May 18, 2011 • By

A whole lot of whole grain

I’ve been paying more attention to whole grain foods over the last few years and looking for ways to work them into my family’s meals. Of course, one area where it’s really easy to incorporate them is at breakfast, through cereal.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend making half of your grains whole, which for many is at least three full daily servings of whole grain (at least 48 grams). But it’s reported that less than five percent of Americans get that minimum.

We found in our Big G Whole Grain Check-Up – a survey of American attitudes and beliefs about whole grain – that 61 percent of Americans believe they are getting enough whole grain in their diet.

To get more context about whole grain, I interviewed Michelle Tucker, M.S., R.D. and senior nutrition scientist at the General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition.

Why has there been such an emphasis in recent years on whole grain?

Tucker: In the past, the emphasis on eating grains focused on the digestive health benefits of fiber, but current research suggests it’s the whole grain and all of its components – not just fiber – that offer many health benefits.

Based on scientific evidence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration whole grain health claim was born in the late 1990s, which linked a diet rich in whole grains (and other plant foods, and low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol) to a reduced risk for heart disease and certain cancers.

Following that, the Dietary Guidelines began to call out whole grains as an important part of a healthy diet, giving specific recommendations for intake in 2005. Most recently, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines encourage Americans to make at least half of their grains whole, again supporting the role of whole grain in a healthy diet.

What are the primary benefits of whole grain?

Tucker: Research suggests that eating whole grains as part of a healthy diet may help with diabetes and weight management and may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

What are the biggest misconceptions or lesser known facts about whole grain?

Tucker: One common misconception is that all whole grains are high in fiber. In reality, not all whole grains are naturally high in fiber. Depending on the proportions of bran (which is the main source of fiber in a kernel), germ and endosperm naturally occurring in the grain kernel, the fiber content will vary. A whole grain food has other ingredients in it besides whole grain, which affect fiber content. A whole grain food can provide a significant source of whole grain without being a significant source of fiber. When it comes to whole grain, the health promoting benefits come from the complete grain (the bran, the germ and the endosperm) working together.

Another misconception about whole grains is that they are inconvenient to prepare. Many whole grains (like brown rice and even popcorn!) are easy to prepare. In addition, there are many whole grain foods that are incredibly convenient to incorporate into a fast-paced, healthy diet – whole grain varieties of ready-to-eat cereal, crackers, granola bars, breads and pastas are just a few of the convenient choices that can help people meet their whole grain recommendation.

Editor’s note: As part of an education campaign, General Mills has partnered with Dr. Travis Stork, M.D., author and host of the Emmy Award winning daytime talk show “The Doctors.” You can watch several video interviews with him about whole grains. And, visit our Whole Grain Nation site.