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Many Americans Do Not Eat Enough Grains

October 11, 2010

New research shows that people who eat sufficient amounts of whole grains have higher quality diets overall, but it also shows that, at least in the United States, not very many people actually eat whole grains as much as they should.

The study, published in the October issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, found that less than 5 percent of American adults between 19 and 50 surveyed between 1999 and 2004 said they eat at least three whole grain servings every day.

During this period, there were no exact guidelines for how much whole grains should be eaten daily, noted study author Dr. Carol E. O’Neil of the Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. New dietary guidelines were implemented in 2005, suggesting Americans should eat three servings of whole grains daily.

There is strong evidence that consuming whole grains is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity and possibly some types of cancer, although it remains unclear what the mechanism is behind the beneficial effects of whole grain. Whole grain is grain with the outer portion of the kernel still intact.

The researchers looked at the data to assess the link between whole grain use and diet quality. The study included 7,039 men and women between 19 and 50 years old and another 6,237 people over the age of 50.

They found that the younger group ate less than two-thirds of a serving of whole grains daily, on average, while the older people ate just over three-quarters of a serving. The fraction of people who ate the most whole grain also consumed more fiber, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals, while taking in less sugar, unhealthy fat, and cholesterol, the researchers found.

But because the study only looked at a single point in time, it could not access the health effects of the subjects’ eating habits. “We can only say that consumption of whole grain is associated with improved nutrient intake or diet quality,” O’Neil told Reuters Health. “We know from previous studies that consumption of whole grains is associated with a generally healthier lifestyle.”

Even with more specific guidelines in place telling Americans how much whole grain they should be consuming, it is unlikely that the percentage of people eating more whole grain has changed much since the survey was completed, O’Neil said, noting: “People just don’t eat whole grains, although an increasing number of whole grain foods are available.”

Many people do not have a clue what whole grains are, what types of foods contain them, and why they are good for you. O’Neil recommends people check the MyPyramid Website (http://www.mypyramid.gov/) to educate themselves on whole grains. She also recommends the Whole Grain Council site (http://www.wholegrainscouncil.org/find-whole-grains).

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