Whole Grains and Weight Loss – Which Grains Work Best?

Just about all of us want to be thinner, and whole grains and weight loss go hand in hand, right? It depends. Some whole grains are better than others.

If you want to shed pounds, some whole grains are good for you. And some, well, you’ll probably need to limit them or you’ll take in way too many calories.

 

bowl of oatmealWhole grains and weight loss: What’s good

The good-for-weight-loss whole grains are those, like brown rice, whole oats, unhulled barley, and buckwheat groats, that have not gone through the grinding, or processing, of their kernels into flour.

These whole grains contain only about 500 calories per pound, which means you can eat them until you’re comfortably full without being concerned that you’re going overboard on calories.

Whole grains and weight loss: What’s not

The not-good-for-weight-loss grains are those, like whole-grain breads, whole-grain bagels, and whole-grain crackers and chips, in which the kernels have been ground into flour.

When this processing happens, the product becomes very calorie dense. Whole-grain breads have a calorie density of around 1,200 to 1,500 calories per pound. Whole-grain, fat-free chips are 1,600 to 1750 calories per pound. That’s right, ounce for ounce, you’re getting about three times as many calories than if you were eating unground, unprocessed whole grains.

And, boy oh boy, do those ounces disappear quickly. Think about it. We can easily put away five slices of whole-wheat bread in one sitting. Five bowls of oatmeal? No chance.

“Dry” versus “wet”

Another way to think about it is “dry” versus “wet.” Highly processed, ground whole grains are all dry grains, which makes them more compact (and less filling). By contrast, unground grains like whole oats and brown rice are cooked in water (therefore wet), which adds bulk and a lot more stomach-filling satisfaction, but not more calories.

One exception to the “flour rule,” points out Pritikin dietitian Dr. Jay Kenney, is whole-wheat pasta. “That’s because whole-wheat pastas are not consumed dry, and the processing tends to slow their digestion compared to breads, crackers, pretzels, and dry cereals. So whole-wheat pastas leave you feeling satiated on fewer calories.”

Keeping your stomach full and happy is a very good thing because it keeps hunger from taking over your brain and taking you places you don’t want to go.

Bottom Line

For losing weight, first focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. Make sure you’re eating up to nine servings and more a day. Yes, lots of them! Calorie for calorie, veggies and fruits have more nutrients and fewer calories than anything else.

As you learned at Pritikin, round out your daily eating plan with other really healthy foods, including fiber-rich legumes (beans), seafood, starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams and corn, nonfat dairy foods, and yes, the right whole grains.

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Eugenia Killoran

Senior Editor & Writer

Eugenia Killoran has been the food and fitness journalist for the Pritikin Program since 1992. She has published more than 3,000 articles, lectures, and book chapters on a wide variety of healthy living and weight-loss topics.

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