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What are whole grains?

Are you confused about what is a whole grain (or wholegrain) and what isn't? Here we explain as simply as we can.

Whole grains - a definition

Whole grain foods have whole grains as an ingredient, which are simply grains such as wheat, oats or barley that have kept all the edible parts when processed for food use - put simply, they are using the 'whole' of the 'grain'.

There are three edible parts in a grain and each of them contain different beneficial nutrients.

  • Bran - the fibre-rich outer layer (that protects what is inside the grain)
  • Endosperm - the starchy middle that provides energy
  • Germ - the nutrient-packed inner (and the part of the grain that sprouts into a new plant)

Identifying whole grains

Whole grain foods include whole grain bread, breakfast cereals, pasta, rice, flour and even popcorn. As a simple rule, if a product's packaging, ingredients list or name mentions 'whole' before a grain (e.g. 'whole wheat'), then it contains whole grains.

There are some exceptions to this rule though (aren't there always!) - for example oats, brown pasta and wild rice are all whole grains.

Here's a list of whole grains to look out for when shopping:

  • Oatmeal
  • Oats
  • Whole oats
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Red rice
  • Wholegrain rice
  • Brown pasta
  • Whole teff
  • Wholemeal flour
  • Whole wheat
  • Wholegrain wheat
  • Cracked wheat
  • Rye
  • Malted rye
  • Whole maize
  • Popcorn
  • Whole barley
  • Hulled barley
  • Whole quinoa
  • Whole millet
  • Whole wheat cous cous
  • Whole spelt
  • Whole buckwheat
  • Whole amaranth
  • Whole triticale
  • Whole sorghum

 Top tips for finding and eating more whole grain

  • Always check the ingredients list, as even though a product may look the part, it might not contain whole grain
  • Choose products rich in whole grain by picking those that have whole grains at the top of the ingredients list, as key ingredients are listed first
  • Small changes make a big difference so even choosing more foods containing smaller amounts of whole grain can make a significant contribution to improving your total whole grain intake

There's much more information on enjoying whole grains on this site from tasty and simple healthy recipes, to an explanation on the potential health benefits of whole grains.