What are whole grains?

Discover what whole grains are and learn how to identify whole grain foods at the shops

Identifying whole grain - a rule of thumb

One way of increasing our fibre intake is to increase the amount of whole grains we eat but what are whole grains and in what foods can we find them?

Whole grains include: whole wheat, brown, red and wild rice, bulgar wheat, buckwheat, whole barley (not pearl), quinoa, rye, oats, millet and corn. Examples of foods that may be made from whole grains are: bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, oatmeal and couscous.

If a product’s packaging, ingredients list or name mentions ‘whole’ before a grain (e.g. ‘whole wheat’), then it should contain whole grains.

There are exceptions to this rule (aren’t there always!). For example, oats and brown or wild rice are whole grains but don’t necessarily mention the word ‘whole’, so for a bit of extra help, below is a useful list of some whole grains to look out for. Click to learn more about each one where you can.

Whole Wheat

Whole Wheat

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Oats

Oats

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Whole Barley

Whole Barley

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Rye

Rye

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Popcorn

Popcorn

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Whole grain rice

Whole Grain Rice

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Quinoa

Quinoa

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Whole Teff

Whole Teff

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Millet

Millet

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Amaranth

Amaranth

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Triticale

Triticale

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Sorghum

Sorghum

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3 tips to ensure you're getting the real deal

  1. Always check the ingredients list, as even though a product may look as though it contains whole grains, it might not.
  2. Choose products rich in whole grain by selecting products that have whole grains at the top of the ingredients list, as ingredients are listed in weight order.
  3. Small changes make a big difference, so even choosing foods containing smaller amounts of whole grain can make a significant contribution to improving your total whole grain intake.

The DNA of Whole Grain

Whole grains are simply grains such as wheat, oats or barley that have had all the edible parts of the grains used when processed to make food. If some of the edible parts of the grains are removed when processed for food use, these foods are known as ‘white’ or ‘refined’ e.g. white bread, pasta etc.

There are three edible parts in a cereal grain - bran, endosperm, germ - and each part contains different types and amounts of nutrients. When the 'whole' of 'grains' are used, you get all of the goodness they have to offer.

Click the numbers to learn more about each part:

Whole Grain Goodness
  • 1. Bran

    The fibre-rich outer layer (that protects what’s inside the grain)

  • 2. Endosperm

    The starchy middle that provides energy

  • 3. Germ

    The nutrient-packed inner (and the part of the grain that sprouts into a new plant)