As health professionals, you know how important it is to help patients and clients understand how to get more whole grains into the diet. This can be as easy as recommending a simple swap, like switching from white bread to 100% whole wheat bread. But you may not realize that consumers can actually be getting in some whole grains from their favorite snack chips!
What are Whole Grains?
According to the Whole Grains Council, "whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (e.g., cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed."
Some whole grains most commonly consumed by Americans include whole wheat, brown rice, whole corn, whole oats, whole rye, whole barley, whole triticale, whole sorghum, and whole millet. These whole grains contain many nutrients-most of which are located in the grain's germ and bran. Whole grains are important because the grain's germ and bran are commonly removed during the refining process and thus are not often present in refined or "white" grain products.
What is in Whole Grains?
Whole grains are important sources of several nutrients including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber (click this link for more information about fiber), and other bioactive compounds.
Whole grains provide B vitamins which serve several functions, including helping the body to metabolize food into energy. See the chart below for more details about B Vitamins:
- Assists in carbohydrate metabolism
- Promotes normal heart, brain, and muscle function
- Assists in carbohydrate metabolism
- Promotes red blood cell production
- Aids in digestive health
- Maintains skin integrity
- Insures a healthy nervous system
- Involved in red blood cell production
- Helps to prevent neural tube defects
*Information attained from the National Institute of Health
Whole grains also contain several minerals which help to maintain our overall health by promoting bone health, regulating heartbeat, and producing hormones. Some minerals specific to whole grains include:
- Used to transport oxygen in the blood
- Maintains normal muscle and nerve function
- Keeps bones strong by increasing calcium absorption from the GI tract
- Promotes antioxidant activity
- Supports a healthy immune system by binding with proteins and forming selenoproteins which act as antioxidant enzymes1
* Information attained from the National Institute of Health
"Antioxidants are substances that may protect your cells against the effects of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules produced when your body breaks down food, or by environmental exposures like tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals can damage cells, and may play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases."– –The National Institute of Health
Several antioxidants occur in whole grains. Some of these antioxidants include phenolicacids, flavonoids, tocopherols, phytic acid, vitamin E, and avenanthramides in oats. Selenium acts to promote antioxidant activity by binding with proteins to create selenoproteins which act as antioxidant enzymes.1
Health Benefits from Whole Grains
Research has shown that whole grains provide substantial benefits when it comes to our health. It is thought that different nutrients within the whole grains have a collaborative effect on the body and that these health benefits may not be seen to the same effect from the individual nutrients, such as when taken as supplements.2 Whole grains have primarily been shown to improve health in the following areas:
- Reduced risk of heart disease by 25-28%3-8
- Although it is commonly thought that it is the fiber content in whole grains that improves heart health, whole grains offer an even vaster variety of nutrients that also boast benefits when it comes to heart health. Antioxidants, phytic acid, lectins, phenolic compounds, amylase inhibitors, and saponins have also all been shown to have an effect on CHD risk factors such as hyperlipidemia and hypertension.9 As previously stated, it is likely the combination of these components of whole grains that bear protective cardiovascular effects.
- Reduced risk of type 2 diabetes by 21-30%10-13
- The high fiber content of whole grains slows gastric emptying and digestion, leading to a slower rise in blood glucose levels-see "fiber" for further explanation. Not only does consumption of whole grains lead to a lower blood glucose-it also leads to more normal insulin metabolism and may reduce incidences of hyperinsulinemia and improve fasting insulin levels.9 It has also been hypothesized that "the synergistic effect of several whole-grain components, such as phytochemicals, vitamin E, Mg, or others, may be involved in the reduction of the risk for type 2 DM."9
- Improved weight maintenance
- While research is just beginning regarding weight maintenance and whole grain consumption, preliminary studies look promising with several prominent studies showing inverse relationships between whole grain consumption and weight gain.14-16 There are also ongoing epidemiological studies which suggest this same relationship between whole grain consumption and weight regulation.17,18
- May reduce risk of developing certain types of cancer
- Although there are uncertainties regarding the exact mechanisms that bring about the inverse relationship between whole grain consumption and risk of developing certain types of cancers, evidence from multiple epidemiological and cross-sectional studies shows this correlation.19-22 Because of the many nutrients in whole grains, theories once again suggest that the likely inverse relationship between whole grain consumption and risk of developing certain kinds of cancer (such as colorectal cancers, gastric cancer, hormonal cancers, and pancreatic cancer) may be a culmination of these nutrients.9
- Enhanced digestive health
- At this point, the effects of whole grains themselves on digestive health have not been thoroughly researched. However, the large fiber content in whole grains is strongly associated with improved digestive health.9 Please click the link to read more about fiber and its effects on digestive health.
Daily Recommendations for Whole Grain Consumption
The 2010 dietary guidelines recommend that Americans should aim to replace refined-grain foods with whole-grain foods and consume at least half of total grains as whole grains. In general, at least half the grains should come from whole grains.
One serving of whole grains is considered to be 16 grams of whole grains. Depending on a person's calorie needs, if they consume all of their recommended servings, that person would consume between 48 and 80 grams of whole grains daily.
Although whole grains are becoming more prevalent in Americans' diets, we are still not meeting the recommended daily intake of whole grains. According to the Whole Grains Council, the average American eats less than one daily serving of whole grains, and over 40% of Americans never eat whole grains at all.
Food Sources of Whole Grains
Because whole grains are becoming more prevalent in the American diet, many of our traditionally consumed foods are now incorporating whole grains. In order to find these foods, look for the Whole Grains Council stamp on the package.
Some foods that conventionally incorporate whole grains are whole wheat bread, wild brown rice, oatmeal, cereals made from whole corn, rye bread, and whole wheat pastas.
Additionally, some Frito-Lay products provide whole grains. Many favorite TOSTITOS® Tortilla Chips now contain 8 grams of whole grains (1/2 serving) per one ounce serving. We have made modifications to our manufacturing process so that we can retain more of the whole grain. This change will add about 20 million pounds of whole grains to the American diet every year! Look for the Whole Grains Council stamp on the back of TOSTITOS® Tortilla Chip varieties including 100% White Corn Restaurant Style, Bite Size Rounds, Crispy Rounds, Scoops!, Hint of Lime, 100% White Corn Restaurant Style and Scoops! Hint of Jalapeno. Additionally, a one-ounce serving of SUNCHIPS® multigrain snacks have always contained just over one full serving (18 grams) of whole grains.
- McKenzie RC, Rafferty TS, Beckett GJ. Selenium: an essential element for immune function. Immunol Today 1998;19:342-5.
- Slavin J. Why whole grains are protective: biological mechanisms. Procedings of the Nutrition Society 2003; 62:129-134.
- Nettleton JA, Steffen LM, Loehr LR, Rosamond WD, Folsom AR. Incident heart failure is associated with lower whole-grain intake and greater high-fat dairy and egg intake in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008;108(11): 1881-1887.
- Djousse L, Gaziano JM. Breakfast cereals and risk of heart failure in the physicians' health study I. Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(19):2080-2085.
- Wang L, Gaziano JM, Liu S, Manson JE, Buring JE, Sesso HD. Whole-and refined-grain intakes and the risk of hypertension in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;86(2):472-479.
- Sahyoun NR, Jacques PF, Zhang XL, Juan W, McKeown NM. Whole-grain intake is inversely associated with the metabolic syndrome and mortality in older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006;83(1):124-131.
- Esmaillzadeh A, Mirmiran P, Azizi F. Whole-grain consumption and the metabolic syndrome: a favorable association in Tehranian adults. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59(3):353-362.
- Jensen MK, Koh-Banerjee P, Hu FB, Franz M, Sampson L, Gronbaek M, Rimm EB. Intakes of whole grains, bran, and germ and the risk of coronary heart disease in men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;80(6):1492-1499.
- Slavin J. Whole grains and human health. Nutrition Research Reviews 2004; 17:99-110.
- de Munter JS, Hu FB, Spiegelman D, Franz M, van Dam RM. Whole grain, bran, and germ intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study and systematic review. PLoS Med. 2007;4(8):e261.
- van Dam RM, Hu FB, Rosenberg L, Krishnan S, Palmer JR. Dietary calcium and magnesium, major food sources, and risk of type 2 diabetes in U.S. black women. Diabetes Care. 2006;29(10):2238-2243.
- Nettleton JA, Steffen LM, Ni H, Liu K, Jacobs DR, Jr. Dietary patterns and risk of incident type 2 diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Diabetes Care. 2008;31(9):1777-1782.
- Priebe MG, van Binsbergen JJ, de Vos R, Vonk RJ. Whole grain foods for the prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008(1):CD006061.
- Pereira MA, Jacobs DR, Slattery ML, Ruth KJ, Van Horn L, Hilner JE, Kushi LH. The association of whole grain intake and fasting insulin in a biracial cohort of young adults: the CARDIA study. CVD Prevention 1998; 1:231-242.
- Ludwig DS, Pereira MA, Kroenke CH, Hilner JE, Van Horn L, Slattery ML, Jacobs DR. Dietary fiber, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease risk factors in young adults. Journal of the American Medical Association 1999; 282:1539-1546.
- Liu S, Willett WC, Manson JE, Hu FB, Rosner B, Colditz G. Relation between changes in intakes of dietary fiber and grain products and changes in weight and development of obesity among middle-aged women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003; 78:920-927.
- Newby PK, Muller D, Hallfrisch J, Quao N, Andres R, Tucker K. Dietary patterns and changes in body mass index and waist circumference in adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2003; 77:848-855.
- Shock N, Greulich R, Andres R, et al. Normal human aging: the Baltimore longitudinal study of aging. Washington DC: National Institute of Health, Government Printing Office.
- Jacobs DR, Marquart L, Slavin JL, Kushi LH. Wholegrain intake and cancer: an expanded review and meta-analysis. Nutrition and Cancer 1998; 30:85-96.
- Chatenoud L, Tavani A, La Vecchia C, Jacobs DR, Negri E, Levi F, Franceschi S. Whole-grain food intake and cancer risk. International Journal of Cancer 1998; 77:24-28.
- Terry P, Lagergren J, Ye W, Wolk A, Nyren O. Inverse association between intake of cereal fiber and risk of gastric cardia cancer. Gastroenterology 2001; 120:387-391.
- Kasum CM, Jacobs DR, Nicodemus K, Folsom AR. Dietary risk factors for upper aerodigestive tract cancers. International Journal of Cancer 2002; 99:267-272.