Whole Grains Are Important

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the most recent version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One of the key points of these guideless is the recommendation to limit the number of refined grains while increasing the number of whole grains in our diets.

I’ve also written recently about the Mediterranean Diet and our Med Instead of
Meds program. The Mediterranean Diet aligns with these Dietary Guidelines by
also recommending the need to increase the amounts of whole grains we eat.
These are not new recommendations, dietitians and health professionals have
been saying for many years that we need to eat more whole grains. But less than 2% of Americans actually eat enough whole grains. Most of us eat approximately seven ounces of grain per day but less than one ounce of that is a whole grain.
The goal is to eat at least half of your grains as whole.

Research over the years has proven that eating whole grains can help prevent
several chronic diseases. The research findings are so strong that the U.S. Food
and Drug Administration allows a health claim about whole grains on food labels.
If you’re looking for whole-grain foods, look for this statement: “Diets rich in
whole grains foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and
cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers.” This health
claim can only be included on a food package if the food contains at least 51%
whole-grain ingredients and meets the other health claims.

The US Dietary Guidelines website does a great job of explaining the differences
between whole grains and refined grains: Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are white flour, white bread, and white rice. Some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains.

In addition to the FDA’s Whole Grain Health Claim look for the Whole Grain
Stamp on food packaging. This is a small logo that looks like a golden-yellow
stamp and appear on foods that contain whole grains. This Whole Grain Stamp was developed by the Whole Grains Council to help shoppers find whole-grain products. This voluntary Stamp is on products that contain all or partial whole grains. The recommendation is to eat 48 grams of whole-grain every day and the numbers on these stamps can help.

whole grain stamp

Med Instead of Meds (MIM) is a complete website and educational program
developed by N.C. Cooperative Extension and the NC Division of Public
Health. MIM focuses on the Mediterranean Diet and includes a series of videos,
fact sheets, and lots of recipes with an emphasis on helping people change their
dietary patterns to eat more healthfully. There is a section on whole grains.
Our state specialist in nutrition, Dr. Carolyn Dunn, offers some tips and flips for
getting more whole grain in the Med Instead of Meds program. A Med Flip is
when you make an easy flip or switch or change something in your diet so it will
more fit with a Mediterranean diet.

Med Tip: Eat grains as grains, not food made from grains. Eat more bulgur, brown
rice, oatmeal, and less bread and crackers. You’ll find these foods more filling and
satisfying. Dunn encourages people to eat most of their grains as whole and as
little refined grains as possible.

Med Flip: Switch to whole grain products such as steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast
instead of a more refined cereal.

Med Flip: Go from white pasta to whole grain pasta. She says they have improved these kinds of pasta over the years so if you didn’t like them in the past, give them another try. She encourages adding lots of veggies to the pasta dishes.
Med Flip: Switch to brown rice or another whole grain as a side dish or salad.
Other choices are quinoa, barley, or whole-wheat couscous.

The Med Instead of Med website offers more tips and flips that can help you explore the Mediterranean Diet. There are also lots of recipes that can help you add whole grain to your meals.

Sources: US Dietary Guidelines; Whole Grains Council; Med Instead of Meds

Cheryle Syracuse is a Family and Consumer Science staff member and can be reached at
N.C. Cooperative Extension, Brunswick County Center 910-253-2610 or by email at
Cheryle_Syracuse@ncsu.edu