Whole Grains: An Important Ingredient for Health and Longevity

Posted on by Neha Anand

A recent study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that people who consume more whole grains have lower mortality rates. As compared to refined grains which are stripped of nutrients through the milling process, whole grains contain the whole grain kernel. The kernel, that contains bran and fiber, helps maintain steady blood glucose levels. Fiber also helps lower cholesterol, prevents blood clots, and lowers the risk of death from heart disease and heart attacks. Other studies have found that those who eat more whole grains are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, and have better digestive health overall. These health benefits of whole grains validate the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation that people should consume at least 3 servings of whole grains (48g) a day.

Decoding the Whole Grain Stamp

The Oldways Whole Grains Council oversees the labeling of foods with the Whole Grain Stamp so that consumers can easily spot products that are rich with whole grains. The Council produces two stamps: the 100% Stamp that indicates a full serving (16g) of whole grains in the product and the Basic Stamp that indicates half a serving (8g). While the stamps are useful to identify foods with whole grains as a main ingredient, they do not always reflect the health value of the product. In 2013, a Harvard study found that the Whole Grain Stamped products had high fiber and low trans-fat, but also included higher amounts of sugar and calories. The researchers concluded that a less than 10:1 carbohydrate to fiber ratio standard from the American Heart Association best reflected the health value of a food product. While the Whole Grain Council has refuted this study, consumers should not assume that whole grain means the product is entirely healthy. Rather, until clearer and more transparent labeling is provided for food products, consumers should assess the amount of calories and carbohydrates in the foods they buy which could offset the advantages of eating some whole grains products before making purchasing decisions.

SNAP, WIC, and Whole Grains

The USDA has taken several steps to increase consumption of whole grains for SNAP and WIC recipients, a recommendation that was included in the 2012 SNAP to Health Report directed by Susan Blumenthal, M.D. The USDA has published a guide for School Lunch and Breakfast Programs to meet the Whole Grain-Rich criteria and provides resources about whole grains through the SNAP-Ed Connection. The USDA also updated the WIC food benefit package to include whole grains. While the USDA has made some progress in promoting healthy food choices for beneficiaries of Federal food assistance programs, more innovation and incentives are needed to reduce sugar content in whole grain products as well as increase affordability and accessibility to whole grains so that everyone can benefit from their nutritional value.

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