MANKATO — Americans don’t eat as many whole grains as recommended, but a new study found they’re turning to the more nutritious option more than they were a decade ago.
The latest National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found whole grains accounted for 15.9% of daily grain intake for adults in 2015-2016, compared to 12.6% in 2005-2006.
The uptick is an encouraging nutritional development, as more whole grain intake is linked with lower cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality risks.
April Graff, dietitian at Mankato’s Hilltop Hy-Vee, called the trend toward more whole grain intake a positive step.
“I think we’re on the right path,” she said. “There’s obviously room for growth but it excites me that we have progress in the right direction.”
The room for growth lies in how much whole grains Americans are actually recommended to eat. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for at least half of total grain intake to be from whole grains, so the 15.9% still falls well short.
”It’s not the increased rate we’d like to see, but at the same time an increase is an increase,” said Erin Gonzalez, Mankato Clinic dietitian.
She pointed out the increase occurred even though extremely low-carbohydrate diets were popular in recent years. Whole grains are a source of carbs, but the good type of carbs which are high in nutrients. Cutting them out completely isn’t recommended, Gonzalez said.
“So many people are cutting out whole grains as a way to improve health and lose weight, but unfortunately despite the fact people think they’re doing good, in the long term range they’re doing harm,” she said.
Although still making up the majority of grain intake, refined grains — white flour, white rice and white bread — don’t boast the same nutritional benefits as whole grains. Whole grains like barley, brown rice and quinoa have greater amounts of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients.
Gonzalez said fiber from whole grains helps control blood sugar levels, regulates bowel movements and gives the eater a sense of fullness among other benefits.
She recommended shoppers look for fiber sources with about 5 grams per serving or more.
Increasing your fiber intake, however, should be done steadily because the gastrointestinal system might need time to adjust to it.
For those who want to incorporate more whole grain into their diets, Graff said it’s easier now than it was in the past. Over her 11 years at Hy-Vee, she’s seen more whole grain products come to the shelves and more consumers seek them out.
Shoppers should always read the fine print before buying, though, she cautioned.
“The only way to know if a product is truly whole grain is to ignore the marketing on the front of the package completely and flip it over to look at the ingredient list,” she said.
A true whole grain product should have “whole” followed by the type of grain at the top of the ingredients list.
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