Are you wondering how to eat whole grain foods to lose weight? Do you want to include more whole grain foods in your diet but you aren’t sure what recipes to use?
Read on for a helpful list of the best grains for weight loss, which whole grain foods to choose while shopping, plus a long list of healthy whole grain recipes.
Do Carbs Make You Gain Weight?
Because of the rise in low carb diets such as the Keto diet, you may believe that eating carbs will cause weight gain, but this is a dieting myth.
While it’s true that processed, refined flours are not good for you, intact whole grains are extremely healthy and should be included in your weight loss plan.
Why Are Whole Grains Good for Losing Weight?
Whole grains are full of fiber. Fiber helps with fullness, a healthy microbiome, and eating fewer calories throughout the course of the day. Intact whole grains also have protein making them a perfect addition to a weight loss diet.
Whole grains are low in calorie density which means that you can eat them to satisfaction without concerns for adding pounds.
For thousands of years, people around the world have survived (and thrived) on whole grain foods like rice, barley, wheat and oats.
Whole Grains Food List
What are some whole grain foods to lose weight and feel great? Here is a list of healthy whole grains that you can eat regularly during your weight loss journey.
Scroll to the bottom of this post for a list of recipes that include each of these grains.
- Amaranth – While technically a “pseudograin” because it’s a seed, amaranth can be eaten like other grains. The kernels are very small, making it delicious as a breakfast porridge.
- Barley – Barley has a mild, slightly chewy texture that makes it wonderful in soups. It can also be substituted for rice in many recipes.
- Brown and wild rice – Swap white rice for brown or wild rice and get a big whole grain punch of nutrition. Rice is a staple food that can be used in many recipes or eaten as a side dish.
- Buckwheat – Also called kasha, buckwheat is a staple grain in Eastern European countries. Buckwheat is gluten-free and high in protein. Use it in grain side dishes, breakfast cereals or cold salads.
- Bulgur – Bulgur is a type of wheat with a fine texture. Use it in the same way you would rice or couscous.
- Farrow – This grain is similar in taste and texture to barley. Use it in soups, side dishes and casseroles.
- Freekeh – Freekeh is a small grain with a nutty texture. Freekeh has twice the fiber of quinoa, making it an excellent grain to eat for fullness and digestive health.
- Millet – Millet has a fine, small texture and mild flavor. Use it to make a breakfast hot cereal or in any ways you would use quinoa.
- Oatmeal – Oatmeal is a filling grain that is often used for breakfast. It can also be used in baked goods and granola.
- Quinoa – Also a pseudograin, quinoa can be used in many recipes and is high in protein.
- Rye – Rye is most often used in making rye bread, but the whole grain (rye berries) can be cooked and used in side dishes, casseroles, and salads.
- Teff – Teff has a fine, small texture and it can be used in side dishes or made into a breakfast porridge.
- Wheat berries – Wheat berries are the whole kernel of wheat before it has been cracked or ground into flour. Add wheat berries to chilis, soups, and casseroles. They have a hearty, chewy texture.
All of these grains can be purchased at many grocery stories (check the bulk food bin if they aren’t on shelves), health food stores, or ordered on Amazon.
Are Whole Grain Bread, Flour, and Pasta Healthy?
Yes, whole grain breads and other products made with whole wheat flour can have their place in a weight loss diet. Here are important tips to keep in mind when choosing whole grain breads and flour products.
- Whole wheat products are always an improvement over refined, white flour alternatives.
- When it comes to calorie density, the best choice for losing weight is intact whole grains. Note that in our calorie density chart above, intact whole grains are Green foods, while foods made with flours are Yellow. Enjoy Yellow category foods sometimes but eat intact whole grains most often.
- When choosing whole wheat bread, look for 100% whole wheat. The ingredients list should include whole wheat flour as the first ingredient.
- Whole wheat pasta is technically not an intact whole grain (because it’s made with flour) but because you boil it in water, this lowers the calorie density making it a healthy food for weight loss. Yes, you can eat pasta and lose weight! This is why whole wheat pasta is a zero point food on the WW purple plan.
- For Weight Watchers members, check out these low-point WW bread options.
- Two good weight loss bread options that are whole grain are Dave’s Killer bread (thin slice) and Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain bread.
- As someone maintaining a 125 pound weight loss, what works best for me is to eat whole grain bread and other flour products sometimes, but not everyday. I find that I am more full and satisfied when I eat intact whole grains instead of products made with flour.
How to Cook Whole Grains
Each whole grain has a unique cooking time and water-to-grain ratio. Here is a helpful reference guide for whole grain cooking times.
Here are some easy ways to cook whole grains:
- Stove top – Add the grain and water and simmer on the stove for the required number of minutes. Cover with a lid to gently steam the grain. (Stove top cooking works just fine, although it’s my least favorite method since you have to watch the grains and perhaps stir from time to time.)
- Instant Pot – I absolutely love cooking whole grains in my pressure cooker because it’s so easy and no babysitting required. I add the grains and water then go back to whatever else I was busy doing. I use my 3 quart Instant Pot for this purpose and it’s just the right size. Here’s a handy chart with IP grain cooking times.
- Crock Pot – Grains can also be cooked in the slow cooker. Use this guide for crock pot grain cooking times.
How to Freeze and Meal Prep Whole Grains
When I realized that cooked whole grains could be frozen, it rocked my world! This has made such a difference for me because I keep individual, one-portion bags of various whole grains in my freezer all the time. (I also keep bags of frozen, cooked beans in serving-size portions.)
When I make a batch of brown rice, barley, or bulgur, I eat some that week and then freeze the rest in individual portions. After a few times of doing this, now I have a nice variety of whole grains stashed in my freezer and I can pull out a little bag to serve with any meal I want. A couple minutes in the microwave and they are ready.
You can also meal prep whole grains by making a batch on the weekends and using it throughout the week. Cooked whole grains will keep in a large container or individual portions for about 5 days in the refrigerator. Make a large batch of cooked brown rice, barley, or quinoa and enjoy it all week long.
Frequently Asked Questions about Whole Grains
Here are answers to come of the questions we receive most often about whole grains.
Yes, whole grain bread can be part of your diet while you are losing weight. Be sure to choose breads made with 100% whole wheat flour. Avoid breads made with white bread or that are a mixture of white and wheat.
Unless you have a food allergy or sensitivity, no whole grains are off limits while losing weight. All include healthy fiber and protein to keep you satisfied. All intact whole grains are also low in calorie density, making them an excellent choice for dropping pounds. Avoid processed, refined white-flour grain products.
While any 100% whole wheat bread is good for weight loss, two I recommend are Dave’s Killer bread (Thin Sliced) and Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain bread.
Yes, rice can absolutely be part of any diet while you are losing weight. Choose brown or wild rice for the whole grain benefits.
No, multigrain bread is typically made with a mixture of white and whole wheat flour. If you do decide to eat multigrain bread, choose brands that do not include refined white flour.
If you can’t find unusual whole grains at your local grocery or health food store, they can be ordered on Amazon.
50+ Whole Grain Recipes and Meal Ideas
Here is a helpful list of recipes and ways to include whole grains in your diet. All of these recipes and food ideas fit well into a healthy weight loss meal plan.
- Switch white pasta for whole wheat. If you don’t care for the taste and texture of whole wheat pasta, start with mixing some whole wheat pasta into the white and gradually increasing the amount of the whole grain addition.
- Swap white rice for brown rice. Brown rice has more fiber and nutrition than white rice. If you don’t like the taste or texture of brown, start with mixing it half with white rice until your taste buds change. (They will, I promise.)
- Use instant brown rice. Instant brown rice is a perfectly fine alternative to the slow-cooking version and takes just 10 minutes to have on the table. Be sure to choose brands with no added oils or flavorings for the most healthy option.
- Use frozen brown rice. Brown rice can now be purchased in freezer bags in the grocery store with the frozen vegetables. While this costs a bit more, you’ll have fresh whole grains on the table in less than 5 minutes, so it’s worth it for busy nights.
- Cook rice in vegetable broth or with spices. To give rice more flavor, replace some or all of the cooking water with vegetable or chicken broth. Feel free to add spices to your rice or other grains while cooking, too.
- Top it with flavor. Flavor any plain whole grain with condiments, salad dressing, salsa, or a low-fat gravy.
- Spanish rice. Make Spanish rice at home and enjoy the flavor of your favorite Mexican restaurant side dish in a healthy way. Our family likes this Spanish rice recipe.
- Add corn or peas to any grain for a quick side dish or filling lunch. This takes just minutes and has plenty of fiber and protein.
- Beans and rice. People the world over have been eating beans and rice because it’s filling and nutritious. Click here for more bean recipes for weight loss.
- Meal prep brown rice in your Instant Pot. Here’s a foolproof way to make brown rice in the Instant Pot.
- Try a wild rice side dish. One of my favorite dinner side dishes is wild rice pilaf. It adds a great texture and flavor to any meal. This recipe is a good wild rice pilaf option. (I leave out the butter.)
- Stuff a squash. Take your favorite wild rice pilaf and stuff into half of your favorite cooked squash. Spaghetti, butternut and acorn squashes all work well for this.
- Add bulgur, buckwheat, or wheat berries to chili. Each of these grains has a wholesome mouth feel that can replace some or all of the meat in chili. Try any of these grains in our turkey vegetable chili recipe.
- Add rice to soups. This Instant Pot Hamburger Soup is one of our family’s favorite soups with rice.
- Barley in soup. Barley has a wonderful “chew” that gives soups an appealing texture. Try this tomato barley soup recipe or add barley to our Vegetable Detox soup.
- Use barley in place of rice. Try using barley anytime you would use rice for a texture and flavor variation.
- Eat barley for breakfast. Try swapping cooked barley for your regular oatmeal.
- Sweet rice with milk. My husband turned me on to this idea and I think it’s the perfect simple snack for when you want something sweet. Place cooked brown rice in a bowl and cover with milk of choice. (I use almond or oat milk.) Microwave for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Add fruit if desired. My husband adds brown sugar to his but I like mine plain or with some applesauce or mashed banana for sweetness. This idea works with other cooked grains too, like barley and farrow.
- Healthier rice pudding. Make a healthier brown rice pudding like this recipe. I typically serve rice pudding as a dessert but a friend of mine shared that their family serves it as a cold main dish on hot summer nights when you want something light.
- Healthier fried rice. Here’s a recipe for how to make fried rice without added oil.
- Trader Joe’s Farro Apple Sausage Skillet. I made this recipe last week from the side of a package of Farro I picked up at Trader Joe’s. I left out the sausage and butter and instead stuffed it into half of an acorn squash I roasted in my air fryer. It was fabulous.
- Groats. Groats are the whole, intact grain. Oat, wheat, and barley are available in groats. Oatmeal actually starts as oat groats and is cut into steel cut oatmeal or rolled into old fashioned oats. Instant and quick oatmeal is rolled oats that are chopped smaller. If you can’t find groats at your local grocery store, they can be ordered online. I found oat groats at my local Whole Foods in the bulk bin. To me the texture of groats is more similar to brown rice than the rolled oatmeal I’m used to eating, but tasty and filling.
- Tabbouleh. This is a Lebanese grain salad with lemon, mint, and spices. Try this Tabbouleh recipe.
- Quinoa Bites. My business partner, Becky, is known for her quinoa bites recipes. Check out the complete list of quinoa bites here and enjoy these tasty snacks in a wide variety of flavors.
- Mixed grain breakfast cereal. Various grains can be combined to make a delicious textured breakfast cereal. Here’s one multigrain cereal option.
- Overnight oats. Make oatmeal the night before and allow it to soak in the fridge overnight. It can be eaten hot or cold in the morning. Here’s a basic tutorial for making overnight oatmeal.
- Oats with vegetables. This might sound a little crazy, but you can hide vegetables in your regular bowl of oatmeal. I’ve mixed half oatmeal and half cauliflower rice or shredded zucchini and the flavor isn’t affected. (Think of it like zucchini bread in a bowl.) Top with fruit and serve.
- Add oatmeal to smoothies. If you drink smoothies, you can add several handfuls of oatmeal to give it a toothsome chew and texture.
- Savory oatmeal. We tend to think of oatmeal as sweet because we often serve it with fruit, but oatmeal is a basic grain that you can eaten with savory flavors. Here’s a list of savory oatmeal recipes to try.
- Make into veggie burgers. Try this vegetable burger recipe that is full of oatmeal, brown rice, and lots of veggies.
- Tempeh. Tempeh is somewhat similar to tofu but it has a firmer, chewier texture. Some kinds are made only with soybeans and some are made with soybeans and whole grains. Use it in place of meat for a plant-based version of casseroles and stews. Tempeh can be purchased at most any grocery store. (I get mine at Walmart.)
- Popcorn. Yes, popcorn is technically a starchy vegetable that we might think of like a grain. Air-popped popcorn is healthy to eat while losing weight. Make air-popped popcorn and serve it without oil or butter. Try it with a sprinkle of nutritional yeast, hot sauce, or Ms. Dash for flavor.
- Popped amaranth. You can pop amaranth. It comes out like a tiny popcorn. Eat it as a snack, for cereal, or use it in recipes like a puffed wheat.
- Breakfast amaranth. Here’s a recipe for breakfast amaranth that’s similar to oatmeal.
- Puffed wheat cereal. This whole grain cereal can be used as a breakfast cereal, a snack, or in recipes.
- Baked oatmeal. Try a baked oatmeal recipe to meal prep a week’s worth of breakfasts or enjoy as a weight loss snack. Baked oatmeal can be made into muffin shapes if you prefer, and they freeze well.
- Roasted cauliflower with freekeh. Freekeh is a new grain for me personally and I’m looking forward to trying it. Here’s a recipe for a roasted cauliflower and freekeh dish that looks delicious.
- Make a healthy risotto. Risotto is a creamy rice dish that doesn’t include dairy. The cooking process makes the rice especially thick and creamy. Try this Lemon Brown Rice & Wine Risotto. You won’t believe it’s healthy.
- Buddah Bowls. Buddah bowls are healthy vegetable bowls that traditionally have at least 10 vegetables. Serve them over brown rice or another whole grain.
- Cozy Millet Bowl. Here’s a recipe for a comfort-food millet bowl with mushrooms, kale, and gravy.
- Sushi. Order sushi made with brown rice instead of white.
- Nutrition Facts BROL – This hearty breakfast hot cereal recipe by Dr. McGregor has a filling and healthy mixture of barley, rye, oats and lentils. Talk about a strong nutritional punch to start the day right!
- Rip’s Big Breakfast Bowl. Rip Esselstyn of Plant Strong and Engine 2 makes this big whole grain and cereal bowl every morning for breakfast.
- Instant Pot Oatmeal – This IP Chocolate PB oatmeal is a reader favorite that can be meal prepped for a week’s worth of healthy breakfasts.
- Energy Bites. Snack on healthy energy bites that include oatmeal. Keep these in the freezer for a quick healthy treat.
- Hungry Girl Growing Oatmeal Bowl. If you are a volume eater (like me) you will love this growing oatmeal bowl. Adding extra water is a great way to lower calorie density and make any food more filling.
- Rye Berry Salad with Orange. Rye is most often made into bread and rye berries can be made into a salad or enjoyed hot like other cooked grains.
- Teff Stew. Here is a recipe from Bob’s Red Mill for a teff stew with zucchini and garbanzo beans.
- Buckwheat with mushrooms. Try this hearty buckwheat and mushrooms as a simple side dish. (I would make this recipe without the butter for a low-calorie whole grain option.)
- Couscous. Couscous is a very small pasta. Be sure to use whole wheat couscous in any recipes for a whole grain option.
- Bulgur Pilaf – Try this bulgur pilaf recipe with a Middle Eastern flavor.
- Teff breakfast porridge – Try a recipe like this teff banana almond porridge as an alternative to oatmeal.
With these 50+ whole grain recipe ideas, plus a list of healthy whole grains to choose from a directions for cooking, meal prepping and freezing whole grains, you’ll easily be able to incorporate them into your weight loss diet plan.
Which whole grains are your favorite? What new grains do you want to try? Share about it in the comments below.