Whole grains have been linked to various health benefits, including weight loss. Many dietitians recommend eating whole grains as part of a healthy, balanced diet for weight management. But is there one whole grain that rises above the rest for supporting weight loss? Dietitians weigh in on the best whole grain for losing weight.
Why Whole Grains Are Good for Weight Loss
Whole grains contain all three nutrient-rich parts of the original grain kernel – the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refining grains strips away the bran and germ, leaving just the endosperm and resulting in refined grains like white rice and white flour.
Whole grains are high in fiber, which helps promote feelings of fullness and satiety. “The high fiber content of whole grains can help regulate appetite and may reduce calorie intake throughout the day,” explains Melissa Morris, RD, LD a bariatric dietitian. Fiber also feeds the good bacteria in your gut, which supports weight loss.
Whole grains take longer to digest, preventing spikes in blood sugar. “The slower digestion helps keep insulin levels low, which encourages the body to burn fat as fuel,” says Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN. Insulin triggers the body to store calories as fat rather than burning them for energy.
Many whole grains are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support a healthy metabolism. “Nutrients like zinc, iron, and B vitamins can optimize your metabolism to help your body burn fat more efficiently,” adds morris.
Oats: The #1 Whole Grain for Weight Loss
Among all of the whole grains, the majority of dietitians name oats as the absolute best choice for losing weight. Here’s why oats top the list of whole grains for weight control:
Oats contain soluble fiber called beta-glucan, which forms a gel-like substance when mixed with water. “This helps slow digestion and keeps you feeling fuller for longer,” explains Morris. The satiating effects of oats can prevent overeating throughout the day.
Research shows that eating oats increases levels of appetite-reducing hormones like GLP-1. And several studies demonstrate that consuming oats or oatmeal for breakfast leads to decreased calorie intake at subsequent meals compared to other grain or carb-based morning meals.
“Starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal helps set you up for success in making wise meal choices and resisting tempting snacks,” remarks Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, author of “The Sports Nutrition Playbook”.
Lower Calorie Density
“Oats offer a large volume of food with fewer calories, allowing you to eat more while cutting calories,” says Toby amidor. One cup of oats contains about 300 calories, while one cup of cooked brown rice has over 200 calories.
You can fill up on a bigger portion size of oats compared to other whole grains to feel satisfied on fewer calories.
Since oats are high in soluble fiber, they digest slowly and keep blood sugar levels stable. “This helps control hunger-regulating hormones like ghrelin to reduce appetite,” explains Goodson.
Oats have a low glycemic index, meaning they minimally impact blood sugar. This prevents energy crashes, sugar cravings, and hunger pangs. “The slow carb release from oats provides steady, long-lasting energy to power you through workouts and your day,” says morris.
Oats contain more protein than most other whole grains, with about 17 grams of protein per cup of cooked oatmeal. “The protein in oats helps you maintain muscle mass when losing weight,” says Goodson.
Protein also regulates appetite hormones, curbs hunger, and decreases levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin more effectively than carbs or fat.
Tips for Eating Oats and Losing Weight
To reap the most weight loss benefits from oats, dietitians recommend:
- Choosing steel-cut, rolled or old-fashioned oats over instant oats since they are less processed.
- Skipping the added sugar and instead sweetening oats with cinnamon, vanilla extract, fresh fruit, or a spoonful of nut butter.
- Pairing oats with protein like nuts, seeds, or milk to help keep you full.
- Opting for unsweetened plant milk over dairy milk to reduce calories.
- Topping oatmeal with anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric or ginger.
- Enjoying oats baked into muffins, granola bars or pancakes for a different twist.
- Cooking extra steel cut oats and storing in the fridge for quick grab-and-go breakfasts.
“Focus on adding nutrition to your oats and avoiding empty calories from sweeteners to maximize their benefits for weight loss,” advises Amidor.
Other Whole Grains to Incorporate for Weight Loss
While oats take the top spot, other whole grains also offer weight loss perks. Here are some other smart picks dietitians recommend working into your diet:
Quinoa contains fiber, protein, and complex carbs. “It’s a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids to help you maintain lean muscle mass,” says Goodson. These nutrients make quinoa very filling.
Quinoa also has a low glycemic index. “This means it won’t lead to spikes and crashes in blood sugar that can trigger cravings,” remarks Morris.
Aim for cooked quinoa instead of the quinoa flakes, which have a higher glycemic index. Use quinoa in place of rice in dishes like stir-fries, soups, and casseroles.
Bulgur wheat is made from whole wheat kernels that have been boiled, dried, and cracked. “It contains more fiber gram-for-gram than quinoa, lending to its beneficial effects on blood sugar control,” explains Goodson.
Research shows bulgur can increase feelings of fullness and decrease hunger hormones. Use bulgur in place of rice, in pilafs, or as a base for salads.
Despite its name, buckwheat is gluten-free and a seed relative of rhubarb. “It’s very filling thanks to its high fiber content,” remarks Amidor.
Studies demonstrate buckwheat can improve blood sugar response and satiety after meals. Try buckwheat groats as a stand-in for oats at breakfast or use buckwheat flour in baking.
Freekeh is a cereal grain that’s harvested when young and then roasted. This boosts its flavor and nutrition. “Freekeh features prebiotics to nourish gut bacteria tied to improved metabolic health,” explains Goodson.
It also provides protein and fiber for satiety. Add freekeh to soups, salads, or stuffings for a texture similar to rice or quinoa.
Wheat berries include the entire wheat kernel. They are very high in dietary fiber to support satiety and weight loss.
Wheat berries also contain important nutrients like magnesium, iron, zinc, and B vitamins. Cook and use wheat berries instead of rice or pasta in dishes.
Technically a aquatic grass, wild rice is rich in appetite-curbing protein and fiber. Studies show wild rice elicits low glycemic and insulin responses, resulting in less fat storage.
“This gives wild rice an advantage over white rice varieties for weight management,” says Morris. Mix wild rice into soups, stuffings, or pilafs.
Hulled barley is especially high in soluble fiber, with about five times the amount of beta-glucan as oats. “Barley slows digestion and suppresses appetite for hours after eating,” explains Goodson.
Barley contains many important nutrients like selenium, copper, and manganese as well. Use barley in soups or stir-fries in place of rice.
The Bottom Line
“When it comes to whole grains for weight loss, oats are the gold standard,” concludes Amidor. “With their winning combination of protein, fiber, and minerals, oats keep you feeling satisfied on fewer calories.”
But incorporating a variety of whole grains can help provide nutritional diversity as well as keep your diet and taste buds interesting. The dietitians agree that focusing on whole intact grains over refined and processed options provides the best chance for weight loss success.