- Flickr/InterContinental Hong Kong
Whole grains are an essential part of any diet, providing lots of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber as well as other essential nutrients.
But which grain is ultimately the best for you?
To find out, we picked out the most common groups of whole grains and measured them in equal servings (cooked half-cup portions for rice and two slices for bread), and ranked them based on their nutrient density, or the amount of good stuff you get for each calorie you eat.
No. 14. Wild Rice
Wild rice is known for its chewy exterior. Although it’s a relatively low-calorie grain option, it doesn’t have anything particularly outstanding in the nutrients category.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 83
No. 13. Cornmeal, used in cornbread
- Flickr/Steve Johnson
The nutritional content of cornbread, which uses cornmeal, will of course depend on the recipe you make and the other ingredients that go into making the bread. Cornbread makes the bottom of the list based on its relatively low fiber content, though it is higher in vitamin A and calcium than other grains.
Calories per piece (about 60g): 198
No. 12. Rice
- Flickr/Stacy Spensley
Brown rice, while better than more processed versions of rice, is on the lower end of iron content compared to the other grains on this list. But if you have the choice between white and brown rice, go for the brown: It’s higher in vitamin B6 and fiber.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 124
No. 11. Barley
Although barley is more commonly associated with brewing beer, it can also be eaten on its own once cooked. With a solid amount of fiber and iron, it’s a good option to add to your next grain-based salad.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 96
No. 10. Rye Bread
Rye bread makes for a fibrous and protein-filled sandwich option and provides you with 14% of your daily value of fiber and 10% of your daily value of protein.
Calories per two slices: 166
No. 9. Whole Wheat Spaghetti
- Flickr/InterContinental Hong Kong
Like rice, it’s best to go with the whole-wheat version of pasta when possible. It’s packed with fiber, iron, and magnesium, an important mineral for things like muscle and nerve function, blood-glucose control, and blood-pressure regulation.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 112
No. 8. Quinoa
- Flickr / Jennifer
Quinoa, the beloved superfood that got its own year dedicated to it in 2013, is actually technically a pseudo-grain. That’s because it’s not technically a grass, which covers grains like wheat and rice. Quinoa is known for its protein content (8% of your daily recommended value), and it’s a good replacement to any rice-based dish.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 111
No. 7. Wheat Bread
- Flickr/Bart Everson
Wheat bread, which ranks the highest of all the breads on this list, gets its advantage from its high protein content and low calorie count. Two slices of wheat bread also contain 10% of your recommended daily vitamin B6, an important vitamin that’s involved in a number of bodily processes, including metabolizing protein.
Calories per two slices: 140
No. 6. Buckwheat
Buckwheat, another pseudo-grain (not a part of the grass family), packs even more protein than quinoa and almost one-quarter of your daily magnesium intake. A serving also accounts for 17% of your daily fiber intake.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 146
TIE No. 4. Millet
Millet, a little round grain, can be cooked into a delicious salad base or ground into flatbreads. It’s filled with fiber, vitamin B6, and is relatively low calorie.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 104
TIE No. 4. Sorghum
Going neck-and-neck with millet, sorghum distinguishes itself in its super high fiber content (34% of your daily value in a serving). It can be turned into a flour, syrup, or used simply as the base for a salad.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 126
No. 3. Cooked Corn
- Flickr/Rosana Prada
In its full form, cooked corn has a high amount of potassium, which is important for keeping our organs running smoothly. It’s high in vitamin B6 and has the highest amount of protein of the grains on this list. Corn is considered both a vegetable and a grain, and while it ranks high on this list, it’s not necessarily the top choice for vegetable based on its high caloric and carbohydrate content (though it only contains 0.5 grams of sugar).
Calories per half cup, cooked: 303
No. 2. Amaranth
- Flickr/John Lambert Pearson
Amaranth, a relatively little-known pseudo-grain, is a good source of nutrients across the board. It’s eaten typically in its puffed form (pictured), but it can also be cooked and used in salads.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 125
No. 1. Rolled oats (oatmeal)
- Flickr/Rachel Hathaway
All the more reason to eat your oatmeal: Rolled oats, cooked into oatmeal, pack the most nutrients per calorie of any of the grains on this list. A half-cup of oatmeal provides 38% of your daily iron intake, 17% of your daily vitamin B6 intake, and lots of fiber, protein, and calcium.
Calories per half cup, cooked: 80