Healthy food grains list for Indians to include in their diet

India is one of the biggest producers of a variety of food grains and millets, but in most affluent households of India the staple food grains are only rice and wheat. The other food grains and millets offer a lot of health advantages and their regular intake could help Indians fight the emerging diabetes and heart disease epidemics!

Here is a food grains list, which provides information on their health benefits and how to include them in your diet


Many health benefits of oats are well established. Oats help in

  • Lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce risk of heart disease
  • Keeping one fuller for longer, which helps in controlling weight
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Reducing risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Relieving constipation
  • Reducing the risk of asthma in children
  • Oats are higher in protein and healthy fats and lower in carbohydrates than most other whole grains.
  • They contain more than 20 unique polyphenols called avenanthramides, which have strong anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-itching activity
  • Oats are high in beta-glucans, a kind of starch that stimulates the immune system and inhibits tumors

Instant oats ,which cook in 3-5 minutes (the kind most easily available in India) have the same calorie value but higher glycemic index than Natural oats (steel cut or rolled oats). Natural oats take 15-20 minutes to cook and  have low glycemic index and are better for diabetics

Sometimes, diabetic are advised to not eat instant oats because of their high glycemic index, but diabetics who have high cholesterol or BP will benefit from oats (instant or natural).

A word of caution: the difference ready-to-cook flavors of oats, which are commercially available, often have added salt, sugar and unhealthy fats. Try to avoid consuming them on regular basis, instead make your own oat dishes

Barley (Jau in Hindi)

There are two ways to eat barley. Whole bran barley and pearl barley, which is a form of barley without bran. Barley is unique among grains since even pearl barley has the high amount of fibers.

Whole grain barley has the highest amount of fiber amongst grains (16-17% fiber compared to 3.5%and 10% in brown rice and oats respectively)  In addition, it is high in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals

A flood of recent research indicates that barley’s ability to control blood sugar may be exceptional, offering an important tool against rising rates of diabetes among Indians

Cook your barley in large quantities (boil in water for 50-60 minutes) and refrigerate it. You can later add it in soups or cook barley pulao/dalia etc.


These are not grains, per se, but are eaten like them. These can be consumed during ‘vrat’/fasting and are especially beneficial for people with weight issues

  • Amaranth (Rajgira/ ram daana)

It has much more protein than common grains and a better protein profile (has lysine, which is an essential amino acid, deficient in common grains) and has heart protective properties ( lowers cholesterol and triglycerides)

You can eat amaranth  as porridge or pulao and  cook it in the same way as rice

  • Quinoa

It has higher protein content than nearly all grains and is one of the few plant foods that has complete protein, offering all the essential amino acids in a healthy balance. Also it is especially rich in an antioxidant called quercetin

Quinoa is also cooked with boiled water like rice and takes nearly 15-20 minutes to cook, but has to be washed thoroughly after boiling to remove bitter taste

  • Buckwheat/Kuttu

It is high in soluble fiber which helps to slow down the rate of glucose absorption and is a potential source of resistant starch, a type of starch that can be highly advantageous to overall colon health

Buckwheat also provides high quantity of well balanced protein, rich in lysine

Buckwheat contains higher levels of zinc, copper, and manganese than other cereal grains and these are also absorbed better

  • Phool Makhana

Makhana (foxnut) is seed of giant water lily plant. People confuse it with lotus seeds which are commoner in china. Both of these are good nutrition choices.

Makhana has 10 gram protein/100 gms, has high potassium, good magnesium and iron content. One cup of makhana is only 20 gms and gives only 70 calories, so makhana is a good snack option

Makhana is attributed in Ayurveda with various health benefits: anti diarrhoea, protective for kidney, enhancing action of spleen, anti-inflammatory, heart protective properties etc.


Millets are coarse grains which less affluent classes of India eat in place of rice or wheat. They have more protein, magnesium, antioxidants and lower glycemic index than rice

When compared to wheat they fare not so highly; their protein content is lesser than wheat and rest of the benefits are more or less comparable. However, millets are gluten free and useful substitute for wheat in people with gluten sensitivity

Ragi or finger millet stands out because of its very high calcium content and is especially beneficial for diabetics.

Here is a list of the common millets

  • Pearl millet – bajra
  • Finger millet- ragi
  • Sorghum- jowar (considered a millet by some and  grain by others)
  • Foxtail Millet – Kangni (Hindi), Navane (Kannada), Thinai (Tamil), Kang (Gujarati), Rala (Marathi)

CHECK OUT: Our references for recommendations on diet