Protein is an important part of a healthy and well-balanced diet. Although whole grains are predominantly a source of complex carbohydrates and fiber, they do contain some protein and can help to increase your overall protein intake. Be it Kamut, quinoa, teff, farro, or brown rice, here is a list of the top high-protein grains you can add to your diet today.
Table of contents
Protein is an essential macronutrient made up of amino acids that are required by the human body and can be found in animal products and plant-based foods. While most plants are predominantly sources of carbohydrates or fat, certain plants foods, including beans, lentils, and grains, contain slightly higher levels of protein per serving and can, therefore, serve as complementary sources of protein to animal proteins, or primary sources of protein for individuals following a vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based diet.
Although most grains are not considered complete protein sources, when paired or consumed with other vegetarian protein sources, one can ensure they are consuming all essential amino acids. Moreover, by pairing a high-protein grain with another plant-based protein, such as beans, lentils, nuts, or high-protein seeds, you can create a complete protein source and a more balanced meal.
Opting for protein-rich grains can help to ensure individuals are reaching their optimal protein intake, which has been shown to balance blood sugar, increase satiety levels, increase metabolic rate, aid in strength and tissue formation, build and maintain muscle tissue, and support the maintenance of healthy body weight.
Moreover, high-protein whole grains contain more fiber and B vitamins than their refined counterparts.
Whether you’re following a plant-based diet, trying to eat a high-protein diet, or simply looking for new ways to add protein to your meals, these protein-rich grains are a great way to boost your protein intake.
High Protein Grain List
So, which grains contain the most protein? Here’s a list of the most popular high-protein grains, ranked from highest to lowest protein content per cup.
Spelt is an ancient grain that is a primitive relative of modern wheat. Also known as triticum spelta, spelt is a distinct subspecies of wheat along with einkorn wheat and Khorasan wheat. This high-protein grain can be eaten in wheat berry or flour form, and it has a mild flavor with a slightly nutty and sweet taste. Spelt flour is a great alternative to all-purpose flour, as it contains more grams of protein per serving. Spelt wheat berries can be used in fresh salads and soups and spelt flour can be used in baked goods such as muffins and bread, as well as crackers and pasta.
Nutrition Facts of Spelt, per one-cup serving of cooked spelt berries (1)
- Protein: 10.7 grams
- Fat: 1.65 grams
- Carbs: 51.2 grams
- Fiber: 7.57 grams
Traditionally known as Khorasan wheat, Kamut is an ancient grain variety of non-hybridized wheat that remains unchanged by breeding compared to its modern counterparts. This heirloom wheat grain is protected under the KAMUT® brand to never be altered through modern breeding programs and has been shown to have higher levels of protein and fatty acids than modern wheat and, in some cases, easier digestibility (2,3). Kamut has a firm texture and slightly sweet, rich, and nutty taste, which attracts interest from pasta makers and bread bakers alike. Kamut wheat berries can be used in salads, soups, and stews, while Kamut flour works well in bread, whole wheat pasta, and pancakes.
Nutrition Facts of Kamut, per one-cup serving of cooked Kamut berries (4)
- Protein: 9.82 grams
- Fat: 1.43 grams
- Carbs: 47.5 grams
- Fiber: 7.4 grams
Teff is a tiny cereal grain, less than 1% the size of wheat kernels, grown in Ethiopia, Eritrea, and other countries where it’s an important element in the traditional diets of the Horn of Africa (5). Teff is a naturally gluten-free grain and comes in a variety of colors including red, ivory, or dark brown. While teff flour is traditionally and commonly used to make injera, a sour fermented flatbread, it can also be used to make porridge, stews, pilafs, or baked goods. Its mild, nutty, and slightly molasses-like flavor makes it an incredibly versatile grain.
Nutrition Facts of Teff, per one-cup serving of cooked teff (6)
- Protein: 9.75 grams
- Fat: 1.64 grams
- Carbs: 50.1 grams
- Fiber: 7.06 grams
Amaranth is a tiny ancient grain, although it is technically a pseudocereal as it’s a seed similar to buckwheat and quinoa, that resembles light-colored caviar. This gluten-free grain is a good source of fiber and vegetarian protein and has an earthy and nutty flavor. Amaranth is sold in both whole grain and flour formats and is a versatile ingredient that works well in many dishes such as hot cereals, polenta, and pilafs.
Nutrition Facts of Amaranth, per one-cup serving of cooked amaranth (7)
- Protein: 9.35 grams
- Fat: 3.89 grams
- Carbs: 46 grams
- Fiber: 5.17 grams
Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, is also pseudocereal and a member of the Chenopodium quinoa plant family. There are over 3,000 varieties of quinoa, although the most popular are red, black, and white (8). Unlike other protein-rich grains, quinoa is a complete protein source as it contains all essential amino acids. Quinoa is considered a gluten-free grain that is rich in fiber and protein that can be consumed whole, rolled into flakes, or ground into flour, and is a great option for individuals with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Whole-grain quinoa is quick to cook and ideal for pilafs, soups, and salads.
Nutrition Facts of Quinoa, per one-cup serving of cooked quinoa (9)
- Protein: 8.14 grams
- Fat: 3.55 grams
- Carbs: 39.4 grams
- Fiber: 5.18 grams
Farro is another ancient grain and is a relative to wheat. Farro has been a staple in the Mediterranean diet, especially in Italy, for decades and in recent years has gained popularity in North America as being one of the most beloved high-protein grains among individuals following a plant-based diet. Although not gluten-free, farro is high in fiber, highly versatile, and relatively inexpensive with a nutty flavor and chewy texture. Similar in size to barley, farro is available in semi-pearled and pearled formats and is easily used in soups, risottos, and salads, while its flour is often used to make pasta.
Nutrition Facts of Farro, per one-cup serving of cooked farro (10)
- Protein: 8.0 grams
- Fat: 0.32 grams
- Carbs: 54 grams
- Fiber: 3.17 grams
7. Wild Rice
Despite its name, wild rice is not rice at all but the seed of semi-aquatic grass that grows with abundance in North America’s Great Lakes region. Wild rice is one of four species of grass that produces edible seeds resembling rice, it’s merely referred to as rice because it looks and cooks like other types of rice, such as white or brown rice. Due to its strong flavor and high price point, wild rice is often sold with and cooked with other grains or forms of rice. Its long black grains, firm texture, and nutty taste make it a great side dish or a wonderful addition to salads or soups.
Nutrition Facts of Wild Rice, per one-cup serving of cooked wild rice (11)
- Protein: 6.54 grams
- Fat: 0.56 grams
- Carbs: 34.9 grams
- Fiber: 2.95 grams
8. Whole Wheat Pasta
While not technically a grain itself, pasta made from whole wheat flour is a great way to add more high-protein grain products to your diet. Whole wheat pasta is pasta from flour from an entire wheat kernel, including bran, germ, and endosperm. Conventional pasta is made from refined flour, which only includes the endosperm, which contains fewer grams of protein per serving. Moreover, whole wheat pasta has a lower glycemic index than regular pasta, although both are healthy choices that can be included in a healthy diet.
Nutrition Facts of Whole Wheat Pasta, per one-cup serving of cooked whole wheat pasta (12)
- Protein: 6.41 grams
- Fat: 1.83 grams
- Carbs: 32.2 grams
- Fiber: 4.17 grams
Millet is the name given to several small related grains found around the world including pearl millet, foxtail millet, proso millet, ﬁnger millet, and fonio (13). While it looks like a seed, millet has a similar nutritional profile to other cereal grains with rich fiber, protein, and antioxidant content (14). Millet can be found in white, grey, yellow, or red, and is another versatile whole grain that works well in hot cereal and side dishes, while its flour can be made into flatbreads, such as Indian roti, or polenta instead of cornmeal.
Nutrition Facts of Millet, per one-cup serving of cooked millet (15)
- Protein: 6.11 grams
- Fat: 1.74 grams
- Carbs: 41.2 grams
- Fiber: 2.26 grams
Much like whole wheat pasta, couscous is not a grain itself but rather a grain product traditionally made from semolina flour or granules of durum wheat. Although often confused as a whole grain, couscous is a form of pasta that is available in several different sizes and formats, the most common being Moroccan couscous, Golden Couscous, Pearl Couscous, and Lebanese couscous. Most store-bought varieties of couscous can be cooked in a matter of minutes and can be used in salads, soups, stews, pilafs, skillets, or as a simple side dish.
Nutrition Facts of Couscous, per one-cup serving of cooked couscous (16)
- Protein: 5.95 grams
- Fat: 0.25 grams
- Carbs: 36.4 grams
- Fiber: 2.2 grams
Be it steel-cut, rolled, or quick-cooking, oats are a high-protein grain that is incredibly versatile and inherently gluten-free. Although steel-cut oats are commonly considered the healthier option, all forms of oats are healthy, a great source of fiber, and contain some protein. In addition to making a great bowl of cooked oats, oats also make wonderful high-protein breakfast cereal, homemade granola and oat flour makes a great addition to any baked good.
Nutrition Facts of Oats, per one-cup serving of cooked rolled oats (17)
- Protein: 5.94 grams
- Fat: 3.56 grams
- Carbs: 28.1 grams
- Fiber: 3.98 grams
Similar in size to wheat kernels, buckwheat is a gluten-free pseudocereal and a cousin of rhubarb. Buckwheat is mainly harvested in the northern hemisphere and is a mainstay of traditional Eastern European cuisine. Buckwheat has a very mild nutty flavor and is commonly used in groat, the hearty hulled seed of the buckwheat plant, and flour formats. Whole groat buckwheat can be used like rice for salads and side dishes or similarly to oats in porridge, while its flour is commonly used in crepes, soba noodles, or quick bread.
Nutrition Facts of Buckwheat, per one-cup serving of cooked buckwheat (18)
- Protein: 5.68 grams
- Fat: 1.04 grams
- Carbs: 33.4 grams
- Fiber: 4.54 grams
13. Brown Rice
Compared to white rice, brown rice contains slightly more protein and more fiber per serving and is a good source of B vitamins. Brown rice is generally quite easy to find, affordable, and highly versatile as it can be used in everything from stir-fries to curries to soups to salads. You can also find brown rice in a “puffed” form, which is made by heating rice kernels under high pressure in the presence of steam to form a puffed grain, and is great for breakfast cereal and snack bars.
Nutrition Facts of Brown Rice, per one-cup serving of cooked long-grain brown rice (19)
- Protein: 5.54 grams
- Fat: 1.96 grams
- Carbs: 51.7 grams
- Fiber: 3.23 grams
Although corn is often considered a vegetable it is technically a grain. Known as “maize” in most parts of the world, corn is a whole grain that is considered a part vegetable and part starch, while it’s actually a whole grain rich in fiber and small amounts of protein. From fresh corn to popcorn to polenta to tortillas to cornbread, corn is one of the most versatile high-protein grains. In addition to its whole grain form, corn is also found in ground formats milled to create cornmeal, which has a gritty texture, and corn flour, which is more finely ground. Ground corn works well for pancakes, biscuits, or bread recipes.
Nutrition Facts of Corn, per one-cup serving of cooked corn kernels (20)
- Protein: 5.13 grams
- Fat: 1.22 grams
- Carbs: 36.8 grams
- Fiber: 3.46 grams
Sorghum is a genus of about 25 species of flowering plants native to Australia with other species originating in Africa and Asia (21). Sorghum, also known as milo, is a gluten-free grain with a hearty and chewy texture similar to wheat berries. Sorghum can be popped like popcorn, cooked into porridge, or ground into flour for baked foods.
Nutrition Facts of Sorghum, per one-cup serving of cooked sorghum (22)
- Protein: 4.57 grams
- Fat: 1.48 grams
- Carbs: 30.9 grams
- Fiber: 2.89 grams
Barley is one of the oldest cultivated grains and is grown in temperate climates globally. Although most well-known as being the primary grain for producing beer, barley is a hearty high-protein grain with numerous culinary uses. Hulled barley, also known as pearl barley, is one of the highest fiber-containing high-protein grains; a 1/4-cup serving provides 32% of your daily value of fiber, and while barley is not wheat, it does contain gluten. Pearled barley lends itself well to a number of dishes including soups, stews, risottos, pilafs, salads, and stuffings.
Nutrition Facts of Barley, per one-cup serving of cooked barley, pearled (23)
- Protein: 3.55 grams
- Fat: 0.69 grams
- Carbs: 44.3 grams
- Fiber: 5.97 grams
Ranking of High-Protein Grains per Serving
|Grain||Protein per 1 cup, cooked||Protein per 100 grams, cooked|
|Spelt||10.70 grams||5.50 grams|
|Kamut||9.82 grams||5.71 grams|
|Teff||9.75 grams||3.87 grams|
|Amaranth||9.35 grams||3.80 grams|
|Quinoa||8.14 grams||4.40 grams|
|Farro||8.00 grams||5.12 grams|
|Wild Rice||6.54 grams||3.99 grams|
|Whole Wheat Pasta||6.41 grams||5.99 grams|
|Millet||6.11 grams||3.51 grams|
|Couscous||5.95 grams||3.79 grams|
|Oats||5.94 grams||2.54 grams|
|Buckwheat||5.68 grams||3.38 grams|
|Brown Rice||5.54 grams||2.74 grams|
|Corn||5.13 grams||3.11 grams|
|Sorghum||4.57 grams||2.90 grams|
|Barley||3.55 grams||2.26 grams|
All nutrition data is based on FoodData Central.
High-Protein Grains FAQs
Wheat berries have the highest protein content per serving. Spelt wheat berries contain 10.7 grams of protein per cup and Kamut wheat berries contain 9.82 grams of protein per cup.
Spelt, Kamut, teff, amaranth, and quinoa are the top 5 high protein grains. These grains contain more plant-based protein than any other whole grains.
All whole grains are considered “superfoods” and should in included in a healthy diet.
The Bottom Line
While whole grains are predominantly sources of carbohydrates and fiber, certain whole grains, such as Kamut, teff, amaranth, quinoa, and farro, contain higher levels of protein compared to other plant foods. High-protein grains can be consumed in addition to animal protein sources or as sources of plant-based protein for individuals following vegetarian or vegan diets.