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Nutritionist explains what heart-healthy grains are and why you need them

Grains are packed with essential carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, but not all grains have the same health benefits, especially when it comes to our hearts. The additional fiber and nutrients in whole grains can lower your risk of heart disease, improve blood oxygen levels and more. In order to learn which grains can improve our heart health, we talked to BestReviews nutrition expert Molly Bremer about her favorite whole grains and how to use them.

In this article: Red Lake Nation 100% All-Natural Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice , Anchor Hocking Glass Mixing Bowls and Aroma Housewares 20-Cup Digital Rice & Grain Multicooker.

What are heart-healthy grains?

"Heart-healthy grains are whole grains," Bremer said. Whole grains contain all three parts of the grain (bran, endosperm and germ), while refined grains contain only the endosperm. Examples of whole grains include cereals such as farro or oats, while refined grains include white rice, white flour and corn grits.

Keeping the bran and the germ helps retain tons of nutritional benefits. "The bran is the outer layer of the grain that has fiber as well as B vitamins, iron, copper, zinc and more," said Bremer. "The germ is the small, nutrient-packed core. It contains healthy fats, vitamin E, phytochemicals and more."

Who should eat heart-healthy grains?

"Everyone should be aiming to include heart-healthy grains in their diet," said Bremer. "Research has shown that including whole grains lowers LDL, the 'bad cholesterol,' and raises HDL, the 'healthy cholesterol.'" Incorporating whole grains into your diet can improve blood pressure, decrease the risk of developing diabetes and lower insulin levels.

Whole grains can also help you feel more full. "Whole grains contain more fiber, which increases satiety, or the feeling of fullness," said Bremer. It also helps keep your GI tract regular.

If you're allergic or sensitive to grains, however, you may want to talk to a doctor or nutritionist about which grains are safe to include in your diet.

Types of heart-healthy grains

There's much more to whole grains than pasta and whole-wheat bread. Instead of trying to learn brand-new recipes, Bremer suggests simply swapping out refined grains for whole-grain products in dishes you already know and love. She also recommends looking in the bulk foods section of your grocery store and buying a 1-cup serving of new whole grain, just enough to try it to see if you like it.

Experiment with these grains to add heart-healthy dishes to your routine:

  • Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, but it has a richer, nuttier flavor that's delicious for stir-fries or grain bowls.
  • Oatmeal, shredded wheat and whole-wheat bran flakes let you add whole grains to your breakfast.
  • Barley is a pleasantly chewy grain that can be eaten in grain bowls, soups or in salads. Pearled barley is a healthy choice, but it's not technically a whole grain since the hull and bran are removed. For total whole-grain benefits, look for hulled barley.
  • Farro is a nutty Italian grain that's popular for salads. Try cooking it (or any whole grain) in broth instead of water for extra flavor.
  • Other types of rice, including wild rice and black rice, can be mixed into salads, stuffed into peppers or used in grain bowls.
  • Popcorn can be a healthy, whole-grain snack. Just make sure it has low levels of sodium and saturated fat when you prepare it.
  • Quinoa is a versatile, protein-rich grain that can be used in everything from breakfast porridge to burger patties.
  • Bulgur, or wheat berries, is a quick-cooking grain that can be used in grain bowls and salads such as Bremer's favorite recipe for whole grains, tabbouleh.
  • Millet is a small seed similar to quinoa with a corn-like flavor.

Try these heart-healthy grains

Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Red Bulgur

Try this fiber-rich Middle Eastern staple grain in salads, grain bowls and more. This 24-ounce package is resealable and includes cooking instructions, as well as a recipe for tabbouleh.

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Lundberg Organic Brown Long Grain Rice

Use this long-grain rice to make a heart-healthy pilaf or stir it into soups. This brown rice is non-GMO, gluten-free and USDA-certified organic. It's a good source of protein, fiber and iron.

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Red Lake Nation 100% All-Natural Minnesota Cultivated Wild Rice

Wild rice has been cultivated in the Great Lake region for centuries. It's actually an aquatic grass, and its nutty-tasting grains are a good source of protein and fiber. This wild rice is cultivated and harvested by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians of the Red Lake Nation.

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Best products for preparing heart-healthy grains

Anchor Hocking Glass Mixing Bowls

Using mixing bowls of different sizes is handy for prepping meal-size salads or pilafs using whole grains. This set includes 10 dishwasher-safe glass bowls which won't stain or absorb odors from food.

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Kalinco Wooden Acacia Salad Servers

Serve green salads, tabbouleh and more with these handmade acacia salad servers. They have a wide spoon and fork heads and sturdy, rounded handles for easy use. Each utensil is 10.24 inches long.

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Mora Ceramic Bowls, Set of 4

These stylish yet durable bowls will make veggie-packed grain bowls look even more appetizing. They're microwave-, oven- and dishwasher-safe and come in two neutral shades.

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Fiesta Pasta Bowl

Famous for adding color to the kitchen, these ceramic bowls are dishwasher- and microwave-safe. These 19-ounce bowls are available in five colors.

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All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Saucepan, 3-Quart

Featuring exceptional build quality and durability, this stainless steel saucepan is a top performer in the kitchen. It features an aluminum core wrapped in 18/10 stainless steel for even, reliable and fast heating.

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Instant Pot Pro 6-Qt Pressure Cooker

Speed up the process of cooking whole grains with long cook times using an Instant Pot. This model even allows you to make yogurt, as well as many other functions. Its 6-quart capacity is great for families.

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Aroma Housewares 20-Cup Digital Rice & Grain Multicooker

You can cook grains, steam vegetables or create one-pot meals with this versatile Aroma rice cooker. It features a 15-hour timer and 13 pre-programmed, one-touch controls for everything from slow-cooking to baking cake.

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Laura Duerr writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.

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