Whole Grains

According to the dictionary a grain is “a single fruit or seed of a cereal.”

A Whole Grain

Unrefined grains haven't had their bran and germ removed by milling; therefore, all of the nutrients remain intact. Whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. Whole grains are either single foods, such as brown rice and popcorn, or ingredients in products, such as buckwheat in pancakes or bread.

Most of the following information comes from the Whole Grain Council unless stated otherwise.


The bran is the multi-layered outer skin of the edible kernel. It contains important antioxidants, B vitamins and fiber.


The endosperm is the germ’s food supply, which provides essential energy to the young plant so it can send roots down for water and nutrients, and send sprouts up for sunlight’s photosynthesizing power. The endosperm is by far the largest portion of the kernel. It contains starchy carbohydrates, proteins and small amounts of vitamins and minerals.


The germ is the embryo which has the potential to sprout into a new plant. It contains many B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy fats.

Refined grains, in contrast to whole grains, are milled, a process that strips out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and longer shelf life. The refining process also removes many nutrients, including fiber.

Refined grains include white flour, white rice, white bread and degermed cornflower. Many breads, cereals, crackers, desserts and pastries are made with refined grains, too. These processed foods will not keep your blood sugar levels steady, which is why you will be hungry again soon after consumption.

Enriched means that some or many of the nutrients that are lost during processing are added back in later.

Soaking or sprouting your grains before cooking them will neutralize the phytic acid and release the enzyme inhibitors, thus making them much easier to digest and making the nutrients more assimilable.

Eliminating phytic acid

Here’s some information not from the whole grain council that’s hard to come by.

Phytic acid can be neutralized in as little as 7 hours when grains are soaked in water with the addition of a small amount of an acidic medium such as lemon juice.

Soaking also helps to break down gluten, a hard-to-digest protein found in grains such as einkorn wheat, spelt, rye and barley.

What do people use grain for?

To make bread, right?

Who is likened unto bread in the scriptures?

“I [Christ] am that bread of life.” – John 6:33, 35, and 48

In verses like Deuteronomy 8:3, Matthew 26:19-20, Luke 6:38, John 6:53-58, 1 Corinthians 11:26, etc. bread can be seen to symbolize the Word of God.

Should we modify God’s word to suit ourselves?

“For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.” – 2 Corinthians 2:17

“Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” – Romans 1:25

Has tradition affected how we use bread? What does the Bible tell us about that?

“Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” – Mark 7:13

Does God approve of corrupting His word?

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book:

    And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” — Revelation 22:18-19 (See also Deuteronomy 4:2)

G.M.O. (done in a lab) Genetically Modified Organism

Unlike GMO, Plant hybridization is the process of crossbreeding between genetically dissimilar parents to produce a hybrid. The problem is it complicates the end product. Lower in absorbable nutrients.

Almost 100% of the wheat in the United States has been modified by hybridization (crossing different strains), backcrossing (repeated crossing), and mutagenesis (exposure to chemicals and gamma-rays). This is often even WORSE than gene-splicing because the side effects are more extreme and unknown.


Fresh corn on the cob. Popcorn. Corn cakes. Polenta. Tortillas. Corn muffins. Though sometimes dismissed as a nutrient-poor starch – both a second-rate vegetable and a second-rate grain – corn is often viewed as a healthy food. Traditional Latin cultures learned how to treat corn with alkali, creating masa harina. This treatment liberates the niacin in corn, so those who depend on it for sustenance will avoid pellagra*. Eating corn with beans creates a complementary mix of amino acids that raises the protein value for humans.

*Pellagra – a deficiency disease caused by a lack of nicotinic acid or its precursor tryptophan in the diet. It is characterized by dermatitis, diarrhea, and mental disturbance, and is often linked to overdependence on corn as a staple food.

Most of the corn grown in the U.S. is used to feed cattle and to make sweeteners. But some finds its way into the grocery store.

How to be sure you’re getting whole corn: Avoid labels that say “degerminated” when you’re looking for whole-grain corn, and look for the words whole corn.

Corn, including popcorn, is the grain of the month in October. Learn more…

Health bonus: Research from Cornell (no pun intended!) shows that corn has the highest level of antioxidants of any grain or vegetable – almost twice the antioxidant activity of apples!

Modern Wheat

Wheat has come to dominate the grains we eat because it contains large amounts of gluten, a stretchy protein that enables bakers to create satisfying risen breads. It’s almost impossible to make an acceptable risen loaf without at least some wheat mixed in.

Two main varieties of wheat are widely eaten. Durum wheat (Triticum turgidum durum) is made into pasta, while bread wheat (Triticum aestivum vulgare) is used for most other wheat foods.

Winter and spring wheat differ largely in their growing areas, with northern areas supporting spring wheat and more southerly climates able to plant winter wheat, which is actually planted in the fall and harvested in the spring. Red wheat has more strong-flavored tannins than milder white wheat; in this case the word “white” does not mean that the grain has been refined.

Like the other grains above, wheat can be enjoyed in many different forms than baked goods and pasta. Bulgur and grano (see above) make excellent side-dishes. Wheat berries – whole wheat kernels – can also be cooked as a side dish or breakfast cereal, but must be boiled for about an hour, preferably after soaking overnight. Cracked wheat cooks faster, as the wheat berries have been split open, allowing water to penetrate more quickly. Some stores also sell wheat flakes, with an appearance similar to rolled oats.

Modern wheat started being hybridized by people back in the 1950s. See the book Wheat Belly for more information or check the Wheat Belly Blog.

Development of Fast Active Dry Yeast

During World War II, Fleischmann’s developed a granulated active dry yeast for the United States armed forces, which did not require refrigeration and had a longer shelf-life and better temperature tolerance than fresh yeast; it is still the standard yeast for US military recipes. The company created yeast that would rise twice as fast, cutting down on baking time. Lesaffre later created instant yeast in 1973, which has gained considerable use and market share at the expense of both fresh and dry yeast in their various applications.

Ancient Yeast (Sourdough)

Sourdough is the oldest form of leavened bread and was used at least as early as ancient Egypt. It was probably discovered by accident when bread dough was left out and good microorganisms — wild yeast — drifted into the mix. The resulting bread had a lighter texture and better taste.

Sourdough remained the usual form of leavening down into the European Middle Ages until being replaced by barm from the beer brewing process, and after 1871 by purpose-cultured yeast.

The sourdough tradition was carried into Alaska and the Yukon territories of Canada during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. Conventional leavenings such as yeast and baking soda were much less reliable in the conditions faced by the prospectors. Experienced miners and other settlers frequently carried a pouch of starter either around their neck or on a belt; these were fiercely guarded to keep from freezing. However, freezing does not kill a sourdough starter; excessive heat does. Old hands came to be called “sourdoughs”, a term that is still applied to any Alaskan or Klondike old-timer. The significance of the nickname’s association with Yukon culture was immortalized in the writings of Robert Service, particularly his collection of “Songs of a Sourdough”.

Bulgur (Triticum ssp.)

When wheat kernels are cleaned, boiled, dried, ground by a mill, then sorted by size, the result is bulgur. This wheat product is sometimes referred to as “Middle Eastern pasta” for its versatility as a base for all sorts of dishes.

Because bulgur has been precooked and dried, it needs to be boiled for only about 10 minutes to be ready to eat – about the same time as dry pasta. This makes bulgur an extremely nutritious fast food for quick side dishes, pilafs or salads. Perhaps bulgur’s best-known traditional use is in the minty grain and vegetable salad known as tabbouleh.

Health bonus: Bulgur has more fiber than quinoa, oats, millet, buckwheat or corn. Its quick cooking time and mild flavor make it ideal for those new to whole grain cooking.

Ancient Grains or Seeds

Amaranth Barley Buckwheat Bulgur (avoid) Einkorn Emmer or Farro Freekeh Kamut Millet Oats Quinoa Rye Sorghum Spelt Teff Flax seed (not shown in picture)


Amaranth was a staple of Aztec culture, until Cortez, in an effort to destroy that civilization, decreed that anyone growing the crop would be put to death. Seeds were smuggled out to Asia, where local dialects referred to Amaranth as “king seed” and “seed sent by God” as a tribute to its taste and sustenance. Amaranth kernels are tiny; when cooked they resemble brown caviar. Amaranth is a “pseudo-grain” – like quinoa and buckwheat, it’s not in the Poaceae botanical family, but is listed with other grains because its nutritional profile and uses are similar to “true” cereal grains. (Two other amaranth species — A. hypochondriacus and A. caudatus — are also grown for their edible seeds, but A. cruentus is most common.)
Today amaranth is making its way back, thanks to a lively, peppery taste and a higher level of protein (it’s roughly 13-14% protein) compared to most other grains. In South America, it is often sold on the streets, popped like corn. Amaranth has no gluten, so it must be mixed with wheat to make leavened breads. It is popular in cereals, breads, muffins, crackers and pancakes.
How to be sure you’re getting whole amaranth: When you see amaranth on an ingredient list, it is almost invariably whole amaranth.
Health bonus: Amaranth has a high level of very complete protein; its protein contains lysine, an amino acid missing or negligible in many grains.

Barley (Hordeum vulgare)

Barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains. Egyptians buried mummies with necklaces of barley, and centuries later In 1324 Edward II of England standardized the inch as equal to “three grains of barley, dry and round, placed end to end lengthwise.”  It is a highly-adaptable crop, growing north of the Arctic circle and as far south as Ethiopia.

Barley has a particularly tough hull, which is difficult to remove without losing some of the bran. Hulled barley, available at health food stores, retains more of the whole-grain nutrients but is very slow-cooking. New varieties of hull-less barley are starting to become available. Lightly pearled barley is not technically a whole grain (as small amounts of the bran are missing) – but it’s full of fiber and much healthier than a fully-refined grain.

How to be sure you’re getting whole barley: Look for whole barley or hulled barley or hull-less barley.

Health bonus: The fiber in barley is especially healthy; it may lower cholesterol even more effectively than oat fiber.


Buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum)

Buckwheat goes way beyond the pancake mixes we associate with it. Japan’s soba noodles, Brittany’s crêpes and Russia’s kasha are all made with buckwheat. Botanically, buckwheat is a cousin of rhubarb, not technically a grain at all – and certainly not a kind of wheat. But its nutrients, nutty flavor and appearance have led to its ready adoption into the family of grains. Buckwheat tolerates poor soil, grows well on rocky hillsides and thrives without chemical pesticides.

Health bonus: Buckwheat is the only grain known to have high levels of an antioxidant called rutin, and studies show that it improves circulation and prevents LDL cholesterol from blocking blood vessels.

Einkorn (Triticum monococcum L)

Generally thought to be the most ancient of wheat varieties available today, einkorn is a diploid wheat with just two sets of chromosomes. While einkorn, with its hard-to-thresh hull, was abandoned as a mainstream crop, it’s still grown in Austria, southern France (where it’s called petit épeautre or “little spelt”), Italy (where it’s called farro piccolo or “little farro”), Germany, and some eastern European countries, in marginally fertile areas. More recently, farmers in Washington state and elsewhere are bringing drought-tolerant einkorn back into production in the U.S.

Health bonus: Studies show that compared to modern wheat it’s higher in protein, phosphorus, potassium, and beta-carotene, among other nutrients.

Farro/Emmer (Triticum turgidum dicoccum)

Emmer, an ancient strain of wheat, was one of the first cereals ever domesticated in the Fertile Crescent, and centuries later, it served as the standard daily ration of the Roman legions. But over the centuries, emmer was gradually abandoned in favor of durum wheat, which is easier to hull.

By the beginning of the 20th century, higher-yielding wheat strains had replaced emmer almost everywhere, except in Ethiopia, where emmer still constitutes about 7% of the wheat grown.

In Italy – and increasingly throughout the world – emmer is known as farro or grano farro or farro medio (“medium farro”) and is staging a comeback as a gourmet specialty. Semolina flour made from emmer is still used today for special soups and other dishes in Tuscany and Umbria, and farro is thought by some aficionados to make the best pasta.

Freekeh (Triticum turgidum var. durum)

Freekeh (also called farik or frikeh) is a hard wheat (often durum wheat) that is harvested when the plant is still young and green, then roasted and rubbed. This unique process gives freekeh its signature smoky flavor. Similar to bulgur wheat, freekeh is often sold cracked into smaller, quicker cooking pieces.

Found mostly in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine, freekeh traces its roots back several thousand years to ancient Egypt and surrounding areas. Rumor has it that freekeh was discovered when an ancient village in the Eastern Mediterranean hurriedly picked young wheat before an attack on their city. Fire from the attack burnt the young wheat, but the people found that not only was this roasted young wheat fit to eat, it could be quite delicious.

Kamut (triticum turgidum turanicum)

Kamut – Khorasan grain is another example of an heirloom grain, once pushed aside by an agricultural monoculture but now returning to add variety to the food supply. Brought back as a souvenir said to be from an Egyptian tomb, this wheat variety was peddled without much success at the Montana State Fair in 1960 as “King Tut’s Wheat.”

Years of selecting, testing and propagating eventually brought the grain – now called Kamut, an ancient Egyptian word for wheat – to prominence. Today, millions of pounds of this rich, buttery-tasting wheat are grown on organic farms and made into over 450 whole-grain products around the world.

Health bonus: Kamut grain has higher levels of protein than common wheat, and more Vitamin E.

Millet (Panicum miliaceum, Pennisetum Glaucum, Setaria italica, etc.)

Millet is not just one grain but the name given to a group of several small related grains that have been around for thousands of years and are found in many diets around the world. They include pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum), foxtail millet (Setaria italica), proso millet (Panicum miliaceum), finger millet / ragi (Eleucine coracana), and fonio (Digitaria exilis).

In fact, millets are the leading staple grains in India, and are commonly eaten in China, South America, Russia and the Himalayas. Now people in the United States are beginning to realize what they’ve been missing!  Millet’s incredible versatility means it can be used in everything from flatbreads to porridges, side dishes and desserts – even fermented and consumed as an alcoholic beverage.

In addition to being cooked in its natural form, millet can be ground and used as flour (as in Indian roti) or prepared as polenta in lieu of corn meal.  As a gluten-free whole grain, millet provides yet another great grain option for those in need of alternatives.  Easy to prepare, and becoming easier to find, millet has finally made its way to the American table.  Millet can be found in white, gray, yellow or red; and the delicate flavor is enhanced by toasting the dry grains before cooking.

Health bonus:  Millet is naturally high in protein and antioxidants, and can help control blood sugar and cholesterol.

Oats (Avena sativa)

Oats have a sweet flavor that makes them a favorite for breakfast cereals. Unique among grains, oats almost never have their bran and germ removed in processing.

In the U.S., most oats are steamed and flattened to produce “old-fashioned” or regular oats, quick oats, and instant oats. The more oats are flattened and steamed, the quicker they cook – and the softer they become. If you prefer a chewier, nuttier texture, consider steel-cut oats, also sometimes called Irish or Scottish oats. Steel-cut oats consist of the entire oat kernel (similar in look to a grain of rice), sliced once or twice into smaller pieces to help water penetrate and cook the grain. Cooked for about 20 minutes, steel-cut oats create a breakfast porridge that delights many people who didn’t realize they love oatmeal!

Health bonus: Scientific studies have concluded that like barley, oats contain a special kind of fiber called beta-glucan found to be especially effective in lowering cholesterol. Recent research reports indicate that oats also have a unique antioxidant, avenanthramides, that helps protect blood vessels from the damaging effects of LDL cholesterol.

Quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa)

Quinoa (keen-wah) comes to us from the Andes, where it has long been cultivated by the Inca. Botanically a relative of swiss chard and beets rather than a “true” grain. Commercially, quinoa is now appearing in cereal flakes and other processed foods. Though much of our quinoa is still imported from South America, farmers in high-altitude areas near the Rockies are also beginning to cultivate quinoa.

Quinoa is a small, light-colored round grain, similar in appearance to sesame seeds. But quinoa is also available in other colors, including white, red, and black. Most quinoa must be rinsed before cooking, to remove the bitter residue of saponins, a plant-defense that wards off insects. Botanists are now developing saponin-free strains of quinoa, to eliminate this minor annoyance to the enjoyment of quinoa.

Health bonus: The abundant protein in quinoa is complete protein, which means that it contains all the essential amino acids our bodies can’t make on their own.

Rice (Oryza sativa)

Whole grain rice is usually brown – but, unknown to many, can also be black, purple, red or any of a variety of exotic hues. Around the world, rice thrives in warm, humid climates; almost all of the U.S. rice crop is grown in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

Health bonus: Rice is one of the most easily-digested grains – one reason rice cereal is often recommended as a baby’s first solid. This makes rice ideal for those on a restricted diet or who are gluten-intolerant.

Rye (Secale cereale)

Long seen as a weed in more desirable wheat crops, rye eventually gained respect for its ability to grow in areas too wet or cold for other grains. For this reason it is a traditional part of cuisine in Northern Europe and Russia. Rye was also widely grown in colonial America; some historians believe a fungus, rye ergot, triggered hallucinations leading to the Salem witch trials.

Recently the Finnish bakery group Fazer started a three-year program to publicize the health benefits of rye products, in a major push to increase rye consumption. Rye is unusual among grains for the high level of fiber in its endosperm – not just in its bran. Because of this, rye products generally have a lower glycemic index than products made from wheat and most other grains, making them especially healthy for diabetics. 

Health bonus: The type of fiber in rye promotes a rapid feeling of fullness, making rye foods a good choice for people trying to lose weight.

Sorghum / Milo (Sorghum spp.)

Farmers on the Great Plains from South Dakota to Texas appreciate that sorghum thrives where other crops would wither and die; in drought periods, in fact, it becomes partially dormant. Worldwide, about 50% of sorghum goes to human consumption, but in the U.S., most of the crop is fed to animals, made into wallboard or used for biodegradable packing materials.

That’s a shame, because sorghum, also called milo and believed to have originated in Africa, can be eaten like popcorn, cooked into porridge, ground into flour for baked goods, or even brewed into beer.

Health bonus: A gluten-free grain, sorghum is especially popular among those with celiac disease.

Spelt (Triticum aestivum spelta)

Spelt is a variety of wheat widely cultivated until the spread of fertilizers and mechanical harvesting left it by the wayside in favor of wheats more compatible with industrialization. Spelt can be used in place of common wheat in most recipes.

Twelfth-century mystic St. Hildegard is said to have written, “The spelt is the best of grains. It is rich and nourishing and milder than other grain. It produces a strong body and healthy blood to those who eat it and it makes the spirit of man light and cheerful.”

Health bonus: Spelt is higher in protein than common wheat. There are anecdotal reports that some people sensitive to wheat can tolerate spelt, but no reliable medical studies have addressed that issue.

Teff (Eragrostis tef)

It is estimated that teff is the principal source of nutrition for over two-thirds of Ethiopians, who make it into the ubiquitous spongy injera flatbread.  It’s also widely consumed in neighboring Eritrea and other countries in the Horn of Africa. Teff grains are minute – just 1/150 the size of wheat kernels – giving rise to the grain’s name, which comes from teffa, meaning “lost” in Amharic.

This nutritious and easy-to-grow type of millet is largely unknown outside of Ethiopia, India and Australia. Today it is getting more attention for its sweet, molasses-like flavor and its versatility; it can be cooked as porridge, added to baked goods, or even made into “teff polenta.” Teff grows in three colors: red, brown and white.

Health bonus: Teff has over twice the iron of other grains, and three times the calcium.


Questions and Answers:

Which grain has the least nutrients?


Which has the second least nutrients?


Which grains have no gluten?

  • quinoa (seed)
  • brown rice
  • wild rice
  • buckwheat (seed)
  • sorghum
  • tapioca
  • millet
  • amaranth
  • flax (seed)
  • chia (seed)
  • teff
  • oats (if marked gluten free)

Which grains have safe or ancient forms of gluten?

  • Spelt
  • Rye
  • Kamut
  • Freeheh (if purchased from over seas)
  • Farro/Emmer (if purchased from over seas)
  • Einkorn
  • Barley
  • Bulgur (if purchased from over seas)

Is gluten bad?

That depends on a number of factors. First, what’s the source… if the source is an ancient form of wheat then it’s okay unless you have a food sensitivity to gluten. Second, is it in its whole form or is it extracted. If you buy a bag of powder labeled gluten then that is an extract and not in its whole form. If you purchase a food item and on the list of ingredients is gluten then it’s not safe as it has been extracted from its whole form and added to a product. Also it’s likely from modern wheat which is a toxic source of gluten.

Is modern wheat okay if its organic?

No, because even though being marked organic is suppose to mean it’s pesticide free this doesn’t always end up being the case. See next question too.

Is organic modern wheat or simply organic wheat non-hybrid?

No, being organic means it’s not-GMO, but that does not mean it’s not hybridized. Many mixup the terms hybrid and GMO thinking the terms are interchangeable, but that’s simply not the case. Hybridization, as described in the article above, is cross pollination. It’s a natural process not performed in a lab. Though hybridization will not produce the same plant if you collect the seed. It will produce something, but just not identical to what you planted. G.M.O. is something produced in a laboratory. And yes it can still be whole grain and GMO. Just keep in mind seeds from a G.M.O. plant can not produce another plant. I contacted the USDA to get further evidence of this and here’s their response: 

Excluded methods. A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production. Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology). Such methods do not include the use of traditional breeding, conjugation, fermentation, hybridization, in vitro fertilization, or tissue culture.” see 7 CFR § 205.2

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