Contrary to what some may believe, eating grains can help you lose weight. However, not all grains are created equal. Some are healthier than others, and some are lower in calories than others.
Grains that are good for weight loss are whole grains that contain essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs and help you feel fuller for extended periods of time.
The following blog post provides the 5 worst and best grains to eat for weight loss!
Can You Lose Weight Eating Grains?
With low-carb and keto-based diets all the rage right now, you may be wondering whether eating grains can really help you lose weight.
In fact, the answer is yes. With one caveat:
The grains you consume must be whole grains.
What’s the difference?
There are two basic types of grains: whole grains and refined grains (or regular grains). The key difference has to do with the milling process.
With whole grains, all of the core nutrients are unaffected by milling and left intact. This includes the bran and germ of the grains.
Leaving these elements intact makes whole grains much healthier. They are better sources of essential nutrients like potassium, magnesium, selenium, and fiber.
Examples of whole grains include barley, buckwheat, and whole oats.
Conversely, refined grains have been heavily processed (milled), and the bran and germ have been removed. Because of this, refined grains lack key nutrients. The result is a longer shelf life and a texture and flavor that many consumers prefer.
Examples of refined grains include white rice, basic white pasta, white bread, pastries, most cereals, and crackers like Ritz and saltines.
How Do Grains Help You Lose Weight?
Aside from all of their general health benefits, whole grains can also help you lose weight.
For starters, having a healthy body and maintaining a healthy weight often go hand-in-hand. In other words, when you eat whole grains and reap their health benefits, you’re less likely to succumb to a common medical condition that may also contribute to obesity. For example:
- Type II diabetes
- Heart disease
- Certain digestive disorders
Next, whole grains are an excellent source of fiber. When you increase the amount of fiber in your diet, you help yourself stay fuller for longer.
This satiates hunger pangs and makes you less likely to splurge on refined, high-calorie foods. Lots of fiber in your diet also helps regulate your metabolism in general.
Finally, whole grains contain complex carbohydrates and are low-fat. Why is that good?
You need complex carbohydrates to fuel your body. Carbohydrates provide energy, which helps keep you going throughout the day.
Refined carbs are burned up quickly as energy, often causing a crash. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates provide a “slow burn,” which enables you to have a reliable source of energy for a longer period of time.
How Many Grains Should You Eat a Day to Lose Weight?
Let’s start with the dietary guidelines recommended by the USDA (2015-2020). According to this guide, your ideal daily intake of whole grains depends on your gender and age.
For example, for women aged 19 to 30, the daily intake goal is 3 to 6 servings. For men in the same age range, the daily intake goal is 4 to 8 servings. Check the Whole Grains Council webpage to see your individual daily intake goals.
Next, it’s crucial to understand what is a serving size. The Whole Grains Council has some examples on their website, but in general, one serving of whole grains is:
- 1 slice of whole-grain bread
- 1 ounce of dry whole grains (or 1/2 cup of cooked whole grains)
How Do You Know if a Product Really Contains “Whole Grains”?
As you shop for products with whole grains, keep in mind that product labels can often be misleading. Just because a bread bag is labeled as “wheat,” for example, doesn’t mean it’s really a whole grain-based bread.
The best advice is to look for products with the Whole Grain Stamp on them. This is a stamp of approval, developed by The Whole Grains Council (a U.S. government entity).
When you see this stamp, you know that the product contains a higher amount of whole grains than refined grains. Specifically, to earn the Whole Grain Stamp of approval, the grains in a grain-based product must be at least 51% whole grain.
Which Grains Are Best for Weight Loss?
These are the best grains to eat for weight loss:
Exceptionally high in the nutrient magnesium, buckwheat is also an excellent source of dietary fiber. Many vegans and vegetarians also like it because it’s high in protein. If you’re a pancake lover, try buckwheat pancakes in place of your standard white flour pancakes.
154 calories/cup, 4.5 g of fiber, 5.7 g of protein
Oats are high in fiber — particularly beta-glucan fiber. This type of fiber helps you feel fuller for longer because it absorbs a lot of water in your stomach.
For more information on oats, check out my blog post “Does Eating Oatmeal Help You Lose Weight?“
166 calories/cup, 4 g of fiber, 5.9 g of protein
Wheat is one of those hot-button words because it’s often associated with the book Wheat Belly, which associates the consumption of wheat with excess belly fat. In fact, whole wheat is not the culprit. Actual whole wheat is one of the best grains to eat for weight loss because it contains essential amounts of fiber and helps increase your metabolism overall.
176 calories/cup of spaghetti, 4.0 g of fiber, 7.6 g of protein
Delicious and versatile, couscous is a grain that originates in North Africa. It’s easy and quick to make by steaming and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Couscous is generally rich in the nutrient selenium and protein, making it great for providing energy for your day. It’s also relatively low in calories compared to many other grains.
176 calories/cup, 2.2 g of fiber, 6.0 g of protein
Barley is not only high in fiber but it’s also known for helping lower bad cholesterol levels (LDL cholesterol). As you shop for barley, never choose pearl barley as this is more refined than what you actually want: whole-grain barley.
193 calories/cup, 6 g of fiber, 3.5 g of protein
Which Grains Are The Worst for Weight Loss?
The following grains are the worst for weight loss because they are the most calorie-dense. However, keep in mind that these grains are still high in fiber and protein.
Also, eating these grains is still ten times healthier than eating junk food. The only point I’m trying to get across is that if you have a choice between eating couscous or rice, go with couscous as it is lower in calories and higher in fiber and protein.
Although rye is high in fiber, it is also high in gluten, a common cause of bloating and water retention. Furthermore, “rye bread” can contain varying amounts of rye versus other grains — so you’re never really sure what you’re getting.
300 calories/cup, 12.0 g of fiber, 12.0 g of protein
Amaranth does have some health benefits, but it’s also been associated with certain anti-nutrients such as nitrates and oxalates. These can cause stomach pain and even diarrhea and vomiting — especially in individuals with underlying medical conditions.
251 calories/cup, 5.2 g of fiber, 9.4 g of protein
Rice — primarily white rice — is refined and won’t keep you full for very long. It also contains a striking lack of nutrients, making it more of a “filler food” than a nutrient-dense one.
If you want to learn which is the best rice alternative, that is both low-calorie and delicious, check out my blog post “Is Rice Bad For Weight Loss?“
207 calories/cup, 0.6 g of fiber, 4.3 g of protein
Limit your millet consumption as it contains goitrogen, a food compound that can interfere with the thyroid. This can cause metabolic disruption and prevent effective weight loss.
207 calories/cup, 2.3 g of fiber, 6.1 g of protein
An ancient Inca grain, Quinoa in small amounts can be a good source of non-animal protein. However, overeating quinoa is easy because of its light, lean taste, and it tends to be high in calories.
222 calories/cup, 5.2 g of fiber, 8.1 g of protein
Why Do I Gain Weight When I Eat Grains?
If you’ve noticed that grains tend to make you gain weight, keep in mind that portion size plays a role. Even when consuming whole grains, don’t overdo it. For example, one half-cup of cooked barley with dinner is a good serving size.
Likewise, if you have toast with your breakfast, try to keep it to one slice instead of two. Finally, keep your daily intake of whole-grain servings within the recommended USDA guidelines.
With this list of the 5 best grains to eat for weight loss, you’ll be sure to find something that suits your taste buds and dietary needs.
The lowest in calorie grains include buckwheat, oats, wheat, couscous, and barley.
Another benefit of these grains when it comes to losing weight is that they are high in fiber and protein.
And while other grains such as rye and amaranth are higher in calories, they’re also healthy and packed with nutrients. So don’t count them out; just don’t overindulge.
What is your favorite grain to eat? And how often do you eat grains when you are trying to lose weight?