Report researcher Yanni Papanikolaou told BakeryandSnacks that he and other researchers looked at data from the National Health Examination Survey (NHANES), which features national consumer consumption data from 2005 to 2010 for US residents ages two and older.
Within these numbers, researchers found that grains only account for 15% of the American diet.
Papanikolaou noted that 95% of Americans fall short of the recommended amount of dietary fiber. Grains can provide 23% of daily fiber, he said.
The motivation for this report, according to Papanikolaou, was findings from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, which is scheduled to be released in January 2016.
The report says Americans are not currently getting enough fiber, vitamin D, potassium or calcium in the diet, among other nutrients, something he said could be helped by adding grains to a diet.
When comparing those who consume grains in their diet versus those who do not, he said there was no significant association in weight, even if calories were higher among grain eaters.
One category (pasta, cooked cereal and rice) actually saw a lower body weight on average, with those who consumed this group of grains weighing 79 kilos (174 lbs) versus 82 kilos (180.8 lbs) for those who did not consume grains at all.
“There are all these misconceptions of people who eat grain food products being heavier individuals by weight,” Papanikolaou said. “Well, we couldn’t demonstrate that.”
Grains have been steadily declining in the American diet over the past decade, he said, mainly due to books and publications that paint a negative picture of wheat and grains.
Fiber is a major reason for more grains in a diet, Papanikolaou said, as it can be used to help reduce occurrences of heart disease, diabetes and possibly cancer. Most Americans get less than 50% of the recommended daily amount.
“It is very challenging without grains in the diet,” he said. “As we see from our study, if we didn’t have grains it’d be even more of a hurdle. It’s very hard to consume a lot of fiber, but if people can get to even 80% of the recommended amount, I think that is an incredible feat. One-hundred percent is even better, but the more you can get the better.”
‘Don’t be too quick to dismiss the benefits of cereal.’
Although many people have cut grains from their diet altogether, Papanikolaou said their research did not find any reason for this fear of grains.
With six servings of grains per day, at least one being whole grain and even if one is an “indulgent” grain such as cakes or cookies, the caloric intake is in line with US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations.
“Portion control is one of the things that is mentioned but it’s kind of in the background,” he said. “It really is an important piece of the puzzle, a very important variable. Instead of eliminating foods, especially grain foods or nutrient dense foods in general, it’s better to … look at portion control as one of your strategies.”
What will it take to get grains back in the good graces of the American populace? Education will and should play a big role, Papanikolaou believes, adding that people need to realize that high-fiber foods, such as a cereal, have more sugar or sodium due to the need to mask the taste.
“I think the food industry is challenged with creating fiber rich foods that are tastier,” he said. “I think that would definitely help. It’s challenging, and it’s not an easy task. At the same time, there’s too many products out there that don’t have enough fiber.”
“Looking at cereals, it’s basically what consumers are asking for. But I think adding more fiber to some of these cereals or other grain products would be a benefit to consumers. I think cereal has been unfairly attacked as a whole, just like the grain category as a whole has been. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the benefits of cereal.”