Adding Whole Grains Practice

One of the most important things you can do for your health… Daily Practice linkback

Whole grains are so key to good health that getting enough of them can decrease your mortality rate by 15%.  Know your whole grains, learn easy ways to replace refined white starches with them, and be aware of the effect this has on your daily life over time. You will be healthier and more energetic.


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You can expect: weight loss, lowered cholesterol, less risk of certain cancers, diabetes, stroke and heart disease.  Increased protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals like iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium.

What the experts are saying: Researchers at the University of Minnesota, published in the "Journal of the American College of Nutrition" in 2000, discovered that increasing intake of whole grains concurrent with lowered intake of refined grains is associated with a lower death rate from all causes. Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in 2003, discovered that weight gain is associated with a low intake of whole grains, whereas a high intake of whole grains is associated with a lower weight.

Level of Effort: Easy

Time Involved: 10 Minutes A Day


Getting Started:

  1. Know your whole grains.
  2. Determine how much you need and what constitutes a serving.
  3. Explore options to add more whole grains to your diet.
  4. Each day make a list of the whole grain foods you plan eat.  Aim to eat 4 to 7 servings of whole grains per day or 5 to 8 ounce equivalents.


What to Consider:



1. Know your whole grains

A whole grain contains all edible parts of the grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm.  The kernel, bran, germ and endosperm are all included. Parts of the grain are stripped away during processing. White flour and white rice are examples of grains that have had much of their nutrient values stripped. Whole grains are becoming more of a focal point in diet, and products are now available that have the whole grain stamp on them. Any product that has the 100 percent whole grain stamp on it will ensure consumers that the product is indeed whole grain. Products with this stamp are available so that consumers can rest assured that they are getting what they pay for.

It's important to check the ingredient list for the word "whole" preceding the grain (such as "whole wheat flour"). Ideally, the whole grain will be the first ingredient in the list, indicating that the product contains more whole grain than any other ingredient.  One way to find whole grains is to look for the FDA-approved health claim that reads, "Diets rich in whole grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers." This is found on whole-grain products that contain at least 51% whole grain ingredients (by weight) and are also low in fat.

Products with ingredient lists that start with any of these grains are also likely good sources of whole grains, according to the American Heart Association. Ingredients are listed in order of their percentage of the product. So, a product with whole grains listed last has a relatively small percentage of whole grains.  Consumers should read the nutritional label to be sure that whole grains are listed first, or at least high up, on the ingredient list

Whole grain options:

  • Brown rice
  • Barley
  • 100% whole-wheat flour
  • Whole rye
  • Buckwheat (Kasha)
  • Bulgur (steamed and dried cracked wheat)
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Wild rice
  • Whole oats or steel-cut oats
  • Whole grain cereals
  • Whole wheat pasta

Eat more healthy carbs and whole grains: Choose healthy carbohydrates and fiber sources, especially whole grains, for long lasting energy. A quick definition of healthy carbs and unhealthy carbs:

  • Healthy carbs (sometimes known as good carbs) include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. Healthy carbs are digested slowly, helping you feel full longer and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable.
  • Unhealthy carbs (or bad carbs) are foods such as white flour, refined sugar and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber and nutrients. Unhealthy carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy.
  • Avoid: Refined grains such as breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals that are not whole grain.

Try mixing grains as a first step to switching to whole grains. If whole grains, like brown rice and whole wheat pasta, don't sound good at first, start by mixing what you normally use with the whole grains. You can gradually increase the whole grain to 100.


2. Determine how much you need and what constitutes a serving

Many people are confused about what "a serving" or "three servings" of whole grain actually means.  The amount of grains you need daily varies based on your age, sex, and physical activity level. In general, adults need between 5 to 8 ounce equivalents of grains each day, and at least half are recommended to come from whole grains.

Examples: One ounce is equivalent to: 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of cereal, 1/2 cup of cooked pasta or rice. You can determine how much you need by checking the U.S. government's My Pyramid Plan.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans defines a serving of whole grain as any of the following:

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or other cooked grain
  • 1/2 cup cooked 100% whole-grain pasta
  • 1/2 cup cooked hot cereal, such as oatmeal
  • 1 ounce uncooked whole grain pasta, brown rice or other grain
  • 1 slice 100% whole grain bread
  • 1 very small (1 oz.) 100% whole grain muffin
  • 1 cup 100% whole grain ready-to-eat cereal

*(The US Dietary Guidelines don't actually use the word "serving." They call the amounts above "ounce-equivalents.")


3. Explore Ways to Get More Whole Grains into Your Diet

  • Choose whole-grain breads, cereals, English muffins, waffles, bagels, and crackers. Enjoy a sandwich at lunch with two slices of whole-grain bread, or a whole-grain pita or wrap, and you're two-thirds of the way toward meeting your goal.
  • Eat popcorn. What could be easier than eating air-popped popcorn as a snack? A study in the 2008 May issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people who regularly ate popcorn averaged 2.5 servings of whole grains per day, while non-popcorn eaters got less than one serving.
  • Make your snacks whole grain. Snacks account for one-third of whole grain consumption - just make sure you choose the right ones. Check the label, because even though it is made with a whole grain, it could still be high in fat, calories, and sodium.
  • Start your day with a bowl of whole-grain cereal. Members of the National Weight Control Registry who have lost substantial amounts of weight -- and kept it off -- swear by the importance of eating a nutritious breakfast, such as cereal, each day. But keep in mind that even when a product is made from whole grain, it's not necessarily healthy. Read the label and select cereals based on the whole-grain content and amount of sugar it contains. The less sugar, the better.

  • Add whole grains to your baked goods. Magee likes to blend half whole-wheat flour with all-purpose flour to boost the whole-grain content of her baked goods. You can also use white wheat flour, available in your local grocery store. Another option is to replace one-third of the flour with whole-grain oats.

  • Choose brown rice and whole-wheat or blended pasta. Cook up a batch of brown rice and freeze or keep in the fridge 4-5 days and if time is an issue, there are great ready brown rice products. Try whole-grain pasta, or some of the blended pastas made with a mix of whole and refined grains. Don't be put off by the dark color of whole-grain pasta that becomes much lighter when it is cooked.

  • Experiment with different grains. Visit your local health food market and try your hand at some of the less-familiar whole grains available. Try risottos, pilafs, whole-grain salads, and other grain dishes made with brown rice, millet, quinoa, or sorghum, Magee suggests. Add uncooked oats to meatloaf or stir oats into yogurt for crunch and added nutrition.


4. Make a list of the foods you plan eat.

Aim to eat 4 to 7 servings of whole grains per day or 5 to 8 ounce equivalents.


  • Breakfast: ½ cup of oatmeal or whole grain cereal
  • Lunch: two slices of whole grain bread
  • Dinner: 1 cup of whole grain pasta or 1 cup of brown rice

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Whole Grains


Why it's Important to Switch to Whole Grains?

They're digested slowly. Whole grains are digested more slowly than refined grains, which has beneficial effects on blood sugar and insulin (keeping levels of both down). A recent study found that the more whole grains men and women ate, the lower their fasting insulin levels were. And this is a good thing.

They reduce mortality rates. After analyzing data from more than 15,000 people aged 45-65, researchers from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health found that as whole-grain intake went up, total mortality (the rate of death from all causes) went down.

They help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. The Nurses' Health Study found that women who ate more than 5 grams of fiber from whole-grain cereals daily had about 30% less risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who ate less than 2.5 grams of whole-grain fiber a day. Other research found that women who ate a diet low in cereal fiber and high on the sugar (glycemic) index doubled their risk of type 2 diabetes.

They help control weight. One study found that women who ate three or more servings of whole-grain foods a day had significantly lower body mass indexes (BMIs) than those eating less than one serving a day. (This was found in men, too, but the link was more significant in women.) Another study found that women whose diets included the most whole grains were half as likely to gain a lot of weight over a 12-year period as those who ate the least whole grains. This slimming effect was seen even in teens.

They may protect against metabolic syndrome. Research has found that metabolic syndrome -- a condition that raises the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke -- was found much less often in people who ate the most cereal fiber and whole grains compared with those who ate the least.

They reduce risk of heart disease. At least 25 studies have found that people who regularly eat whole grains have a lower risk of heart disease. There is also evidence that suggests that people who eat at least one serving of whole grains a day have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke. In studying the dietary habits of male health professionals, researchers found that for every 10 gram increase in cereal fiber eaten each day, the risk of heart attack was reduced by nearly 30%. A more recent study found this beneficial effect is even stronger in women.

They cut cholesterol levels. Researchers at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago found that adding oats to an already low-fat diet helped women cut their blood cholesterol by an additional 8 or 9 mg/dL after only three weeks.  Antioxidants found in oats cut cholesterol by suppressing the molecules that make blood cells stick to artery walls. When these cells stick to artery walls and cause inflammation, plaque deposits build up and narrow the passageways where blood flows, leading to "hardening of the arteries."

They reduce blood pressure. Eating foods containing barley decreases blood pressure and improves several other risk factors for heart disease, according to a recent study. (Other studies of high-fiber, whole-grain foods have also reported significant reductions in blood pressure.) The researchers also noticed a decrease in total cholesterol (an average of 21% reduction in those eating lots of soluble fiber, such as that found in barley and oats), and "bad" cholesterol. Levels of "good cholesterol" either increased or did not change.

They can decrease your risk of stroke. A recent Harvard study found that a diet with large amounts of whole-grain foods was associated with a decreased risk of stroke in women.

They reduce cancer risks. More than 40 studies looking at 20 types of cancer have suggested that regularly eating whole grains reduces cancer risk.  It's thought that whole grains may accomplish this by blocking DNA damage, suppressing the growth of cancer cells, providing antioxidant protection, and preventing the formation of carcinogens. The particular components of whole grains that may be protective include fiber; antioxidants including vitamins (like vitamin E) and minerals (like selenium); and various phytochemicals. Among the types of cancer that whole grains help protect against are gastrointestinal cancers such as stomach and colon cancers, along with cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, esophagus, and larynx.


Look for the Whole Grain Stamp

Before the advent of the Whole Grain Stamp, it was impossible to identify foods containing 16 grams of whole grains, so the government recommendations advised us to eat about an ounce of a food made totally with whole grains, to get about a serving of whole grain.

With the increased use of the Whole Grain Stamp, you can easily get your recommended three servings of whole grain each day, simply by eating three foods with the 100% Stamp, or six foods with any Whole Grain Stamp.


Whole Grains and Fiber

Whole grains can be an excellent source of fiber. But not all whole grains are good sources of fiber. Whole wheat contains among the highest amount of fiber of the whole grains. Brown rice contains the least.  Most whole-grain sources yield from 1-4 grams of fiber per serving, comparable to fruits and vegetables.


Whole Grain History

When the industrialization wave hit America in the later 1800s, a new way of milling and mass refining took hold in the grain business and never let go. Removing the bran and germ seemed like a good idea at the time, since it meant that grain products could sit on store shelves much longer without spoiling.  But the worldwide epidemic of B-vitamin deficiencies that followed was only the beginning. Frankly, we are only just realizing the nutritional fallout from almost eliminating whole grains from our diet over the past hundred years.


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