Wholegrains A to Z

From amaranth to sorghum and chia to pepitas, supermarkets now offer many different wholegrain and seed products. Popular wholegrains and seeds from other parts of the world may be less common in Australia, but it’s worth exploring the unique tastes and textures of these ancient grains and seeds. Often referred to as “superfoods”, these grains and seeds are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that work in synergy to pack a powerful nutritional punch!



Amaranth was a common grain of the Aztecs, and later brought to Asia. These tiny brown kernels with a light nutty taste come from a plant that actually belongs to the same family as beets and spinach. Amaranth has a higher level of protein compared to other grains and contains the amino acid lysine, which is typically absent in many grains. Calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium and fibre add to the draw of this gluten-free grain.



Barley has the highest levels of fibre of all the wholegrains, at about 17% fibre for common varieties. While the fibre in most grains is concentrated largely in the outer bran layer, barley’s fibre is found throughout the wholegrain.  Wholegrain barley is also high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Barley has a tough hull, which when removed tends to take some of the bran with it. To make sure you’re enjoying true wholegrain barley, look for hulled or hulless barley, rather than pearled barley, which is not wholegrain.



Chia seeds are one of the world’s oldest sources of nutrition, documented to have been eaten by the ancient Aztecs and Mayans as early as 3500 BC.

Derived from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, chia seeds offer the highest combined plant source of omega-3, fibre and protein, alongside a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Chia offers essential wholefood nutrition that is often lacking in the modern diet.

Chia seeds are documented to have been eaten by the ancient Aztecs and Mayans as early as 3500 BC. Derived from the desert plant Salvia hispanica, chia seeds offer the highest combined plant source of omega-3, fibre and protein, alongside a range of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They can be either black or white, but there is no nutritional difference between the different colours.



Corn is the most-produced grain worldwide. Corn is rich in Vitamin A and research shows that it is also high in antioxidants and carotenoids that are associated with eye health. As a gluten-free grain, corn is a key ingredient in many gluten-free foods. In many traditional cultures, corn is eaten with beans, as they have complementary amino acids that work together to provide complete proteins. Fresh corn is usually classed as a vegetable and dried corn (even popcorn) as a grain.



Flaxseeds (or linseeds) are the seeds from the flax plant and can be used whole, ground to make meal or used to create flaxseed oil. Flaxseed is a concentrated plant source of omega-3, with around 50-60% being in the form of alpha linoleic acid. Flaxseeds are also rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, fibre and a group of polyphenols called lignans.



Millet is the name given to not just one, but several different grains that are all part of the same family. Before rice, it was likely a staple grain in Asia. Millet grains are usually small, yellowish in colour and have a mild flavour. Millet is gluten-free and high in antioxidant activity, it’s also especially high in magnesium.



Oats almost never have their bran and germ removed in processing. So if you see oats or oat flour on the label, you’re virtually guaranteed to be getting wholegrain. Oats provide protein, are high in fibre and low in sodium. They are a natural source of energy and are rich in a beta-glucan, which can help to lower cholesterol reabsorption.


Pepitas (Pumpkin Seeds)

Pepitas, also known as pumpkin seeds or kernels are found in the centre of the pumpkin. The seeds are dried then the shell or husk is removed to expose the edible kernel. Pepitas have a chewy texture and a subtly sweet, nutty flavour and are often enjoyed as a snack. They are rich in essential fatty acids, dietary fibre and zinc.



Quinoa was first cultivated by the Incas. A relative of Swiss chard and beets, quinoa is one of the only plant foods that’s a complete protein, offering all the essential amino acids in a healthy balance. It’s also highest of the all the wholegrains in potassium. This trendy grain has recently skyrocketed in popularity. Interesting to note – NASA suggested quinoa as a possible model food for long space missions.



Rice provides about half the kilojoules (calories) for up to half of the world’s population, especially in parts of Asia, South America and the Indies. After rice is harvested, its inedible hull must be removed, resulting in a wholegrain, brown rice kernel. If the rice is milled further, the bran and germ are removed, giving white rice, with lower levels of nutrients. Brown rice is an excellent source of manganese and a good source of selenium.



Rye was first cultivated in northern Europe, possibly due to the fact that it is a hardy grain that is able to grow where it is too cold or wet for wheat to grow dependably. Rye is a rich and versatile source of dietary fibre called arabinoxylan, which is also known for its high antioxidant activity. Wholegrain rye bread is usually low GI and has been shown to reduce insulin response to meals. Recent Australian research demonstrates that rye can increase the beneficial bacteria in the gut and help improve digestive health.



Sorghum in an ancient grain first cultivated in Africa. A unique feature of this grain is that even its outer hull can be eaten, thereby retaining the majority of its nutrients. When milled, sorghum flour has a lower GI than some other flours. It has a neutral flavour and light colour and is gluten-free, which makes it easily adaptable. As a result, it is gaining favour as a gluten-free option in a variety of foods.



Wheat is the most widely cultivated cereal crop across the world, but did you know that burghal, spelt, emmer (farro), einkorn, freekah and kamut are all varieties of wheat? The key nutrients in wholegrain wheat include dietary fibre, B vitamins (particularly folate), vitamin E, magnesium and selenium. Wholegrain wheat also contains other bioactive compounds, such as polyphenols, flavonoids and carotenoids.



Whole Grain Council (2013) Grain of the Month Calendar http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grains-101/whole-grains-a-to-z

GLNC & GRDC (2012) Know your grains and legumes. A showcase of Australian grains and legumes. http://www.glnc.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/GLNC-GRDC-Australian-Grains-and-Legumes-Showcase-Booklet-2012.pdf

The Chia Co. (2013) Chia, the full story. http://www.thechiaco.com.au/discover/chia

Australian Healthy Food Guide (2012). Your guide to seeds. http://www.healthyfoodguide.com.au/articles/2012/february/your-guide-to-seeds

Dalton, S. Potential benefits of whole grain wheat components. Nutr Today. 2012;47(4):163Y174