include more grains
Photo: Evelyn’s Crackers

How to Include More Whole Grains in Your Diet

Familiarize yourself with labels:

Identifying whole grain products can be confusing, and there are many ways manufacturers deceive consumers, as we explain in our Whole Grain Labeling section. Maggie Moon, MS, RD in Today’s Dietician highlights key points about whole-grain labeling:1

  • Look for a Whole Grain Stamp issued by the Whole Grains Council
  • Products with “whole” in the name may contain all whole grains or not. Look for the specific grain preceded by “whole,” such as “whole rye flour.” The order the ingredients are listed begins with the most prominent component and ends with the elements contributing the smallest amount.
  • Some excellent whole-grain options, like oats, brown rice, and quinoa, may not have a whole grain designation on the label, but they are by nature a whole grain.
  • Enriched flour and “de-germinated” grains are not whole.

Start with familiar foods and easy swaps:

You may already be eating whole grains – like popcorn and oats – without consciously labeling them as such. You don’t need to reinvent your diet to enjoy whole grains. Here are some easy swap suggestions (modified from Denise Webb, Ph.D., RD in Today’s Dietician:2

  • Have instant oatmeal with fruit for breakfast (non-instant takes only a few minutes longer!)
  • Mix refined breakfast cereal with similarly shaped whole-grain cereal, gradually increasing the amount of the whole-grain cereal
  • List the refined flour products you usually eat – bread, rolls, buns, pitas, tortillas – and consider substituting the whole-grain version.
  • Enjoy corn season because corn is a favorite whole grain.
  • Choose whole-grain crackers for snacking.
  • Add barley or brown rice to soups and stews.
  • Serve wild rice instead of white rice as a side dish or an entree.
  • Use whole-grain flour when you bake. Start by substituting one-half of the white flour with whole wheat flour for cookies, muffins, and pancakes. You can find more tips on baking with whole-grain flour here.
  • Add 1/2 cup of cooked bulgur, wild rice, or barley to bread stuffing.
  • Buy whole-grain pasta. We experimented with many varieties and discovered a range of textures, from closely resembling white flour pasta to noodles that made us think of lumber.

Further, here are some actionable intentions (from the Whole Grains Council3  you can set for yourself:

  • To find my favorite, I’ll buy three different loaves of whole-grain bread and taste them all as toast and in sandwiches.
  • I’ll buy some whole-wheat pasta and try it with my favorite sauce.
  • I’ll serve bulgur instead of french fries with dinner one night this month.
  • I’ll try a whole grains breakfast cereal with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
  • I’ll visit the Health Food Store (or Health Food section of my market) and look over all the different whole grains in bins.
  • I’ll try cooking a pot of steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast on the weekend.
  • I’ll make pizza for the kids and use whole wheat pita for the crust.
  • I’ll experiment with our favorite cookie recipes, trying whole wheat flour or half whole wheat and half white wheat flour.
  • I’ll switch to whole-grain crackers like Triscuits.
  • I’ll mix the kids’ favorite refined cereal half and half with a healthier choice similar in size and shape. (Cinnamon Toast Crunch with Wheat Chex; Fruit Loops with Cheerios; etc.)
  • I’ll serve hamburgers with whole wheat buns this week. 4

Look beyond wheat:

You can enjoy whole grains in your diet without consuming whole wheat. You may dislike the taste or texture of whole wheat or that you have a gluten allergy, wheat intolerance, or Celiac disease. The Whole Grains Council has put together helpful lists of whole grains common to consumers and gluten-free whole grains. For more information about the flavor of grains, click here.

Understand the barriers:

Time, price, and taste are all common barriers to eating whole grains. Listed below are some ideas to help address these barriers.

Time. You can still eat whole grains if you’re short on time or have a busy schedule. Double the amount and freeze half for future use when cooking rice, bulgur, or other grains. When eating out at fast restaurants, look for:

  • Subway’s 9-Grain Wheat bread, recognized with the Whole Grain Council’s Whole Grains Stamp
  • Brown rice at Chipotle
  • Chick-fil-A’s multigrain bun (the ingredients list includes some whole grains, though it is difficult to tell precisely how much)
  • Whole grain bagels and breads at Panera Bread
  • Oats from McDonald’s

For quick cooking at home:

  • Buy microwaveable instant brown rice packs
  • Cook whole-wheat couscous in as little as 5-10 minutes in boiling water
  • Use a pressure cooker for faster, hands-off cooking
  • Keep whole-grain sandwich bread or whole-grain pizza crust/dough on hand (which can be readily at hand in the freezer)
  • Make a big batch of grains and freeze them for later use, making sure to cool the grains quickly after cooking and freezing them immediately after they have cooled to avoid food safety concerns. You can find steps for freezing and re-heating cooked grains here.

Cost. Many people perceive whole grains to be more expensive than refined grains, and this perception is sometimes accurate, sometimes not. Members of the Whole Grain Council explored whole-grain offerings in a Boston supermarket. They found that while many name brands price-matched refined flour and whole-grain products, the cheaper store brands showed less equality, with a premium for the whole grain option.5 This is problematic, especially for consumers with tight budgets. The good news is that as retailers become more aware of this inequity, the price gaps appear to be shrinking.6 In the meantime, here are some suggestions for staying on budget:

  • Buy in bulk if possible.
  • Load up on the whole grains that don’t cost more than their refined counterparts. Though these price gaps vary by region, some informal research has shown that cold cereals, hot cereals, tortillas, and wraps have relatively fair pricing.7
  • Consider the value proposition for whole grains. Refining grains removes much of their nutritional benefit, and, in this sense, whole grains are “worth much more.”8 

Taste. It can take some time (usually a couple of months) to adjust to the nuttier flavor and firmer texture of whole grains, primarily if you are used to eating exclusively refined grains, so try to be patient. The Dietary Guidelines for America set the goal at 50% of grains to be whole, so you do not need to cut out refined grain foods altogether, and you can slowly work up to a higher proportion of whole grains in your diet.9 Valerie Machinist, RD at Community Servings, emphasizes the importance of flavor: “Experimenting with flavor is important, but not being afraid to mix whole and refined grains until you can get used to the flavor and texture is important.”

[1] “Whole Grain Guidance — Help Consumers Navigate the Food Landscape to Make the Most Nutritious Selections,” accessed June 14, 2021,
[2] “The Impact of Whole Grains on Health,” accessed June 14, 2021,
[3] “Overview of Taste and Preferences for Whole Grains” (Whole Grains Council, November 2004),
[4] “Overview of Taste and Preferences for Whole Grains.”
[5] “Overview of Taste and Preferences for Whole Grains” (Whole Grains Council, November 2004),
[6] “Whole Grain Equality in the Checkout Lane | The Whole Grains Council”; C. Harriman, “Shrinking the Price Gap for Whole Grains,” CFW Plexus, October 1, 2013,
[7] Harriman, “Shrinking the Price Gap for Whole Grains.”
[8] Harriman.
[9] “Overview of Taste and Preferences for Whole Grains.”