Living Well Los Alamos: Whole Grains

Living Well Los Alamos
Los Alamos
Whole Grains

Health experts agree that half of our daily grain serving should come from whole grains. Whole grains may reduce the risk of stroke, diabetes and heart disease.

People who regularly consume three daily servings of whole grains may also have lower rates of obesity and lower cholesterol. Whole grains contain valuable phytochemicals and antioxidants, as well as folic acid, vitamins B and E, iron, fiber, magnesium and selenium.

Grains are composed of the bran, germ and endosperm. A whole grain is one that contains all of its original components in its original proportion. It can be cracked, crushed or cooked and still be a whole grain. Once a grain has been processed it becomes a refined grain. Some refined grains have iron and folic acid added back in. These are called enriched.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating the following minimum number of ounce-equivalents each day. These recommendations are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet:






















Examples of an ounce-equivalent of whole grain include:

  • ½ cup cooked grain or pasta
  • 1 cup ready to eat breakfast cereal
  • 3 cups popcorn, popped
  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1 six-inch tortilla


There are many varieties of whole grains to choose from including whole grain varieties of familiar products such as pasta, tortillas and bread. Examples of other, sometime less familiar varieties of whole grains include:

  • Amaranth is a crop native to Peru. It was an essential food source for the Aztecs and may have been domesticated as long as 8000 years ago. Amaranth is high in protein and contains lysine which is often missing in many grains.
  • Rice can come in many colors including brown, black, red and purple. Brown rice is lower in fiber than many other whole grains but has the advantage of being one of the most easily digested grains.
  • Buckwheat is a cousin of rhubarb and grows well in poor soil. Soba noodles are made from buckwheat as is Kasha. It is a good source of zinc and potassium. Buckwheat is high in soluble fiber which can balance blood sugar levels.
  • Bulgur or cracked wheat is an excellent source of fiber. It is popular in Middle Eastern dishes such as tabbouleh. It is quick cooking and has a mellow flavor which makes it a great beginning choice for those trying to eat more whole grains.
  • Millet in the United States is most often thought of as belonging in the bird feeder.  In India, however, millet is the staple grain. Millet can be white, gray, yellow or red with different varieties ranging from 1 to 15 feet tall.
  • Oats are a familiar breakfast staple with many health benefits. Oats can be flattened and steamed to produce a quicker cooking product; still, they remain a whole grain. They may also help lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
  • Corn is a versatile, abundant produce with unknown origins. It is considered a grain when dried and a vegetable when eaten fresh.Three cups of popcorn counts as one whole grain serving! Eating corn with beans provides a complementary mix of amino acids.
  • Quinoa is a high-protein product that comes in many colors including black, red, purple and white. It is native to the Andes and is a relative of beets. Quinoa is a complete protein which means it contains all of the amino acids our bodies cannot produce by themselves.
  • Sorghum is an ancient cereal that is exceptionally tolerant of drought. It is a very versatile grain that can be popped like popcorn, eaten as porridge, ground into tortillas and flatbreads, made into couscous, brewed into beer or boiled like rice.
  • Rye is most often found in Russian and Northern European cuisines. It is unique in its high level of fiber in the endosperm, not just the bran. The high fiber content promotes the feeling of being full which can aid in weight loss or maintenance. Triticale is a hybrid of wheat and rye.
  • Barley is one of the oldest grains to be cultivated. It is a hardy crop and can grow as far north as Alaska. Barley is exceptionally high in fiber. Look for hulled barley rather than pearled barley which is not technically a whole grain.
  • Wild rice is a grass found in the upper Midwest and Canada. It is not a grain but a grass. It is higher in protein and fiber than brown rice but lower in iron.


Whole grains and their benefits can be enjoyed by those who suffer from gluten sensitivity or wheat allergies. Gluten free grains include: amaranth, buckwheat, rice, quinoa, wild rice, corn, millet, teff and sorghum. Grains containing gluten are rye, barley and wheat types and products such as spelt, kamut, farro, bulger, semolina and durum.


Our high altitude means whole grains may require additional water and cooking time. Begin by adding an additional ¼ cup of liquid and increasing cooking time in 5 minute increments. The grain is done when it is tender. If you prefer it softer, simply cook longer. Stuck grains can typically be loosened by adding a small amount of water, covering with a lid and letting rest for a few minutes.

Start making a change by swapping out a refined grain product for one whose label lists a whole grain as the first ingredient. Whole grains make an excellent addition to soups and stews or as a side dish. Try mixing cooked whole grains with herbs, olive oil, nuts and dried fruit for a delicious salad. Be creative and see what you and your family enjoy.

Helen Idzorek is the Extension Home Economist and 4-H Agent for NMSU Cooperative Extension Service. She can be reached at or 505.662.2656. The Los Alamos County Cooperative Extension Service has temporarily moved to 2150 Juniper St.

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