipes. I got the idea from Chef Brad and I love it, my family loves it. Pancakes and muffins are so good with this and I add fresh ground flaxseed (ground in a little coffee grinder). The whole grains and flax give a wonderful texture, so much better than the pasty white flour. I have yet to find my favorite bread recipe, but I'm still trying.

June 10, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGina

Skip, you must check out the cookbook Good to the Grain. There are fabulous recipes for using various types of grains. In particular, I love the recipe for quinoa beet pancakes and whole wheat chocolate chip cookies.

That said, I try to incorporate whole grains into every meal. For breakfast, either oatmeal, steel cut oats, or whole wheat toast. For lunch I usually have quinoa with my salad, and for dinner I enjoy brown rice. Once you go whole it's hard to go back! My husband still loves a crusty white loaf every once in a while, but I much prefer the complex flavors of whole wheat.

June 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

So, do I have to soak my grains to make them healthy? I use alot of freshly ground oats and wheat and corn flour, but do I really have to soak them to make them healthy? That kind of makes me want to cry. What are your thoughts on soaking nuts, beans, grains? Is it a must?

December 10, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdana

Why does The Word of Wisdom say this about grains?
15 And these hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger. (Doctrine and Covenants, Doctrine and Covenants, D&C 89)

May 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEric

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