Are Whole Grains Good for Weight Loss?

Healthy whole grain steel-cut oatmeal with blueberries and peaches

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Mixed messages on whole grains have left many people confused about what to eat. Although the benefits of fiber are widely accepted, do whole grains have too many carbohydrates to fit into a healthy eating plan? How about for weight loss? Here's what the research has to say.

Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

Understanding the difference between whole grains and refined grains is the first step to making sense of the studies. Whole grains retain all of their original components. In fact, they need to have all three parts to be considered a whole grain.

For example, whole-grain wheat contains the endosperm, bran (the high-fiber outer layer), and germ (rich in vitamin E). On the other hand, refined grains have been stripped of these nutritious layers, making them higher in simple starch and generally lower in fiber and other vital nutrients.

Whole Grains
  • Barley









Refined Grains
  • White flour

    White rice

    Corn grits

    White bread

Examples of whole grains include quinoa, oatmeal, whole wheat flour, popcorn, and brown rice. And grains like freekeh, wheatberries, and farro are whole grains that have become more popular in recent years. Enriched flour, white rice, and white bread are examples of refined grains.

What the Research Says

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collects large-scale data on food patterns in children and adults across the United States. Upon examining NHANES data, researchers found that consuming whole grains instead of refined grains significantly improved intakes of fiber and other beneficial nutrients.

May Prevent Weight Gain

Some evidence suggests including whole grains in your diet may promote weight loss and prevent weight gain. For example, swapping low-fiber, refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white rice for small portions of nutrient-dense, high-fiber whole grains may promote weight control in some individuals. However, keep in mind that watching portion size and frequency of consumption of whole grains may be important for weight management.

Understanding the serving size allows you to eat whole grains mindfully and prevent accidental over-consumption, which could lead to weight gain. A single serving of whole-grain bread is generally one slice. If you consume whole-grain cereal, one cup is a single serving. Brown rice and whole-grain pasta carry a serving size of 1/2 cup.

Decreases Fat

Replacing refined grains with whole grains also offers health benefits beyond weight loss. An extensive review of research on whole grains shows that replacing refined grains with whole grains may decrease body fat, even when body weight stays the same. Part of the way this happens could be that eating whole grains increases satiety (the feeling of fullness) and does not lead to blood sugar spikes that refined grains can cause.

This points out a critical angle to consider when evaluating health based on body weight alone. The number on the scale doesn't tell the whole story. Choosing whole grains over refined grains could lead to internal body changes, such as fat loss, which impact more than just weight. Lower body fat mass and lower LDL cholesterol are beneficial changes for heart health.

Adding Whole Grains

If you don't eat grains currently, adding whole grains to your meal plan can be a beneficial way to boost your total fiber intake. Fiber has well-documented benefits for weight loss. Fiber plays an essential role in sustainable weight loss by increasing satiety and assisting with digestion.

Unless you have been diagnosed with a health condition that restricts your grain intake (or if you have decided to adopt a lower carbohydrate eating plan for personal reasons), there is no reason to exclude grains from your eating plan. The key to eating grains is choosing the right kind of grain and the appropriate portion size.

Here are some ideas to integrate more whole grains (and fiber) into your life:

  • Have a serving of whole-grain oatmeal for breakfast: Choose steel-cut oats or old-fashioned oats without added sugar to get maximum nutrition out of your whole-grain breakfast. Add a serving of berries and some chopped nuts for a complete breakfast. Or, to make a single serving go further, try cooking them "growing oatmeal" style.
  • Snack on whole-grain crackers: Look for whole-grain crackers with simple ingredients and lots of fiber. Pile them up with veggies, avocado, nut butter, or hummus. Add tomato slices, yellow mustard, and turkey slices for a high-protein sandwich substitute. Keep in mind that a single-serving of crackers is usually about four crackers.
  • Wrap a whole-grain flatbread around your sandwich fixings: Instead of white bread or fluffy rolls, a whole-grain wrap or flatbread will keep you full for longer. Be sure to check the Ingredient's List on the food label for the words "whole grain."
  • Use whole-grain cereal to "faux-fry" your favorite foods: Experiment with a clever kitchen hack by trading white flour and hot oil for high-fiber cereal and eggs. Create crunchy "fried chicken” the healthy way.

A Word From Verywell

Everyone is a little bit different when it comes to striking an ideal balance of carbohydrates. If you're looking to make a healthy change, simply switch out refined carbohydrates for their less processed whole-grain counterparts. This is a great place to start that offers proven benefits. Experiment with natural foods you enjoy to find the right menu to fuel your body.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Albertson AM, Reicks M, Joshi N, Gugger CK. Whole grain consumption trends and associations with body weight measures in the United States: results from the cross sectional National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001–2012. Nutrition Journal. 2016;15(1):8. doi:10.1186/s12937-016-0126-4

  2. Maki KC, Palacios OM, Koecher K, et al. The relationship between whole grain intake and body weight: results of meta-analyses of observational studies and randomized controlled trials. Nutrients. 2019;11(6):1245. doi:10.3390/nu11061245

  3. Pol K, Christensen R, Bartels EM, Raben A, Tetens I, Kristensen M. Whole grain and body weight changes in apparently healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013;98(4):872-884. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.064659

  4. Wu WC, Inui A, Chen CY. Weight loss induced by whole grain-rich diet is through a gut microbiota-independent mechanism. World J Diabetes. 2020;11(2):26-32. doi:10.4239/wjd.v11.i2.26

Additional Reading

By Lisa Lillien
Lisa Lillien is a New York Times bestselling author and the creator of Hungry Girl, where she shares healthy recipes and realistic tips and tricks.