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What Are Whole Grain Oats?

Megan Shoop
Megan Shoop

Whole grain oats are oats that are intact, meaning they have not been ground down or refined to remove two-thirds of each seed. Steel cut, rolled oats and grains that are still in 'seed' form are all whole grain oats, meaning the bran, endosperm and germ of each oat is still intact. Refined oats generally only feature the endosperm, which does not typically feature as many nutritional benefits as the other two parts. Barley, rye and oatmeal all qualify as whole grain oats and may be used in a wide array of recipes and cooking techniques.

The endosperms in whole grain oats are the main source of carbohydrates in each seed. Eaten together with the germ and bran, the endosperm provides fast energy that is easily digested. The bran is the nutty, fibrous outer layer of each oat seed. It is rich in protein, fiber, B complex vitamins and a myriad of nutrients. The germ, sometimes called wheat germ when sold on its own, contains vitamin E, which is important for skin, hair and immune system health. Both the germ and the bran contain phytonutrients, which can help keep many systems in the body healthy.

Whole grain oats.
Whole grain oats.

The germ is the smallest part of an oat seed, while the endosperm is the largest portion. When an oat begins to grow, it sprouts in the area of the germ and feeds on the endosperm until it is strong enough to break through the bran. The nutrients in whole grain oats are self-contained and well-balanced with each seed generally containing the perfect nutrition for an oat plant to sprout and thrive. Humans and animals consuming whole grain oats reap the benefits of that perfect nutrition. Those that choose whole grain over refined varieties often have better digestion, improved immune health, and more energy.

Whole oats.
Whole oats.

Barley, rye and oatmeal are all part of the oat family and can typically be incorporated into the same kinds of recipes. Rye has a sharper, more distinct flavor than the other two oats, while barley is very nutty. Oatmeal generally has a subtle, floury flavor that many find versatile when cooking and baking. All of these whole grain oats generally combine well with both sweet and savory flavors, but oatmeal takes on the flavors of other ingredients, hiding its own flavor under stronger-tasting fruits and spices.

Whole grain oats can be used to make homemade granola cereals.
Whole grain oats can be used to make homemade granola cereals.

Those looking to add more whole grain to their diet generally need only to modify a few recipes. Stirring oats into hot cereals and baking recipes not only adds nutrition, but may also add flavor. Sprinkling oats into ice cream, smoothies, parfaits and yogurt creates a calcium-rich, protein-fortified snack. Others may enjoy combining whole grain oats with honey, nuts and dried fruit to create homemade granola mixes. Baking these mixes typically makes the granola easily transportable.

Discussion Comments


@discographer-- If you have a crockpot, try making whole grain oats overnight. I like using dates, walnuts, dried blueberries or cranberries, sliced apples and sometimes bananas in it. Also add cinnamon and wake up to an amazing smelling house. You will love the flavor.

I just want to warn though that although whole grain oats are naturally gluten free, it's still important to buy ones that are labeled that way. If whole grain oats aren't labeled gluten free, it means that they may be packaged in a facility with gluten containing grains like wheat. So it's best to be careful and select one with the "gluten free" label.


@ZipLine-- That's correct. Whole grains have more fiber in them and fiber slows down the entry of sugars into the blood stream. Since whole grain oats will cause blood sugar to rise slowly, it will keep the body going for a long time. Doctors recommend whole grain oats to their diabetic patients for breakfast. It really is the most ideal breakfast for everyone.

I'm not a huge fan of the flavor but when cooked with milk and with other ingredients like dried fruits and honey, whole grain oat porridge is quite delicious.


Aside from the fact that it's incredibly healthy and nutritious, whole grain oats taste far better than processed oats. I've been eating steel cut oats for breakfast for the past few weeks. I've noticed a huge difference in my concentration and energy levels in the morning. Before, I had regular cereal in the morning and I used to get hungry just an hour or so later. But steel cut oats keep me full until lunch time. It's quite amazing. I think this is also a great food for people who want to lose weight for this reason.

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    • Whole grain oats.
      By: eAlisa
      Whole grain oats.
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      By: Popova Olga
      Whole oats.
    • Whole grain oats can be used to make homemade granola cereals.
      By: nito
      Whole grain oats can be used to make homemade granola cereals.