How to Eat More Whole Grains Without Breaking the Bank

benefits of whole grains


Ancient grains, like freekeh and farro, continue to gain favor with chefs, tastemakers, and trendsetters. While fashionable ingredients like these may carry a higher price tag, budget conscious shoppers need not fear missing out on the whole grain trend.

Humble whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, oats, and corn can be just as tasty and healthy. In fact, much of the research on the health benefits of whole grains has been conducted on such commonly available grains.

Cutting Costs With Healthy Eating

Healthier diets need not be accompanied by higher food costs. According to the non-profit Oldways Whole Grain council, in a study of 136 children and their parents, researchers found that eating more whole plant foods (including whole grains), was associated with a $0.63 lower daily food cost.

Similarly, another study found that choosing a plant-based diet that includes olive oil, rather than an economical version of the MyPlate diet, which includes lean animal protein could save $746.46 per person per year and provide vastly more servings of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

Whole vs. Refined Grains

While budgetary restrictions affect all diets, it is important to prioritize nutrient-rich foods whenever possible. Many brands are pricing whole grain foods at or near the same cost as the refined versions, meaning you can multiply your intake of nutrients at little or no extra cost.

Because they contain all of their nutritious bran, germ, and endosperm, even the humblest of whole grains may offer protection against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and more. (Refined grains strip away most of the bran and the germ and thus their nutritional offerings.)

In a recent stroll through the local supermarket, products such as Barilla pasta, Minute Instant Rice, Success boil-in-a-bag Rice, Uncle Ben’s Ready Rice, and La Tortilla Factory Organic Tortillas, were all priced equally between the refined grain and whole grain counterparts.

Simple Whole Grain Options

If you’ve walked past any of these grains in favor of trendier, flashier ingredients, it’s time to do a double take. The building blocks of a healthy meal may already be in your pantry.

Brown Rice

Brown rice is a great gateway whole grain. After all, nearly every culture in the world features rice-based dishes.

Long grain brown rices, like brown basmati or brown jasmine, are well suited as the foundation for curries and stir fries, while short grain brown rice is better for sushi and risotto. Brown rice can even be cooked in stock until soft and starchy, then blended and used in place of heavy cream.

Brown rice is not the only whole grain rice out there, though. Red rice, black rice, and wild rice (technically not related to rice) are all great options.

Next steps: Once you’ve mastered brown rice, try experimenting with other whole grains like millet, quinoa, sorghum, or farro. Each of these grains fluffs into individual kernels, making them equally well suited for grain salads or pilaf-style dishes.

Brown rice
Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Whole Wheat

Many bakers are pleasantly surprised to learn that whole wheat flour can be substituted for up to 50 percent of the all-purpose flour in most recipes without making adjustments.

To convert a recipe to 100 percent whole wheat, simply add an extra two teaspoons of liquid per cup of whole wheat flour, then let the dough rest for 20 minutes after mixing.

White whole wheat flour has a milder flavor and lighter color, and whole wheat pastry flour and sprouted whole wheat flour are also popular picks for baking. Wheat berries (including ancient wheats like farro and spelt) have a pleasant chew even when chilled, making them ideal for both warm and cold grain salads, as well as pilaf-style dishes.

Next steps: Once you’re familiar with whole wheat, try an ancient wheat, such as einkorn, spelt, farro, or freekeh.


Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Oats are a breakfast staple for a reason: their creamy, stick-to-your ribs consistency is unmatched by most other grains and the subtle undertones of butterscotch pair beautifully with cinnamon, fruits, nuts, and milk.

For an easier-to-cook version of risotto, try substituting steel cut oats for the rice. Or, spice up your porridge routine with a savory oatmeal bowl, topped with sriracha, bacon bits, or a fried egg.

Next steps: If you’re ready to branch out from oatmeal at breakfast, try reheating leftover millet, quinoa, or buckwheat on the stovetop with milk and honey.

Whole Grain Cornmeal

Fresh corn is usually classified as a starchy vegetable, but dried whole corn, in the form of corn flour, cornmeal, or corn grits, is a delicious whole grain option. Even popcorn is considered a whole grain. Grits and polenta dishes made from whole grain corn have a more robust, corny flavor than the starchy blank slate of refined (degerminated) corn.

Next steps: If porridge-y, polenta-style grains are your jam, then teff and amaranth are the ancient grains for you to try next.

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  1. How to eat more whole grains without breaking the bank. Oldways Whole Grain Council. September 20, 2017

Additional Reading
  • Oldways is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public health via traditional eating choices. Oldways offers educational programs and recipes based on cultural heritage, the goodness of whole grains, and the practices of traditional cheese-making.