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How Many Calories in Whole Grains?


In the chart below, we compare the calories in whole grains, white rice, and several different kinds of pasta. All of the grains and pastas are cooked the same way: in plain water.

Do you want your grains to be as low in calories as possible? Then two things are important:

  1. They must be cooked in water or another no-calorie liquid until they are tender: no added fats or concentrated sweeteners. So, forget about cooking your oatmeal in fruit juice or soy milk. :-) It's fine to cook your grains with herbs, spices, garlic, onions, vegetables, beans, or whole fruit.
  2. Ideally, the grains should be intact, in their original shape. This means they still contain the bran and germ, and they have not been ground into flour.

The grains on the plate below are examples of intact whole grains. They look like tiny spheres or logs. They are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

List of grains and their calorie counts

In the chart below, the calorie density numbers are for grains or pasta cooked in water.

A few are frozen or canned, like the corn and hominy.

Sprouted grains (not listed here) would have a lower calorie density because they contain less starch and more water.

There are several whole grains for which we could not find calorie per ounce data (cooked): wheat berries, rye berries, oat groats, and hulled barly. We would expect these grains to have a calorie density similar to that of brown rice. Pearled barley is a partially refined grain. It would have a higher calorie density than hulled barley.

Grain Calories per Ounce Grain Calories per Ounce
oat bran 11 Japanese somen noodles 37
hominey, yellow or white 20 millet 34
rolled oats, regular or instant 20 quinoa 34
corn, yellow or white 23 barley, pearled 35
bulgur wheat 24 pasta, whole wheat 35
buckwheat groats 26 pasta, corn 36
Japanese soba (buckwheat) noodles 28 spelt 36
amaranth 29 Japanese somen noodles 37
teff 29 pasta, spinach 37
wild rice 29 white rice: short, medium, or long grain 37
brown rice, long grain 31 pasta, enriched egg noodles 39
Asian rice noodles 31 kamut 41
brown rice, medium grain 32 pasta, enriched semolina 45
couscous (a tiny pasta) 32

Many people think pasta is fattening, but what does the above chart slow us? That whole grain pasta has a very similar calorie density to intact whole grains.

Whole Grain Pasta Is Not Fattening!

If you look at the label on a box of Westbrae Whole Wheat Lasagna noodles, you will see that 2 oz of noodles contain 210 calories. That means that the dry noodles have a calorie density of 105 calories per oz.

You might be thinking that 105 calories per oz is a high calorie density. It is, but remember, we don't eat dry noodles. When you read the label on a packaged food, you often can't tell the true calorie density of the food until you cook it.

As we cook noodles, they absorb a lot of water. One oz of dry noodles will weigh more than 2 1/2 oz when it is cooked. Cooked whole wheat pasta contains about 35 calories per oz, about the same as beans. Enjoy your whole grain pasta without guilt.

However, there is a significant calorie difference between whole grain pasta and refined pasta.

Enriched Semolina

Semolina pasta is not great for weight loss. First of all, it contains 45 calories per ounce. Secondly, food companies remove most of the fiber and important nutrients from the whole wheat when they make the stuff.

With little fiber, white pasta is not filling, so we get hungry soon after we eat it. With nutrients missing, our body tells our brain it needs more fuel; we eat more, searching for the missing nutrients.

Why is it called "enriched" pasta? After they remove the bran and germ, food companies add back a few of the cheapest vitamins and call it enriched. What a joke. :-(

Once in a while when you are stuck in a restaurant with no decent whole plant foods on the menu, semolina pasta might be OK. Top it with steamed vegetables and some marinara sauce.

But first check with the wait person to make sure the pasta does not contain eggs. Many restaurants, especially high end places, use only egg pasta. And check if the marinara sauce contains beef stock, parmesan, or other animal products. It's a minefield out there!

Whole Grain Baked Goods

As you can see from the chart above, whole grain pasta has a slightly higher calorie density than intact whole grains. This is because it absorbs water during cooking, just like grains do. Baked goods are a different story.

When we bake flour into bread or bagels, the water evaporates in the oven, and the calorie density goes way up. You will see that bread, burger buns, and tortillas have a high calorie density: about 65 - 75 calories per oz. All breads and flatbreads are in this range, even the healthy ones. Some contain extra calories from oil, margarine, and sugar.

For a food to have a low calorie density, it needs to be:

  • high in fiber
  • low in fat
  • high in water content

If you are hoping you can just drink a big glass of water with your bread, we're sorry. It just doesn't work that way. :-)

Some people, especially men, can eat several pieces of whole grain bread a day and still lose weight. Others, usually women, find they can only eat bread once in a while. If you gain weight the minute you look at a piece of bread, you are not alone. Learn to enjoy your potatoes, sweet potatoes, whole grain pasta, and intact whole grain recipes. Save the bread and other flour products for special occasions.

Nutrient content of grains

Whole grains are high in vitamin E and most of the B vitamins. They have been a staple food for our species since our ancient ancestors first started growing plants. However, vegetables, fruit, beans, nuts, and seeds contain even more nutrients per calorie than do grains. For optimal nutrition, some health-conscious vegans limit the quantity of grains in their diets.

It's good to include some whole grains in your diet for their vitamin B content. If you choose to limit or omit grains, be sure to get some starches from beans and root vegetables, so your hunger is satisfied.

Most grains, except for millet, are slightly acid-forming in the body. This is not a problem unless you eat other high-acid foods (like animal products) and very few vegetables.