Basic rules:

  • build your meals around a nice plate of grains
  • consume the different grains in a varied way
  • give preference to wholegrains

What are they?


The grains are located in the spike of various cereal plants, which may be consumed as cereal grains (such as rice, barley, spelt, etc.) or flour (to make bread, polenta, pasta, etc.).

Whole grains which contain the entire grain (i.e., the layer of bran and germ) are rich sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and the endosperm, the source of starch and protein. Shelled grains are simply deprived of chaff (the residue of threshing). From wholegrains, wholemeal flour is produced, used for bread, pasta, etc.

Refined grains instead undergo excision of the outer part, the bran and germ, for which the nutrients these contained are lost, i.e., fiber, phytochemicals, most minerals and vitamins. The endosperm remains, thus retaining starch and proteins. Subsequently, depending on the processing, they can undergo dehydration and the addition of salt, sugar and fat.

Products with added bran should not be confused with whole grains: adding fiber to refined grains, so depleted, not only does not add substances that refining has eliminated, but it can also affects the absorption of minerals still existing.

Grain-based products on the market include:


  • Cereal grains: amaranth, oats, spelt, kamut, buckwheat, wheat, corn, millet, barley, quinoa, wild, brown and semi-wholegrain rice, rye. Some may be only partially refined (semi-wholegrain), missing only part of bran.
  • Bulgur (wheat sprouted, steamed, dried and crumbled), couscous (steamed semolina), popcorn.
  • Wholemeal grain flour.
  • Wholegrain bread and pasta (really wholegrain, not those from refined grains with bran addition).
  • Baked goods: crackers, breadsticks, and toast from wholemeal flour.
  • Whole-grain cereals for breakfast (flaked, puffed, muesli, etc.).


  • Cereal grains: polished rice, pearl barley.
  • Cous-cous.
  • Flour type 0 and 00, of corn, rice, etc.
  • Refined grains bread and pasta.
  • Baked goods: crackers, breadsticks, and toast from refined flour.
  • Vegetable milk: rice, oatmeal, corn, etc.

Grains nutrients

Grains, especially if wholegrain, are rich in complex carbohydrates, fiber, protein, B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, Pyridoxine and folic acid), vitamin E, minerals (iron, zinc, magnesium and selenium).

Complex carbohydrates in grains are made of starch, and the presence of fiber makes them an excellent fuel for our body, especially for the brain.

Grains proteins are of good quality; they are low in lysine (the so-called limiting amino acid for this food categories), which however, is in abundance in other plant foods that in a normal varied diet are consumed daily. The proteins obtained from this group of foods and from that of the protein foods, thus supply complete proteins and in adequate quantities when following a varied diet that satisfies the daily caloric necessities, without having to pay particular attention.

Health benefits

Whole grains are an excellent source of essential nutrients for all bodily functions and for maintaining good health. They reduce the risk of chronic diseases thanks to the many nutrients they contain.

They increase the intake of dietary fiber, prevent diabetes mellitus type 2 and improve the metabolic compensation in those with diabetes mellitus type 1 and 2.

When fortified with other nutrients (such as grains flours for infants, cereal flakes for breakfast, vegetable milks) they help to meet the various requirements (typical examples: iron, calcium, vitamin D).

Useful advice

  • Replace refined grains with wholegrain, preferably organic, to reduce the intake of chemicals used in cultivation.

  • Use cereal grains or bulgur, not just bread and pasta: just boil them in 2 parts water per one part cereal grain, in a covered pot over a low heat, then dress them with various vegetables, legumes or other sauces. Cooking increases the volume by 3 times, which is a useful property to lower the calorie density. Before cooking they should be soaked in water for 6-8 hours to inactivate phytates (which aren't harmful substances, far from it: they exert protective effects on health, but hinder the absorption of minerals). Grains can also be consumed in the form of sprouts (for breakfast, in salads, etc.).

  • For snacks, consume corn flakes and cereal bars or slices of wholemeal bread or toast. Even popcorn, without added fat and salt, is a healthy snack, filling and low in calories.

  • Learn to read product labels: in a baked product, the amount of whole grains will be adequate only if the grains is first in the list of ingredients. If you don't see fiber among the ingredients, then the product is actually wholegrain. Also avoid products containing sugars (sucrose, glucose, fructose, and of course honey), oils (vegetable oils, margarine) and animal fats like butter and lard. Better to give preference to products that say "no salt added" or that have a lower sodium content listed in the nutritional information. Rather, don't let the color of the packaging fool you (brown is usually chosen to make the buyer believe the product is "wholegrain", but this is not always the case).

  • Also get your children used to eating whole grains, but only after 2 years of age and only if they don't have stunted growth. In these cases, refined products should be bought or the the fiber can be manually removed at home. In this way the child will consume more calories and nutrients per given volume.