Whole Grains 101

whole grains 101

Definition of Whole Grains

The three parts of a grain kernel

Following is the official definition of whole grains, approved and endorsed by the Whole Grains Council in May 2004:

Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.

This definition means that 100% of the original kernel – all of the bran, germ, and endosperm – must be present to qualify as a whole grain.

List of whole grains

The following, when consumed in a form including the bran, germ and endosperm, are examples* of generally accepted whole grain foods and flours. Click here to learn more about each one.


* Note: This list is not meant to be comprehensive, but to include those grains most familiar to consumers. Other cereal grasses from the Poaceae (or Gramineous) family, such as canary seed, Job's tears, Montina, Timothy, fonio, etc. are also whole grains when consumed with all of their bran, germ and endosperm.

Amaranth, quinoa, and buckwheat are not in the Poaceae botanical family, but these "pseudo-grains" are normally included with true cereal grains because their nutritional profile, preparation, and use are so similar.

Oilseeds and legumes (such as flax, chia, sunflower seeds, soy, chickpeas, etc.) are not considered whole grains by the WGC, the AACC International, or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Whole Wheat vs. Whole Grain

We get asked regularly, "What is the difference between whole wheat and whole grain?" Our answer is another question: "What is the difference between a carrot and a vegetable?"

We all know that all carrots are vegetables but not all vegetables are carrots. It's similar with whole wheat and whole grain: Whole wheat is one kind of whole grain, so all whole wheat is whole grain, but not all whole grain is whole wheat.

If you're reading this in Canada, be aware that Canada has a very, very strange regulatory situation as regards whole wheat flour. For whatever reason, Canada allows wheat flour to be called "whole wheat" even when up to 5% of the original kernel is missing. So in Canada you'll hear two terms used:

  • Whole Wheat Flour in Canada -- contains at least 95% of the original kernel
  • Whole Grain Whole Wheat Flour in Canada -- contains 100% of the original kernel

"Whole grain whole wheat flour" would be redundant in the U.S.A. -- whole wheat flour is always whole grain in the States. But not in Canada.

All information on this website is © 2003-2013, Oldways Preservation Trust/Whole Grains Council, unless otherwise noted.