Shopping for Health: Whole Grains1

Wendy J. Dahl and Lauren Foster 2

Whole Grains vs. Refined Grains

Grain products include foods such as bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, and crackers. Any food made with wheat, oats, rice, corn, barley, or another cereal is considered a grain product (USDA n.d.).

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel. Whole-grain foods may be minimally or highly processed.

Refined grains have been processed so that the germ and the bran have been removed (Figure 1). This removes much of the fiber from the grain. B vitamins, removed in the refining process, need to be added back through enrichment.

Figure 1. A whole grain kernel consists of three main parts —the fiber-rich bran exterior or outer shell, the starchy endosperm it protects, and the nutrient-packed germ, which provides nourishment for the seed.
Figure 1.  A whole grain kernel consists of three main parts —the fiber-rich bran exterior or outer shell, the starchy endosperm it protects, and the nutrient-packed germ, which provides nourishment for the seed.
Credit: USDA

How many grains do we need?

Recommendations for servings of grains depend on your age, gender, and energy needs. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that people of all ages get at least half their grain servings from whole-grain sources. An ounce equivalent is comparable to a slice of bread, a cup of breakfast cereal, or a half cup cooked rice or pasta. Table 1 lists the recommended daily grain intake for individuals with moderate physical activity (USDA Choose MyPlate 2016).

Shopping for Whole Grains

One of the best ways of identifying foods containing whole grains is to look for a "Whole Grain Stamp" (Figure 2). A "Whole Grain Stamp" on a food package identifies foods approved by the Whole Grains Council.

Figure 2. Stamps indicating the minimum grams of whole grains per serving
Figure 2.  Stamps indicating the minimum grams of whole grains per serving
Credit: Whole Grains Council

The ingredient list on the label of food products is also helpful in identifying whole grains. If whole grains are listed as the first ingredient of the product, it is probably a good source of whole grains. Examples of whole grains include whole wheat, whole oats/oatmeal, whole-grain corn, popcorn, brown rice, whole rye, and whole-grain barley.

An example of a whole-grain product ingredient list is shown below.

INGREDIENTS: Whole Grain Wheat, contains less than 2% of BHT for freshness, Reduced Iron, Niacinamide, Vitamin B6...

Shopping for Snacks

Many whole-grain snack foods are available. Whole grains often have more fiber than refined-grain snacks, which may help to satisfy your appetite!

Several brands of crackers and other snack foods offer varieties made with whole grains. Listed below are some snacks that carry the "Whole Grain Stamp." When shopping for snacks, read labels carefully as brands often carry similar varieties that may not have the same quantity of whole grains.

Table 2. 

Snack foods with whole grains.

Snack

Whole Grains Per Serving (g)

Frito-Lay® Sun Chips

19

General Mills® Original Cheerios

14

Kashi® Crackers Fire Roasted Veggie

19

Nature Valley® Granola Bars

16

Nutri-Grain® Soft Baked Breakfast Bars

8

Tostitos® Tortilla Chips

8

g = gram

Shopping for Meals

Whole grains can easily be incorporated into any meal. Choose 100% whole-wheat breads and flatbreads, and whole-grain tortillas. When choosing pastas, look for 100% whole wheat on the front panel or 100% whole durum wheat semolina as the first or only ingredient on the ingredient list. Choose brown rice over the many white rice products. Shopping for ready-to-eat meals that contain whole grains may seem challenging, but there are several frozen entrées and side dishes that incorporate whole grains. Check the ingredient list. Also, remember when selecting pizzas to choose a whole wheat crust.

Figure 3. Image of whole-wheat pasta with brussels sprouts and mushrooms.
Figure 3.  Image of whole-wheat pasta with brussels sprouts and mushrooms.
Credit: ~Photo by Bryan Ochalla, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 License.

Shopping for Breakfast Cereal

Getting enough whole grains is easy if you like breakfast cereals. Many breakfast cereals are made with whole-grain ingredients (e.g., General Mills®, Kashi®, Cascadian Farm™), so check the labels of your favorites. Some carry the "Whole Grain Stamp."

Figure 4. Image of whole-grain cereal topped with blueberries.
Figure 4.  Image of whole-grain cereal topped with blueberries.
Credit: Kendalia, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 License.

Be an informed shopper!

Substituting whole-grain products for refined ones may help with weight management and decrease your risk of chronic diseases (USDHHS and USDA 2015). When shopping, read food labels and look for the "Whole Grain Stamp"!

Here are tips to help you incorporate whole grains into your day:

  • Choose whole-grain breads or cereals for breakfast.

  • Snack on whole-wheat pita triangles and hummus.

  • Snack on whole-grain ready-to-eat cereals.

  • Serve brown rice instead of white rice.

  • Substitute whole-wheat flour for all-purpose flour in baking.

References

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). n.d. "Choose MyPlate." Accessed March 17, 2020. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains.html

Whole Grains Council. n.d. "Whole Grain Stamp." Accessed March 17, 2020. http://wholegrainscouncil.org/whole-grain-stamp

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2015. "Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020." Accessed March 17, 2020. http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/

Tables

Table 1. 

Recommended daily grain intake.

Life Stage

Grain Recommendation

(ounce equivalents/day)

Whole Grain Recommendation

(ounce equivalents/day)

Children, 2–3

3

1 ½

Children, 4–8

5

2 ½

Girls, 9–13

5

3

Girls, 14-18

6

3

Boys, 9–13

6

3

Boys, 14-18

8

4

Women, 19-50

6

3

Women, 50+

5

3

Men, 19-30

8

4

Men, 31-50

7

3 ½

Men, 51+

6

3

Footnotes

1. This document is FSHN10-13, one of a series of the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date November 2010. Revised December 2013, July 2016, and March 2020. Visit the EDIS website at https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu for the currently supported version of this publication.
2. Wendy J. Dahl, RD, associate professor; and Lauren Foster, former undergraduate student; Food Science and Human Nutrition Department; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The use of trade names in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information. UF¦IFAS does not guarantee or warranty the products named, and references to them in this publication does not signify our approval to the exclusion of other products of suitable composition.

Publication #FSHN10-13

Date: 2020-04-13
Foster, Lauren

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Contacts

  • Wendy Dahl