What Are the 12 Healthiest Grains You Can Eat?

Medically Reviewed on 11/17/2022
Ancient grains like millet, amaranth, and teff have a higher nutritional value and more calories than modern grains.
Ancient grains like millet, amaranth, and teff have a higher nutritional value and more calories than modern grains.

Ancient grains have a higher nutritional value and more calories than modern grains. Studies show that eating a diet rich in whole and ancient grains can lower your risk of heart disease and diabetes.


Teff is a major cereal grain from Ethiopia, though you can find it growing in other countries, too. It’s gluten-free and has a higher fiber content than many other grains, which helps slow down digestion and keeps your blood sugar steady. Teff is also rich in vitamins and minerals like magnesium, calcium, and iron.


Technically, amaranth isn’t a grain but belongs to a group of plants called pseudo-grains. The seeds of these plants are edible and eaten the same way as other grains or cereals. 

Amaranth is rich in essential amino acids, especially lysine and tryptophan, and contains more protein than most traditional grains. It’s also an excellent source of iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium and is rich in healthy fats. Amaranth is also gluten-free and a safe option if you have celiac disease.


You can find a few types of millet, including a popular type called finger millet. These grains are a good source of amino acids, minerals like iron and calcium, and B vitamins. Like other whole grains, millet has specific health benefits. Eating millet can help lower your cholesterol levels and your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.


Quinoa is another popular gluten-free pseudo-grain. It’s native to South America and grows in the Andes mountain region. Quinoa is rich in protein and contains an excellent balance of eight out of nine essential amino acids. 

It has a higher calcium content than other grains and is also rich in iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper. Some experts suggest that the protein and mineral content of quinoa make it a suitable alternative for dairy products.


Oat is a popular breakfast grain with well-balanced nutrition. It’s a good source of protein with a balance of amino acids, carbohydrates, and healthy fats. It also contains folate, zinc, selenium, iron, and dietary fiber. 

The primary type of fiber in oats is called beta-glucan. Studies suggest beta-glucan helps curb hunger, keeps your blood sugar steady, and helps lower your cholesterol levels. Diets rich in whole grain oats can help promote heart health.

Black barley

Where pearl barley is refined, black barley is a whole grain with the bran intact. It’s a popular grain and commonly used in bread and pasta. Black barley is rich in dietary fiber and a compound called beta-glucan, similar to oats. 

This grain has a low glycemic index, so it helps with blood sugar management. Eating black barley can also promote heart health by lowering your blood cholesterol levels and visceral fat.


According to the USDA, there is no difference between a “portion” and a “serving.” See Answer


Einkorn is an ancient wheat mostly grown in Europe and the Mediterranean. Compared to modern wheat, einkorn has very little dietary fiber but lots of protein, fats, and antioxidant compounds like carotenoids. Studies suggest eating einkorn can increase bacteria diversity in your gut, leading to better gut health. 

Einkorn wheat has few gluten peptides, so it isn’t as reactive as other grains. You may find it easier to eat if you have non-celiac gluten intolerance. Still, it’s not suitable for celiac disease, though.


Emmer is another ancient wheat and likely a natural hybrid between einkorn and wild grass. Emmer and durum pasta wheat are forms of the same species, though lots of people believe emmer is better for pasta. It’s commonly called farro in Italy.

Emmer is high in dietary fiber, protein, carbohydrates, and minerals, but it has little fat content. It’s rich in polyphenols and carotenoids, like zeaxanthin, and may positively benefit your eye health. Whole grain emmer can also help lower your risk for diabetes and heart disease.


People have grown spelt in Europe since 7000 or 8000 BC. Experts believe the grain is likely a natural hybrid between emmer and common wheat. As a wheat grain, spelt is rich in gluten and commonly used for bread. Spelt contains high amounts of dietary fiber, healthy fats, and protein.


A type of millet, sorghum is native to northeastern Africa and a staple food in parts of Asia and Africa. The grain contains lots of a dietary fiber called resistant starch, which doesn’t break down well in your gut. Like insoluble fiber, it passes through mostly untouched, which helps keep you full for longer and stabilizes your blood sugar. Early research suggests that resistant starch lowers inflammation in your gut and can prevent colon cancer


Bulgur is a precooked grain that comes from whole grain kernels, similar to how you get popcorn from corn kernels. Grain processors soak and boil wheat kernels and then dry them until they crack

The nutritional value of bulgur can change depending on the wheat it comes from. Emmer bulgur is high in fiber, protein, and minerals and has a nice texture once cooked. You can substitute bulgur for white rice or other refined grains, and it only takes a few minutes to cook.


Rye is a cereal grass with similar nutritional features as wheat. It was once a staple food in Scandinavia and northern Europe, perhaps because it’s so filling. Of all the whole grains, rye has the most dietary fiber, and studies show it can curb hunger for up to 8 hours. 

Other research shows that eating fiber-rich rye foods and a low-calorie diet can lead to weight and fat loss compared to a similar diet rich in refined wheat. The same study also shows that rye lowers inflammation markers.

Whole grains are best

Ancient grains are usually whole grains, but it’s possible to find some refined versions. These are sometimes labeled as pearl, such as pearl barley. Refining removes the germ and bran, which strips the grain of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Many ancient grains have great nutritional benefits, but make sure you choose the unrefined form.

Medically Reviewed on 11/17/2022
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