Bread_and_grains

Current dietary guidelines recommend that adults eat 5 to 7 ounces of grains each day, with at least half of them being whole grains.  Grains include any product that is a cereal grain, such as wheat, oats, barley, or rice and they are divided into two groups:  whole grains and refined grains.   Whole grains include all components of the grain kernel:  bran, germ, and endosperm.

How do you know if the foods you choose are whole grains or not?  With some foods it is obvious such as brown rice, steel cut oats, bulgur, or wheat berries.  Beyond grains in their whole form it gets much more confusing.

I often recommend including whole grains vs. refined grains as part of a healthy diet, and while in my head I’m picturing brown rice, oatmeal, or even buckwheat, my patients are likely picturing a vast array of other products – breads, cereals, pastas, cereal bars, crackers, etc.  The choices are endless and food manufacturers are quick to market any amount of “whole grains” in their products.

The American Heart Association has created a useful definition to identify whole grain products with a little math and the help of the Nutrition Facts Label.  Using their definition, a whole grain product has a ratio of total carbohydrates grams to fiber grams of 10 to 1 or less.   This makes sense since a product that is made with the whole grain kernel will contain more fiber.

Will this definition work in practice?  There is only one way to find out!  I looked up several different grains and grain products and found the following results:

 

Food Item

Total Carbs (g)

Total Fiber (g)

Ratio

Bulgur, 1 cup cooked

34

8

4.3

Steel cut oats, ¼ cup dry

29

5

5.8

Dave’s Killer Bread Cracked Whole Wheat, 1 slice

21

5

6.0

Popcorn, 1 cup air popped

6

1

6.0

Instant oatmeal, plain, 1 packet

19

3

6.3

Cheerios, 1 cup

20

3

6.7

Barilla Whole Grain Linguine, 2 oz.

41

6

6.8

Thomas’® 100% Whole Wheat Bagels, 1 each

49

7

7.0

Quinoa, 1 cup cooked

39

5

7.8

Kelloggs Nutrigrain cereal bar, apple cinnamon

24

3

8.0

Oroweat 100% Whole Wheat Bread, 1 slice

18

2

9.0

Brown rice, 1 cup cooked

45

4

11.3

Kellogg’s Special K, original, 1 cup

23

0

23.0

 

Using the ratio works pretty well, but the most surprising is the ratio for brown rice!  At 11.3, it doesn’t meet the criteria of a whole grain.  A cereal bar with over 40 ingredients has a lower ratio than brown rice with one ingredient.  I don’t think that this is what the USDA meant when they recommended that we eat more whole grains.  The potential health benefits of the whole grains in the cereal bar are more than crushed with some of the other ingredients that do not support health:  high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and soybean oil with TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone).

I propose a new definition for whole grains:  grains and grain products with as few ingredients as possible – preferably one!  Choosing whole grains in their natural form for at least half of your grain servings each day will not only give your nutrition a boost, you will also lower your grocery bill.