by Marion Nestle
Dec 29 2007

Today’s question: whole grains

Katherine asks about whole grains: “This whole argument makes my head hurt. As some one who is currently needing to make changes in their lifestyle, whether or not to include grains is a question for which I can find no clear answer on. Frankly at this point, I am just confused….”

I agree that the labeling is confusing but the dietary advice is pretty clear and well backed by research: whole grains are good to eat. Whole grain means just what it says–the entire seed of wheat, rice, or whatever. Whole grains contain all of the nutrients–vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants–in the seed. Processing removes much of these, leaving just the calories and starch. So you want to look for 100% whole grain. I’m not aware of any controversy over the benefits of whole grains; the evidence for their nutritional benefits is quite strong. The arguments are about processed grains that have much of their nutritional value removed. Does that help?

  • This comment makes me think about all the bits and pieces of nutrition advice the general public hears and how it all becomes overwhelming.

    There is a clearer message and that is – eat foods that are close to the natural form, without extra colors, few added sugars, etc.

    I’d like to see that in the next Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  • Mark

    I’m not sure the solution is whole grain Twinkies over good baguettes. I live in Japan, and most of the diet is polished rice, and yet people are generally healthy. The health benefits of the miniscule amount of antioxidants in wheat bread are minimal, but the health problems associated with obesity are huge.

    “[T]he evidence for their nutritional benefits is quite strong.” This is not that clear, actually, when you look closely at all the research. There are a lot of correlations that have been established, but little cause and effect proven, due to confounding factors. People who eat bad food tend to have all kinds of other bad habits.

  • Would you be able to provide some links to the clear evidence? And in particular, I’m not asking for evidence that shows that whole grains are better than processed grains. I’ve seen all that evidence, but it doesn’t prove that I should choose whole grains over, say, vegetables. What I would like to see is evidence that shows that whole grains are a better place to spend part of our daily calorie budget than are vegetables, meats, dairy products, fish, eggs, high quality fats, and fruits. That is to say, am I better off consuming whole grains or omitting grains entirely?

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