Whole Grain Hierarchy

Whole grains didn’t set out to be complicated. Once upon a time there were simply grains and sometimes these were ground into flour. Nowadays there’s multiple types of whole grains and it’s not enough to choose all whole grains. Things are complicated!

This is due to different levels of processing. Simply put, processing increases the surface area of the grain, increasing the rate of absorption. For this reason, when choosing whole grains, these need to be as unrefined as possible. You’ll get the most nutrients, the phytochemicals will be more intact, stay full longer, and have less of a blood sugar spike.

Below we break down the levels of whole grains, starting with the least processed (eat these!!) and moving to the most processed (stay away!).

#1: Intact whole grains – grains as they’re picked off plant. All nutrients are present and the body does all of the work to break it down, keeping us full and providing lasting energy. For extra nutrients, these can also be sprouted, increasing phytochemical content 5-10 times. Sprouting tells the grain “get ready to become a plant” so these extra nutrients are released! Another tip, deeper colored grains – black and red quinoa, black barley – have more nutrients than those with less color.
Examples of intact whole grains: brown rice, farro, splet berries, buckwheat, kamut, quinoa, oat groats, and barley. Make your life easy and make a batch of whole grains for the week.

#2: Cut whole grains are still very nutritious, but cutting exposes nutrients to air, resulting in a loss of some protective nutrients. I.e. – steel cut oats

#3: Rolled whole grains are steamed and literally rolled over. The entire grain is still there, but your body doesn’t have to work as hard to break it down.

#4: Shredded whole grains are more processed and therefore digest more quickly. Often there’s extra not-so-great stuff added, like sugar and fat.

#5: Ground whole grains are further processed, but the more coarsely ground the better.

#6: Whole grain flours are finely ground and give the blood sugar a more dramatic spike. If you’re picking out a bread, sprouted grain can be a more nutritious choice. Heavier breads also have a lower glycemic index (less blood sugar spike) than light and fluffy options.

#7: Flaked grains leave a lot to be desired. They’re processed and often have sugar and fat added (think Corn Flakes and Raisin Bran).

#8: Puffed grains are super processed (think puffed cold cereals and rice cakes). Not only does it seem as though you’re eating Styrofoam, few nutrients remain.


When it comes to grains, refined grains, such as white flour products, are the bottom of the barrel. Nutrients have been removed and the body gets a big blood sugar spike. Stay clear!!

To confuse everyone even more, the label “whole grain” does very little to help us make the best choices. If a package says whole grain, it simply means that whole grains are in the product. This can be the tiniest bit of whole grains and can be mixed in with tons of sugar, oil, and other crap. “Whole grains” is plastered on the front of Lucky Charms.. a sign that the words “whole grain” essentially mean nothing. Don’t be fooled!

Struggling to cook your intact whole grains? We use this Aroma Rice Cooker. (Note this is an affiliate link).


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