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Grains and Grain-Based Foods

pear holding grain

Grains such as wheat, rice, quinoa, and oats are staple foods for many people. These foods can be found all over the store, from store bakeries to cereal, pasta, and rice aisles. Grains are versatile and can be used in many different types of dishes.

Grains are rich in carbohydrates, which provide energy. There are two main groups of grains: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grain foods include brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole wheat tortillas, quinoa, farro, oats, and others. While refined grain products are often lighter and fluffier than whole grain products, this process also removes a lot of important nutrients.

Read more on grains here.

Breads, Pastries and Cakes

There are many choices when looking for bread. Try to opt for whole-wheat bread most of the time. Whole wheat bread is a more nutritious choice and will keep you fuller for longer than bread made of refined grains.  Your best bet is to look at the Nutrition Facts label any time you are picking out bread. If the bread is truly whole wheat, the first ingredient should be whole-wheat flour. If whole wheat flour is found further down the ingredient list, it probably is a mix of refined and whole wheat flours. Many people assume multigrain bread is the same as whole wheat. Multigrain breads can be tricky since they have seeds and are darker color but they are often made with refined grains.

Pastries and cakes are great foods to enjoy occasionally but are not the best choice for every day. These types of foods are usually very high in added sugars and saturated fats.

Tip: Bread of all types can be an unexpected source of added sugar and salt, so be sure to read the Nutrition Facts Label if that is important to you. Read more on how to read the Nutrition Facts Label here.

Man picking out bread

Breads, Pastries and Cakes: Know Before You Go

  • Aim to make at least half of the grains you eat in a day whole grains. If you do not love the taste of whole wheat bread, opt for something you enjoy and try to get in whole grains elsewhere in your day.
  • When choosing bread, be sure to read the Nutrition Facts Label and ingredient list to make sure you are getting what you think.
  • Take advantage of day-old bread sales. It is really easy to bring slightly stale bread back to life by slightly wetting it with water, covering it in aluminum and putting it in the oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. After 15 minutes, start checking to see if the bread is warm and soft.
  • If you want to start your day with a breakfast pastry sometimes, pair it with a protein-rich food such as yogurt or eggs. This will help keep you fuller for longer.

Grains, Pasta and Rice

Grains are popular foundations for meals in many cultures. Popular whole grains in this category include: brown rice, barley, farro, quinoa, popcorn, oats, wild rice, and spelt. Most types of grains can be cooked in water or broth, and are drained when fully cooked.

The pasta section at the store has a variety of shapes and types of pastas. Different shapes are meant to be paired with certain sauces. Chefs consider how much of a sauce will be absorbed with different shapes. For instance, a pasta shaped like a shell will hold onto more sauce than a spaghetti-shaped noodle. Of course, you can also just choose your favorite shape to pair with your favorite sauce and toppings when shopping. 

The main type of pasta you’ll find is made of traditional semolina flour, which is a refined flour. However, many stores also carry whole-wheat pasta options. In some stores, you may also be able to find pasta made of lentils, chickpeas or other legumes, which have more protein and fiber than traditional pasta.


Grains, Pasta and Rice: Know Before You Go

  • Similar to bread, aim to make at least half of the grains you eat in a day whole grains. 
  • Most grains should be rinsed prior to cooking. Rinse grains by placing in a colander or mesh strainer and running under water for a few minutes until the water is no longer cloudy looking. This will give the grains a better taste and texture.

Cereals and Snacks

The breakfast aisle has many grain-based foods, including cereals, granola and oatmeal. This can be a tricky aisle to navigate since there are usually many choices with very different nutrition. Cereals, granola, and oatmeal can sometimes be flavored in a way that makes them closer to dessert foods than breakfast. Try to choose options that contain whole grains and are lower in sugar most of the time.

The snack section is another aisle with a lot of variety, from pretzels and popcorn to chips. Many snack foods use refined grains and can be high in sodium and fat, but there are still great choices in this aisle. A great whole grain snack food is popcorn, which can be sold in microwaveable bags, pre-popped in bags, or just as the kernels. When popped at home, you can control the salt, fat and flavoring of the popcorn, making it a better choice. Compare the nutrition labels on your snacks to find ones with less sodium, fat, and/or sugar based on your preferences and health needs.

Couple looking at food

Cereals and Snacks: Know Before You Go

  • Love cereal for breakfast but want to bulk up the nutrition? Try adding fresh or canned fruit for some fiber, and serve with yogurt or milk for extra protein and calcium.
  • Compare the nutrition labels of your snacks to find ones with less sodium, fat, and/or sugar based on your preferences and health needs.