Rice, Bulgur, Couscous, And Quinoa: Which Grain Gets The Healthiest Grade?

which grain is healthiest

There’s been a lot of talk about lesser-known supergrains lately, like farro and freekeh. But it’s got me wondering about the more traditional ones–you know, the ones you can get in almost any bulk section. If you live somewhere where your choices are limited to, say, rice and couscous, how do you pick? Which grain is healthiest?

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Of course, “healthiest” is a pretty broad term, so let’s define it. Pretty much all grains are, by definition, either low in fat or fat-free–but which delivers the most protein, the most fiber, the most nutrients? Which are OK for folks with gluten sensitivities? Which have the fewest carbohydrates? The fewest calories?

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Let’s take a look.


Grade: C-/B; Conditional

Long-grain brown rice is a staple for a reason…but that reason is that people have heard of it. Also, that it’s in every grocery store. But even the healthiest of rice is actually pretty caloric–over 200 calories in one cooked cup, which is about the same as quinoa. But rice has about half as much protein as quinoa, and less fiber, too. It’s also got more carbs than any of the others.

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However, wild rice, which technically isn’t actually rice as you know it, but rather, a mixture of grains from various plants that resemble rice, does have more protein and more fiber. So if you’re really a fan of rice, opt for the wild kind instead. It gets a B (hence, the conditional grade).

And as for white rice? It has next to nothing to offer–even the enriched stuff has less fiber and less protein than the other grains on the list.

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Grade: B+

Even if you haven’t officially met bulgur, you probably know it as the grain that makes that refreshing, yummy tabbouleh salad that your crunchy neighbor always brings to the block party. Mystery solved!

But really, bulgur is good for a lot more than just the occasional side. Made from wheat kernels, bulgur boasts a sweet, rich flavor that’s great as a substitute for oatmeal or other breakfast cereals. It has no fat and has fewer calories than all the rest–just 150 in a cup of the cooked stuff.

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Additionally, it’s relatively low in carbs (that same cup has about 34 grams, though, so it’s still not actually low), and contains a whole lot of fiber. It also delivers a nice iron boost and a decent serving of protein.

Overall, bulgur is definitely a pretty great choice, all things considered. But it’s not the true winner.

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    • Gena

      I’d probably give rice a higher score — caloric needn’t mean “less healthy,” after all — but the A on quinoa is music to my ears! Nice comparison.

    • Sunshine

      Great article, but couscous isn’t a grain.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=565364431 James Michael Nolan

      EXTREMELY helpful…….

    • BrightHawk

      Helpful information. However, although you clarified that quinoa is really a seed and not a grain, you neglected to clarify that couscous is really a pasta, made from [semolina] wheat flour. In my opinion, couscous really does not belong on a list of whole grains, as it’s actually a ‘processed’ food.

    • Nathaniel

      what about buckwheat and millet? :D

    • Lisa Nash

      Very helpful! I just tried a bulgur/quinoa blend, which I quite like. Too bad about the nutritional value of couscous ’cause I really like the texture….

    • Dany Caissy

      What is up with this fat hating? Healthy fat is more beneficial than proteins…

    • Jago

      You can get brown Cous-Cous which is better than white.

      • eck0731

        try the black cous-cous, it’s better than the brown or the white.

    • Debra Moore

      Good to know, although I have fallen in love with bulgar with some flax thrown in. Good stuff.

    • mgg

      I don’t know why people say quinoa is so much better than couscous. First, of all, quinoa has over three times the calories than couscous does by weight. So if you want to compare protein, carbs, and fiber, you want to multiple couscous’s numbers by a little more than 3. When you do this, you’ll find the fiber and protein values of couscous are the same as quinoa. And couscous has slightly more carbs (maybe 15%). It might not be a complete protein, but that is only an issue if you plan on subsisting entirely on either couscous or quinoa, And everyone neglects to point out the obvious: couscous is tasty while quinoa tastes like cat litter.

    • andros

      Bulger wheat with greek zero yogurt is heaven and really feeling,quinoa not nice to eat,