April 22, 2012

Whole Grains and Dietary Fibers: End Your Confusion

whole grainsWe’re being urged via health messages and big marketing campaigns to eat more dietary fiber and simultaneously to chow down on more whole grains. Beyond the messages to achieve these goals ringing in our ears, a plethora of new foods greet us in the supermarket aisles. They tout, for example “5 grams of whole grains per serving,” “47% of dietary fiber per serving” or proudly focus your attention on the Whole Grains Stamp.

All of these product claims are aimed at enticing you to grab products off the shelves and drop them into your shopping cart. But, as is common with nutrition messages, confusion reigns:

  • Are whole grains and dietary fiber synonymous?
  • If I buy a food high in whole grains will it contain plenty of dietary fiber?
  • Why is dietary fiber on the Nutrition Facts label, yet whole grains aren’t?

Read on for answers...
Dietary Fibers: Recent research from Marriott and co-authors sited in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Report found that neither children nor adults get anywhere near our 21-38 grams of recommended dietary fiber. In fact, as a population we're getting no more than 5% of the 25 grams of fiber per day which is the Daily Value (DV) sited on the Nutrition Facts label. Yes, fiber is a nutrient we need lots more of!

Whole Grains: According to the Whole Grains Council, the average American eats less than one daily serving of whole grains (you’ll learn below that’s 16 grams). Over 40% of Americans never eat any whole grains at all. We just don’t find whole grains in all those baked goods, dessert and pizza dough made with refined flour that regularly fill the stomachs of far too many children and adults.
Your whole grain goal: make half your grain servings, whole (grain). So if you should eat 6 servings of grains per day, make at least 3 of them from whole grains. More of your servings of grains from whole grains is better.

Yes, we should be eating more dietary fiber and whole grains.
No, they’re not one and the same.

Dietary fibers are found in foods containing whole grains, but dietary fibers (note fibers, plural) are (there are hundreds of different fibers) also found in legumes, fruits, vegetables. Today there are more packaged foods on the supermarket shelves with functional fibers. Read the blog Focus in on Fibers for the Health of Them to dive deeper on fibers.

whole grainsWhole grains are in some foods as well as foods that are made with whole grain ingredients. Whole grains contain the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed - the bran, germ and endosperm. Commonly eaten whole grains are: oats (including oatmeal), corn (including popcorn), barley, bulgur, brown rice. Foods that contain whole grains may contain some fiber. Two are barley and bulgur. Some contain whole grain, but not much fiber, such as brown rice and quinoa. Check the amount of fiber in common whole grains.

Beyond fibers (even in its varying amounts) whole grains contain some vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Whole grains have been shown to have health benefits….including playing a role in preventing type 2 diabetes.

To the Nutrition Facts:Nutrition Facts label
On the Nutrition Facts label you find nutrients. Dietary fiber is defined as a nutrient and an important one at that. Important enough to be required on nearly all Nutrition Facts panels.

Whole grains, however, aren’t defined as a nutrient, they are a food component. They’re not accounted for on the Nutrition Facts label. This makes it much more difficult, in fact nearly impossible, to know the whole grains count in foods. That’s why more and more food labels tell you the whole grain truth.

Here are helpful tips to make half of your grains whole:

  • Get to know the foods that contain whole grains.
  • The recommended amount of whole grains to eat a day is 48 grams. One serving of whole grains contains 16 grams per serving. (The 3 servings/day comes from 16 g X 3 = 48 grams.)
  • Look for the grams of whole grains per serving posted on the front of some foods (yes, they’re typically the ones bragging about their whole grains count) – crackers, pasta, chips, cereals. It might say contains X grams whole grains. They are telling you the amount of whole grains per serving. Think about this amount with the frame that you should eat 48 grams of whole grains each day.
  • Remember to turn to the back (or side) of the package and cast your eyes at the Nutrition Facts label to determine the food's fiber count. Do consider the food as a whole, not just for it’s whole grains. The grams of whole grains is not typically noted on the basic foods (and grains) which contain whole grains (see list of whole grains above).
  • The Whole Grains Council allows companies who want to promote the whole grains in their products to pay a fee to have the Whole Grains Stamp on their foods. The stamp clearly tells you how much whole grains are in a serving. Learn more about the Whole Grains Stamp in the FAQ. whole grains stamp
  • If there’s no info on the package or a Whole Grains Stamp, check out the ingredients. When it comes to breads, crackers, cereals, pizza and other foods made with grains, the Whole Grains Council suggests you check for these words: whole grain [name of grain], whole wheat, whole [other grain], stoneground whole [grain]. These words indicate that you are getting all of the nutrients of the whole grain.

Hopefully you’re no longer confused about dietary fibers and whole grains. Plus you’ve got enough tips in tow to make your next shopping trip through the bread, cereal, pasta, crackers and other sections of the supermarket less challenging. Remember take a deep breath and one step at a time towards healthier eating.