Whole grain: What does it actually mean?


Quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth are all examples of whole grains.  Well…actually, they’re referred to as pseudo-cereals as they are not technically grain cereals.  A little bit of trivia for you but not the focus of this post.

Did you know that rice, oats and wheat also have whole grain varieties?  With articles often focusing on ancient grains or superfood grains, it is easy to lose sight of what a whole grain is and the benefits of consuming whole grains.

I’d like to share with you why whole grains are a wonderful nutritious food and how whole grains can be enjoyed from a variety of sources.

What is whole grain?

An unrefined whole grain contains three main layers: endosperm, germ and bran.  Refining typically removes the bran (outer layer) and the germ (plant embryo).

Food Standards Code Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ) defines wholegrain as ‘the intact grain or dehulled, ground, milled, cracked or flaked grain where the constituents – endosperm, germ and bran – are present in the such proportions that represent the typical ration of those fractions occurring the whole cereal, and includes wholemeal’.

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Benefits of whole grains

The three layers of a whole grain provide a wider range and concentration of nutrients, and as such whole grains contain more nutrients than refined grains.  The bran and germ have a higher concentration of nutrients, with the bran namely known for providing fibre and the germ providing micronutrients such as Vitamin E.  The endosperm (refined grains) is dense in protein and carbohydrates.

Consumption of whole grains is associated with numerous health benefits.  Research by the National Health and Medical Research Council has shown that there is an association between consumption of grain foods (mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties) with reduced of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, weight gain and some cancers.

Recommended intakes of grain foods and whole grains

The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults consume per day ‘at least four to six serves of grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties’.  Individual factors such as gender, age and activity level needs to be taken into consideration when determining what amounts are best for an individual.

  Age (years) Number of Serves*
Male Adults 19 – 50 6
51 – 70 6
70+ 4 ½
Female Adults 19 – 50 6
51 – 70 4
70+ 3
Pregnant 8 ½
Breastfeeding 9

*What is a serve?

The above recommendations from the Australian Dietary Guidelines are based on the following serve sizes:

  • 1 slice of bread or ½ a medium roll or flat bread (40 g)
  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, noodles, barley, buckwheat, semolina, polenta, bulgur or quinoa (75–120 g)
  • ½ cup cooked porridge (120 g), 2/3 cup wheat cereal flakes (30 g) or ¼ cup muesli (30 g)
  • 3 crispbreads (35 g)
  • 1 crumpet (60 g) or 1 small English muffin or scone (35 g)
  • ¼ cup flour (30 g)

Culinary uses and ideas

Whole grains are not limited to ‘ancient’ or ‘superfood’ grains, rather many traditional or commonly found grains can be whole grain.   Brown rice, oats, whole wheat and barley are all examples of whole grains too.

We think it is best (and most enjoyable) to eat a range of foods, including a range of whole grains.  We love the crunch of buckwheat and the nutty flavour of quinoa; we also love traditional whole wheat and think you can’t beat oats.

A personal favourite at the moment though is barley.  It’s so much more than vegetable and barley soup; add to salads, serve alongside casseroles or even barley porridge.  The only downside is the longer cooking time but there’s something so satisfying about it!  Do you have a favourite grain?

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  • Food Standards Code Australia and New Zealand
  • Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council
  • National Health and Medical Research Council.  Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013)

Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only. It is not intended as advice and should not be relied upon as such. Independent advice suited to individual circumstances should be sought from relevant industry professionals prior to making any decisions.