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Whole grain breakfast cereals lead the pack for total dietary fiber contribution, but many Americans still falling short of recommendations

By Stephen Daniells , 31-Jan-2014

The fiber and whole grain intakes of many Americans are still falling well short of the recommendations, but food such as ready to eat cereals, yeast bread/rolls, and oatmeal are making significant contributions in the right direction, says a new study funded by General Mills.

Data from over 9,000 people participating in the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2009–10 (NHANES) indicated that both children/adolescents and adults are falling well short of the daily recommendations for whole grains and total dietary fiber.

The major sources of whole grains were ready to eat cereals, yeast bread/rolls, and oatmeal, contributing to 61% of WG sources for children/adolescents and 68% for adults, report researchers from the University of Minnesota and General Mills in Nutrition Research .

‘Fiber is just one healthy component of whole grains’

Commenting independently on the research, Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies for Oldways / The Whole Grains Council, told FoodNavigator-USA: “Oldways and the Whole Grains Council agree wholeheartedly, of course, with the study's main conclusion that ‘intake of whole grain foods… should be encouraged’. And we are not surprised that those who consume more whole grain have diets higher in overall fiber intake.

“While whole grain and fiber go hand in hand, it's important to remember that fiber is just one healthy component of whole grains; those who eat whole grains are also getting other important vitamins, minerals and nutrients that contribute to health.

"It's also essential to keep in mind that whole grains can't be expected to cover all our fiber needs: Even if we eat all of our grains as whole grains, we won't reach fiber intake recommendations without also enjoying other sources of fiber including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds.”

Study details

Led by the University of Minnesota’s Marla Reicks, PhD, RD, the researchers analyzed NHANES data and found a clear association between whole grains intake and total fiber intake. However, only 2.9% and 7.7% of children/adolescents and adults were found to meet the recommendations of consuming at least three ounce equivalents/day (oz eq/d) for adults. (The recommendations for children and adolescents range from 1.5-4 oz eq/d for children/adolescents, depending on age, energy needs, and gender.)

"We'd also like to see people eat more intact whole grains with lower glycemic impact, like barley, wheatberries, and quinoa [above],” said Cynthia Harriman, Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies for Oldways / The Whole Grains Council

The study is also the first to distinguish between different types of ready to eat (RTE) cereals and their contribution towards fiber intake. The data indicated that whole grain and non-whole grain cereals with no added bran provided the most dietary fiber for the children/adolescents.

“RTE cereal types may vary considerably in whole grain and total dietary fiber content,” wrote the researchers. “The total dietary fiber content is readily available on Nutrition Facts Panels of RTE cereal packages to assist consumers in making healthful choices, however, labeling of whole grain RTE cereals for whole grain content is not always clear or consistent.

“These findings indicate that lack of knowledge and confidence in identifying whole grain foods may have a negative effect on whole grain intake of consumers as well as those involved in federal meal or supplemental food programs.”

‘Functional' vs 'whole’ foods

Harriman from Oldways / The Whole Grains Council, said that the finding that people eating more whole grain cereal tend to consume more dietary fiber overall than those who eat bran cereals was “especially interesting”.

“Could this be because people who start the day with a bran cereal have a more ‘functional foods’ mindset (‘There! I've got my fiber now!’) while whole grain lovers may have a more ‘whole foods’ mindset -- and may seek out more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds in the course of the day? That's purely speculation, and was not addressed in the study, though other studies have found that efforts to isolate a single health-inducing component of foods rarely succeed.

“One final thought. While much of the emphasis in the story was on encouraging consumption of whole grain cereals and breads, we'd also like to see people eat more intact whole grains with lower glycemic impact, like barley, wheatberries, and quinoa,” she added.

Source: Nutrition Research
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.nutres.2014.01.002
“Total dietary fiber intakes in the U.S. population are related to whole grain consumption: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2009–10”
Authors: M. Reicks, S. Jonnalagadda, A.M. Albertson, N. Joshi

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