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September 30, 2016

Experimenting With Whole Grains

Written by Avance Care Registered Dietician: Elizabeth Elam, MS, RD, LDN

Autumn is here!  Hopefully, the change in season has revitalized you, given you newfound energy and inspiration for new cuisine.  Perhaps the cooler mornings impart cravings for warmth and comfort, like snuggling up with a piping hot bowl of oatmeal.  Maybe the school year is ramping up and you would like to change your rotating lunch or dinner menus to include more soups and stews.  You might even spend a Sunday morning in the kitchen whipping up a batch of homemade pumpkin pancakes or muffins.  Whatever you crave this Fall, let the change in seasons inspire you to experiment with something new – like whole grains!

 You might be wondering, “What exactly is a whole grain and why should I be eating more of them?”  Whole grains are, in fact, just a seed – a kernel.  They start their life as a “grass-like” plant and once mature, develop an edible seed which can be harvested and cooked or ground into flour.  The seed is made of three parts – the germ, the bran, and the endosperm.  The bran is the outer skin, containing antioxidants, B vitamins, and fiber.  The germ is the embryo of the seed which contains B vitamins, protein, minerals, and healthy fats.  And the endosperm is the largest part of the seed, containing starchy carbohydrates, proteins, and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.  When we eat whole grains we consume all three parts of the seed whereas when we eat “refined grains” (popularly known as “white flour”) the bran and germ have been stripped during processing.  This means we lose many of the vitamins, minerals, fiber and protein.1grain

Studies have shown that eating whole grains instead of refined grains can be protective against cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes as well as aid in gastrointestinal health and weight management.  The current recommendation is to consume at least 3 servings of whole grains per day (1 serving measured as a 1, 1-ounce slice of whole grain bread or 1/3 cup to ½ cup cooked grains).  Repeated studies have shown the health benefits of eating whole grains to include:2

  • Reduced risk of stroke by 30-36%
  • Reduced risk of diabetes by 21-30%
  • Reduced risk of heart disease by 25-28%
  • Better weight management
  • Reduced inflammatory disease risk
  • Lower risk of colorectal cancer
  • Healthier blood pressure levels
  • Healthier carotid arteries


A wide variety of whole grains are available in local grocery stores, making experimentation easier than it once was.  Walk down your grocery’s rice aisle and look around, you’ll see a wealth of other products (besides rice) that offer enticing new flavors and textures. The chart below describes many types of whole grains and tips on how to prepare them.




Cooking Method

Serving Suggestions

Serving Size


Gluten Free


Tiny brown seeds that are mild and nutty in flavor.Bring 1 cup amaranth & 2 cups water to a simmer.  Cover and cook until tender and water is absorbed, about 20 mins.Combine them with other grains – add a few tablespoons to a pot of oatmeal.  Add to cookie batters, or stir into soup. These seeds retain a little crunch.1/3 cup cooked


A mild, chewy and dense grain. Look for “whole” or “hulled” barley.  “Pearled” is not a whole grain.Boil in a large pot of water, similar to pasta, until tender.  About 45-60 minutes.  Drain.Use instead of rice in paella or toss with a vinaigrette and sautéed veggies for a side dish.1/3 cup cooked


Gluten Free


Despite the name, it’s not related to wheat.  It has a strong, intense flavor similar to darkly toasted bread or hoppy beer.Combine 1 cup buckwheat groats with 2 cups water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until tender (about 10 minutes).  Drain any excess liquid. (Makes 2.5 cups)Use buckwheat flour in baked goods like pancakes and muffins.  Or cook buckwheat groats, chill, and toss into salads and vegetable dishes.½ cup cooked


An earthy, nutty flavored wheat kernel that has been boiled, dried, and cracked.Simmer 2 parts water to 1 part coarse or medium sized bulger until the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes.  For fine bulger, use the same ratio but pour boiling water over the bulger and wait until water has been absorbed.Traditionally used in a Greek side dish called “Tabbouleh”, made with chopped parsley, tomatoes, cucumbers and a lemon vinaigrette.  Also popular alongside braised meats.½ cup cooked


Nutty in flavor, chewy and satisfying in texture.Boil farro in a large pot of water until tender.  About 35 to 45 minutes and drain.Toss in pesto for an easy and flavorful side dish or top with a poached egg and wilted greens for an easy dinner.1/3 cup cooked


Wheat that is harvested when young and still green then roasted.  Faintly smoky in flavor and chewy in texture.  Available in cracked and whole varieties.Bring 1 cup freekeh and 2 ½ cups water to a simmer, cover and cook until tender and water is absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes for cracked, or 40 for whole.Use anywhere you would use whole grains like quinoa and brown rice.  Toss into salads, serve by its self as a side or add to homemade soups.1/3 cup cooked


Gluten Free

A quick cooking ancient grain with a mild, slightly sweet flavor.Bring 2 cups water to a boil in a pot.  Add 1 cup millet, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until all the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  (Makes 2 ½ cups)Cooked millet makes a creamy, soothing hot cereal.  Use it as a substitute for rice in pilafs or stir fries, or serve it with a drizzle of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper in place of mashed potatoes.1/3 cup cooked


Gluten Free*


Small grains “rolled” into flakes or “steel-cut” into pieces.  Mild and slightly sweet in flavor.Use a 1-part oats to 2-part (or 4-part if using steel-cut) liquid ratio.  Simmer and stir occasionally for 5 to 15 minutes until tender for rolled oats, or 30-45 minutes for steel-cut.  Rolled oats can also be cooked in the microwave in less than 3 minutes.Top with seasonal fruit and chopped nuts for a breakfast cereal or combine with chia seeds, milk, and Greek yogurt for overnight oats. Add to baked goods or use steel cut oats to make risotto in place of short grain rice.½ cup cooked


Gluten Free

Tiny, round seeds that are grassy and nutty in flavorUse 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups liquid (water or broth).  Bring quinoa and liquid to a boil in a medium pan.  Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until liquid is absorbed.  Fluff with a fork and serve.Mix with fresh herbs and lemon juice for a quick side dish.  Cook with equal parts of rolled oats for a protein packed breakfast cereal or add cooked quinoa to soups and stews for texture and protein.1/3 cup cooked


Gluten Free

A hearty and chewy grain with neutral, sometimes sweet flavor.Rinse 1 cup sorghum.  Place in a pot with 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 50-60 minutes.  Drain excess liquid.  (Makes about 2 ½ cups)Pop sorghum like you would popcorn, or use it in pilafs, salads, soups.  The chewy texture will enhance any dish.  Sorghum flour can be substituted for wheat flour in a variety of baking dishes.1/3 cup cooked

Wild Rice

Gluten Free


Long black seeds of grass related to rice.  Earthy in flavor and firm in texture.Simmer like pasta until tender, 50 – 75 minutes and drain.Some grocery stores sell wild rice blends, combined with other types of rice.  Mix with roasted vegetables for a fall-like side dish or mix with chicken sausage to use as a stuffing for acorn squash.½ cup cooked

*While oats are a natural gluten free source of whole grains, they are frequently contaminated with wheat during growing or processing.  To make certain that the oats you purchase are gluten-free, look for brands that offer uncontaminated oats (Bob’s Red Mill, Cream Hill Estates, GF Harvest, Montana Gluten Free, and Avena Foods)

As you plan out your weekly meals, consider adding a different whole grain to your grocery list.  For recipes, check out or (search “39 whole grain salads”).  Make it a goal to find a new favorite grain this fall.


1.)    The Whole Grains Council. Whole Grains 101. Accessed 9/26/16.

2.)    The Whole Grains Council.  What Are the Health Benefits?  Accessed 9/26/16.


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