Date Published: 14 November 2017

How much whole grain is needed in a healthy diet ?

Recent research1 undertaken via online surveys of over 16,000 adult consumers in 11 countries2 has revealed that of the people who responded:

  • 82% think it is important to eat whole grain
  • 83% do not know how many grams of whole grains they should be eating each day
  • 50% think people don’t eat enough whole grain because they do not understand the benefits of doing so.
  • 47% think that they eat enough whole grain
  • 38% think that people don’t know which foods contain whole grain

Here's a quick round-up of basic information about whole grains as a human food source and dietary component:

What is whole grain ?

According to the European Food Information Council (EUFIC)3 the expression 'whole grain' refers to an entire cereal grain, which is also known as a kernel. More specifically, the kernel contains three parts in the following proportions:

  • the bran: a fibre-rich outer layer of a kernel (12-17%)
  • the germ: a nutrient-dense inner part of a kernel (approx. 3%)
  • the endosperm: a central starchy part of a kernel (80-85%)

This is worth knowing because according to 'Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010)'4 in order to be defined as 'whole grain', a food product must have the same relative proportions of bran, germ and endosperm as in the intact grain.

Why is it important to consume enough whole grain ?

The World Health Organization recommends consumption of whole grains (in addition to fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts)5 for the prevention of chronic disease. Higher consumption of whole grain has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, type-2 diabetes and bowel cancer.

Chris Seal, Professor of Food and Human Nutrition, Newcastle University, said6:

Whole grain is an essential component in the diet providing us with an important source of fibre and other nutrients which help to prevent heart disease, diabetes and weight gain. Clearly we are not eating enough whole grain globally and not enough is understood about the benefits of it – we need to do more to help people understand how to achieve a balanced diet.”

How much whole grain is needed in a healthy diet ?

Even though there is much widespread agreement about the benefits of consuming whole grain food products, only three countries, namely the USA, the Netherlands and Denmark, currently have a specific recommendation for consumption of whole grain6. The USA recommends a minimum of three servings per day (at least 48g), Denmark recommends between 64-75g per day, depending on gender.

Research suggests that there is still considerable confusion about which foods contain whole grains. For example some people mistakenly believe that whole grains are present in white rice, seeds, nuts and even bananas.

Suggested ways to increase personal consumption of whole grains include:

  • Looking for specific mention of the word 'whole' on the label, for example wholemeal, whole wheat and whole oats are all whole grains
  • Replacing consumption of refined ('white') bread, rice or pasta with whole grain varieties
  • Choosing a whole grain breakfast cereal
  • Eating an extra portion of whole grain at meals such as lunch and dinner, e.g. of whole grain bread, pasta or rice
  • When shopping, look for labels that clearly indicate 'whole grain'

The 2017 International Whole Grain Summit takes place in Vienna, Austria, from 13 - 15 November. It brings together stakeholders in the whole grain supply chain to review the latest scientific thinking, set priorities make decisions about the actions needed to increase whole grain intake.

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