What you wanted to know about Whole Grains

With the help of our new readers, we have some great questions for you.  We have also added some more information about whole grains that you may have been wondering about.  If there is still something that you want to know about, please let us know!  We are more than happy to answer your questions.

So, here’s what you wanted to know:

What ARE whole grains? 

To put it simply, whole grains are the fruits of grasses.  They contain all the carbohydrates and protein needed for the plant to grow.  Humans, however, have harvested these grains for our own nutritional and health needs.  A whole grain contains all essential nutrients for the plant to grow.  In most cases, whole grains are made up of three different parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm, with each part containing different nutrients.  For example, the endosperm is primarily carbohydrates and the bran contains fats.  If you want the biggest nutritional punch, then your best option is whole grains.

What is the difference between sprouted grains and non-sprouted grains?

The main difference between sprouted and non-sprouted grains is that sprouted grains are allowed to germinate (i.e. start to grow a new plant). Grain kernels can do this because they are really the seeds of a plant. These sprouted grains are then dried and then flour can be milled from the whole grains. Products made with sprouted grains may have more nutrients in them (compared to non-whole grain products), but this may only be because they use the whole grain to make their products. No scientific research exists to suggest they are superior in any way.   

What’s the difference between whole grain and multigrain?

Whole grain products are different than multi-grain products because they will contain the whole grain: bran, endosperm, and germ. Multi-grain products don’t necessarily contain all parts of the grain, but rather the product contains several types of grains.  If you are interested in purchasing multi-grain products, look for items that indicate that they are also whole-grain. Multi-grain products are not always healthier, despite the label!

What’s the best kind of bread to buy? 

The answer to this question depends on a few different things.  For example, do you eat bread only for enjoyment?  Do you want some nutritional benefit from your bread?  Does texture affect your enjoyment of the bread?  Let me answer these all separately.  If you eat bread only for enjoyment, then the best would be a lovely crusty country-style bread with a soft interior.  It could be a sourdough or it could be a baguette.  These are excellent to enjoy with some cheese, jam, or simply by themselves.  Now, if you would like some nutritional benefit from your bread, then the grainier breads are definitely the way to go.  When looking at these breads, label reading is key.  If you want maximum nutrition, look at the ingredient list: this will tell you if the grains are whole, or if they have been previously milled to get a flour that has been baked into the bread.  One grain to watch out for will be flax.  While whole flax is definitely an excellent source of fibre, if it is ground before being incorporated into the bread, it is a potential source of omega 3s.  If texture affects your enjoyment, then I suggest exercising some caution while you are perusing the bread aisle.  Here, again, learning how to read labels will be a great help.  Having said all this, there is a middle ground.  You can have a great crusty sourdough that has seeds and grains in it.  It really depends what you look for in your bread.

Can you make risotto with barley?

Yes! Typically, a traditional Italian risotto is made with Arborio rice – which is a starchy, white, short grain rice. However, you can make a healthier risotto using barley!

Try this Barley Risotto with Bacon by Chef Michael Smith, this Mushroom Barley Risotto by Epicurious, or this Slow Cooker Squash and Barley Risotto by Chatelaine.

What else can you use puffed wheat for?

Let’s be honest – who doesn’t love a good puffed wheat cake?  It’s like the chocolate-y version of rice krispies!  However, the question still remains – what else can you do with it?  After a search through some of my reference cookbooks yielded little result, I did a quick search on Google and found that puffed wheat is a common, nutritious snack in India.  It can be gently roasted and mixed with various spices and enjoyed when hunger strikes.

What’s the difference between regular rice and par-boil rice?

Parboiled rice (white or brown) differs from regular rice in that it has been partially cooked by being steamed, then dried. This extra processing allows for quicker cooking time later on and increases the nutrient content of the rice

Parboiled rice is more nutritious than regular white rice because its outer layer (hull) has been left on during the steaming process. This allows nutrients from the hull to make their way into the rice kernel. When choosing a rice our favourites in order of most nutritious are: par-boiled brown rice, brown rice, par-boiled white rice, white rice.

What IS gluten?

There is a lot of buzz about gluten these days – not all of it good, but I believe that there are some who don’t know exactly what gluten is.  Without getting too technical, gluten is the protein present in wheat that provides baked goods with stretch, texture, and flavour.  In a baguette, gluten is responsible for the crust and the way it tears when you bite into it.  In a cookie, gluten, literally, causes the cookie to crumble the way it does.

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Grains: Nutrition Comparison

Grains Nutrition Comparison

Different grains and grain products have different nutritional values. Today we’re going to compare some common grains and grain products you might find in your pantry to help decode the differences.

The comparison table below contains several grains and grain products that are common to Canadian kitchens with some relative nutritional information to allow for comparison. This chart shows that some of these products can vary greatly depending on which nutritional aspect you’re looking at.


Whole wheat flour has more protein, fat, and fibre than white flour. This is because during the milling process much of the wheat kernel is removed creating a product that is more shelf stable and more beneficial for processing. However, this also causes white flour to have less nutrition.

Nutrients and Fibre

Grain products contain more nutrients if they’re whole grains – which means they contain the kernel and the germ, giving the product more fibre and fat soluble vitamins. When choosing grains at the store, select ones that are in their whole, or nearly whole state (i.e. barley or brown rice).

Whole Grain Nutrition

All data is from the Canadian Nutrient Data File; (*) May be contamination, be sure to check the label; (-)Information not available

A note on gluten: Wheat, rye, and barley naturally contain gluten. If you have celiac disease it is important to avoid these grains and products that contain them. Oats may have come in contact with gluten during their milling process so you may need to check labels to find a gluten free variety.

In summary, include a variety of grain and grain products in your diet and try to include more whole grains. Simple switches are a great way to start: try a whole wheat pizza crust or substitute brown rice or barley for white rice. Finally, experiment with new-to-you grains like barley or wild rice.

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What do you want to know about whole grains?

We hope that you have enjoyed our first few posts and learning a little more about whole grains. In addition to several new recipes, you can find information about whole grain storage, the types of wheat products you might find in the grocery store, what to do with barley, and what the difference is between instant and rolled oats in our archive. We hope that we have given you some inspiration and some new ideas to try out in the kitchen.

If there’s something you still want to learn about, or if you have any questions about what we have already shared, please let us know!  We are excited to share more with you, so please ask us anything that comes to mind.  We would love to give you even more information and recipes.

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Almond Flax Granola

Almond Flax Granola

This easy to make Almond Flax Granola combines whole grain oats with flax to bring you a delicious granola that is family-friendly and full of fibre.

Almond Flax Granola

Print Recipe
Almond Flax Granola
A delicious, family-friendly granola packed with omega-3 fatty acids and fibre!
Course Baking
Course Baking
  1. First, preheat the oven to 300F and line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat.
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats, almonds, and flax. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, combine maple syrup, canola oil, vanilla extract, and salt.
  4. Add maple syrup mixture to dry ingredients and mix until coated.
  5. Spread mixture in a thin layer on the baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and stir every 10 minutes.
Recipe Notes

Store your granola in an air-tight container; a mason jar works well. It will keep for a few weeks at room temperature (if it lasts that long!).

PHEc Tip: Keep your milled flax seed in the freezer to lengthen it's shelf life.

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Whole Grains: Oats

Whole Grains Oats

Oats are a wonderful grain. They’re a Canadian crop, extremely versatile, and very nutritious. There are quite a few types of oats and oat products found in the grocery store, all with their own best uses. Here we will explain the differences between them and what you can use each type for.


It’s important to remember the differences in oats have to do with how they are processed before they end up in their packaging in the store. Just like other grains, a whole oat has an endosperm, germ, bran, and outer hull. However, unlike other grains, processing doesn’t remove most these items but rather modifies the oat as a whole while removing the inedible hull.

Large Flake Oats

Large flake oats are made by taking the whole oat and rolling it flat. They take a little longer to cook than an ‘instant’ oat variety, but they contain more insoluble fibre (the rough stuff) and more beta-glucans which are an insoluble fibre that helps your GI tract maintain it’s beautiful flora! They are very versatile, can be used in many different recipes, and retain their shape during the cooking process.

Instant Oats

Instant oats have been rolled flat like the large flake oats, but then they’ve been beaten up by way of being chopped up. This ‘chopping’ causes them to soak up by water much quicker during cooking than their intact large flake friends which allows them to cook much quicker. They have a more flaky consistency than the large flake oats.

Instant oats can be used almost anywhere a large flake can be used but they aren’t providing as much of a fibrous punch because the oats are in smaller pieces.

Steel Cut Oats

Steel cut oats (or Irish oats) are made by taking the whole oat and chopping it up. This is different from the chopped up instant oats because the instant ones were rolled flat first, these ones are not. Steel cut oats take quite a bit longer to cook because they are still very enclosed in their outer fibrous layer, but they also pack a nice fibre punch.



I’ve mentioned before that oats contain a lot of fibre – two types to be precise! They contain the rough stuff, or soluble fibre as well as beta-glucans (just like barley), which is an insoluble fibre. There is also a health claim about oat fibre content in Canada where: “Oat fibre helps reduce/lower cholesterol.”

Oats do not contain gluten however the harvesting and processing of oats may lead to cross contamination. If you have celiac disease be sure to read labels carefully to find a brand of oats that is gluten free.


Large flake oats can be used in many dishes including bulking up burgers or meatloaf or in desserts like apple crisp. They add extra nutrition and texture compared to their ‘instant’ counterparts. We prefer large flake oats over instant oats when making oatmeal because they have a bit more of a bite to them than instant oats. However, instant oats are great for a bowl of oatmeal when you only have a few minutes.

Steel Cut oats can be made a head of time and served in the morning topped with your favourite nuts, seeds, and fruit. You can also freeze them into pucks in a large muffin tin for perfect individual portions.

Other oat products include: Oat bran (can replace wheat bran in a pinch) and oat flour.

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Cranberry Almond Granola Bars

This easy granola bar recipe lends itself well to many flavour combinations and variations.  Feel free to add any variety of nuts, seeds, and chocolate chips, along with any spices, that you like.

For example, instead of almonds and cranberries, try:

Pecan-Cranberry – add 1/3 cup chopped pecans and 1/3 cup dried cranberries to the dry ingredients, along with 1/2 tsp cinnamon and 1/4 tsp nutmeg.

Chocolate-Cranberry  add 1/3 cup dried cranberries to the dry ingredients; once they are coated with the sugar mixture, allow to cool slightly and add 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips.

Chocolate-Almond – add 1/3 cup dried cranberries to the dry ingredients; once they are coated with the sugar mixture, allow to cool slightly and add 1/3 cup miniature chocolate chips.

NOTE: We tested the following recipe with both creamed honey and liquid honey.  The bars from the liquid honey did not stick together as nicely as the bars with creamed honey.



Print Recipe
Cranberry Almond Granola Bars
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes
9x13 pan
Cook Time 15 minutes
Passive Time 20 minutes
9x13 pan
  1. Line with parchment, or grease a 9x13 pan.
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats, rice crispies, shredded coconut, sliced almonds, and dried cranberries.
  3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the honey, brown sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir to combine and let it come to a boil. Once the whole pot is boiling, cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Pour butter mixture over dry ingredients. Mix until dry ingredients are well coated.
  5. Pour mixture into prepared pan and press firmly. Place pan in refrigerator for 20 minutes. Cut into desired sizes.
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