Today, a greater emphasis is placed on leading a healthier lifestyle, as well as on following the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans. As a result, an increasing number of consumers are discovering a variety of ways to enjoy the health benefits associated with whole grains. Embracing a diet based upon making nutrient-rich choices means selecting carbohydrates that not only taste good, but also fit within a household’s budget and satisfy additional dietary concerns (such as food allergies, weight loss goals, and other medical concerns).

Grains are one of the most popular staple foods for most people in the world, and are known as a good source of complex carbohydrates, protein, essential vitamins and minerals. Naturally low in fat, grains are also linked to improving your health, such as lowering your risk for heart disease, diabetes, various cancers, and other medical issues. Wholegrain foods also help people feel fuller for a longer time, which over time, has a positive effect on weight management.

While wheat and corn products often dominate the U.S. market, there are plenty of other options in the whole grain department that present healthier, affordable choices.

What are Whole Grains?

Grains are separated into two different categories: refined and whole.

Refined grains: Refined grains undergo a process to remove their outer covering (known as the hull), which creates a grain with a finer texture, but also strips some of the grain’s dietary fiber, iron, and vitamin content. White flour, couscous, and white rice are examples of refined grains.

Whole grains: Whole grains still have their hulls intact and because of this, are known to provide a better source of fiber, selenium, potassium, magnesium and other nutrients. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that at least half of all the grains in a diet should consist of whole grains.

Below you will find a list of different types of whole grains to consider for a healthy diet; their average costs; and various ways to prepare and use the grains:

whole grain oats

Oats

In addition to possessing heart-healthy properties, oats are considered a ‘cleansing grain’ for more than just the intestinal tract. The taste and texture of old-fashioned oatmeal made from rolled oats (originating from whole oat groats) is a breakfast favorite for many. Cracked whole oat groats lead to steel-cut porridge, and when grinded, makes flour for pancakes and quick breads. The low-fat, fiber-richness of oats also possesses a low glycemic index, which translates into slower absorption and digestion that releases energy more slowly. The result? You feel fuller for a longer period of time, and are less likely to suffer from hunger pangs. 

Cost: Under $1/lb. for a 25 lb. bag; grocery store bulk food prices are around $1.49/lb.

spelt bread

Spelt

Spelt looks quite similar to wheat, but has a stronger husk meant to protect the nutrients found inside the grain. With a distinctively nutty, somewhat sweeter flavor, ground spelt works wonders when looking to replace whole wheat flour in recipes for breads, pastries, and other baked goods. Whole grain baked goods made with spelt flour produce light, flavorful results with a soft texture. The ancient grain also makes a rather tasty homemade cereal, and when cooked, are a nice addition to salads and side dishes. Some people with sensitivities to wheat have found spelt easier to digest because of the lower gluten content, but nonetheless, it still contains gluten and does not make a wholly suitable option for a gluten-free diet. 

Cost: Larger quantities of spelt flour sell for around $1.10/lb. with 24-ounce packages (like Bob’s Red Mill brand) sold at grocery stores for roughly $3.79; bulk discounts are available at Amazon.com.

whole grain buckwheat

Buckwheat

Despite its name, buckwheat is not a grain, but instead, a plant seed that has no connection to wheat whatsoever. Sprouted, roasted, or ground into flour to make baked goods or pancakes, buckwheat is a gluten-free food that accommodates the diets of those with gluten intolerances or celiac disease. Buckwheat also adds versatility to a vegetarian diet, as it contains all eight essential amino acids, serves as an excellent source of protein, and delivers a high fiber boost. Kasha (whole grain roasted buckwheat kernels) provides an earthy flavor for pilaf, soups, casseroles, hot porridge, and many traditional Eastern European dishes. Found in grocery and health food stores, Bob’s Red Mill offers a whole grain creamy buckwheat hot cereal. 

Cost: Hulled organic buckwheat is around $1.70/lb. for a 25-pound bag; $5-$6 for a 32 oz. package of buckwheat flour; and costs roughly $3.29/lb. for organic roasted buckwheat sold in grocery store bulk foods.

whole grain quinoa

Quinoa

Offering a quicker-cooking time, quinoa has become an increasingly popular grain-like seed over the past couple of years. Quinoa is grown as a grain crop and often prepared in the same manner as a grain. It takes about 15 minutes to cook quinoa, much faster than the hour or more associated with preparing some other grains. The mildly nutty, chewy texture of quinoa provides a wide-range of side dish possibilities, and also soaks up dressings and sauces well. The high protein content is also a dream for vegetarians and vegans. Other ways to add quinoa to a diet is to serve as a hot cereal or use as a substitute for couscous and white rice. 

Cost: Organic quinoa grain sold in grocery store bulk foods cost roughly $7.99/lb., or is priced at $3-$4/lb. for larger bulk purchases. 

organic whole grain millet

Millet

Oftentimes viewed as ‘for the birds,’ millet is a primary ingredient in commercial bird seed, but its mild, nutty flavor also makes a satisfying whole grain option when preparing vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free dishes that call for rice. Millet cooks up to four times its size in water, and is also rich in magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, and the B-vitamins. Ground millet is used to make biscuits, while millet grits serve as a hot breakfast cereal. Relatively cheaper than whole grain rice, uncooked millet is also sometimes added to breads to create a crunchy texture.

Cost: Priced just under $1/lb. for larger quantities; stone ground millet flour costs roughly $2.99 for a 23-ounce package at grocery store; while hulled organic millet sells in grocery store bulk foods for around $2.49/lb. 

Rice

From fried rice to rice pilaf, nearly 70% of all rice consumed in the U.S. is of the white variety. However, as one of the most popular side dishes to grace dinner tables across the nation, choosing the whole grain variety (brown rice) offers more nutritional value and provides a higher supply of fiber, vitamin E, vitamin B-6, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium. This is because brown rice does not undergo the hulling process that removes a grain’s outing coating. Use brown rice as a filling accompaniment to vegetables, bean dishes, and meat that especially satisfies gluten-free dietary requirements, and accommodates those who are allergic to other grains. 

Cost: Regular white rice and brown rice are sold rather inexpensively in bulk, with organic short grain brown rice priced at $3.49/lb. and organic wild rice blends for $5.49/lb. 

All of the above-mentioned whole grains can be purchased through online retailers (such as Amazon.com), health food shops, and most grocery stores. Depending on your needs, buying in bulk will generally yield the best overall savings.