Whole Grains 101

whole grains 101

U.S. Dietary Guidelines and WG

eat 3 servings or more of whole grains daily

The specifics of dietary recommendations differ from country to country. This page details the recommendations of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Click here if you'd like to learn more about other countries' guidelines.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend different amounts of calories and foods according to your age and activity level. Overall, the Guidelines recommend that all Americans make half or more of their grains whole grains. For everyone age 9 and up, this means eating 3 to 5 servings or more of whole grains every day.

The good news is that whole grains are delicious and satisfying, and it's not hard to get your recommended servings.

Grain Recommendations in U.S. Guidelines

According to the U.S. Guidelines, the Whole Grains figure [the first number for each age/gender group, in the table below] "is the minimum suggested amount of whole grains to consume... More whole grains up to all of the grains recommended [the second number for each age/gender group] may be selected, with offsetting decreases in the amounts of other (enriched) grains."

age girls / women
boys / men
2-3 1.5 to 3 1.5 to 3
4-8 2 to 4 2.5 to 5
9-13 3 to 5 3 to 6
14-18 3 to 6 3.5 to 7
19-30 3 to 6 4 to 8
31-50 3 to 6 3.5 to 7
51+ 3 to 5 3 to 6

 

Examples of a serving

The U.S. Guidelines define a serving as any of the following amounts, for products where all the grain ingredients are whole grains:

1/2 cup cooked rice, bulgur, pasta, or cooked cereal
1 ounce dry pasta, rice or other dry grain
1 slice bread
1 small muffin (weighing one ounce)
1 cup ready-to-eat cereal flakes

If you're enjoying whole grains in products that mix whole grains with enriched/refined grains, look for the Whole Grain Stamp to be sure you're getting at least a half serving (8g) of whole grains.

What is an "ounce-equivalent?"

The U.S. Guidelines actually say you should eat a specified number of "ounce-equivalents" instead of servings. Because a slice of most breads, a cup of most cold cereals, and the amount of dry rice or pasta that cooks up to 1/2 cup all weigh about an ounce, the Guidelines thought this would be more specific and understandable than simply saying "serving." If the term "ounce-equivalent" leaves you cold, just check the amounts above or use the Whole Grain Stamp to count your servings.

U.S. Guidelines Details on Whole Grains

Specific recommendations for eating whole grains daily first appeared in the 2005 version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which said,

"In addition to fruits and vegetables, whole grains are an important source of fiber and other nutrients. Whole grains, as well as foods made from them, consist of the entire grain seed, usually called the kernel. The kernel is made of three components – the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. If the kernel has been cracked, crushed, or flaked, then it must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm as the original grain to be called whole grain.

"In the grain-refining process, most of the bran and some of the germ is removed, resulting in the loss of dietary fiber (also known as cereal fiber), vitamins, minerals, lignans, phytoestrogens, phenolic compounds, and phytic acid. Some manufacturers add bran to grain products to increase the dietary fiber content. Refined grains are the resulting product of the grain-refining processing. Most refined grains are enriched before being further processed into foods. Enriched refined grain products that conform to standards of identity are required by law to be fortified with folic acid, as well as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and iron. Food manufacturers may fortify whole-grain foods where regulations permit the addition of folic acid. Currently, a number of whole-grain, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals are fortified with folic acid...

"Consuming at least 3 or more ounce-equivalents of whole grains per day can reduce the risk of several chronic diseases and may help with weight maintenance. Thus, daily intake of at least 3 ounce-equivalents of whole grains per day is recommended by substituting whole grains for refined grains. However, because three servings may be difficult for younger children to achieve, it is recommended that they increase whole grains into their diets as they grow. At all calorie levels, all age groups should consume at least half the grains as whole grains to achieve the fiber recommendation. All grain servings can be whole-grain; however, it is advisable to include some folate-fortified products, such as folate-fortified whole-grain cereals, in these whole-grain choices."
p. 25

from the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The pace stepped up a bit in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, where much of the information above was repeated, and new advice was added, including:

"Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium." p. 21

"Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains." p. 34

"Many grain foods contain both whole grains and refined grains. These foods also can help people meet the whole grain recommendation, especially if a considerable proportion of the grain ingredients is whole grains. For example, foods with at least 51 percent of the total weight as whole-grain ingredients contain a substantial amount of whole grains. Another example is foods with at least 8 grams of whole grains per ounce-equivalent." p. 37

from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans indicated support for the Whole Grain Stamp, stating:

A food is a 100-percent whole-grain food if the only grains it contains are whole grains. One ounce- equivalent of whole grains has 16 g of whole grains. The recommendation to consume at least half of total grains as whole grains can be met in a number of ways.

The most direct way to meet the whole grain recommendation is to choose 100 percent whole-grain foods for at least half of all grains consumed. The relative amount of whole grain in the food can be inferred by the placement of the grain in the ingredients list. The whole grain should be the first ingredient—or the second ingredient, after water. For foods with multiple whole-grain ingredients, they should appear near the beginning of the ingredients list.

Many grain foods contain both whole grains and refined grains. These foods also can help people meet the whole grain recommendation, especially if a considerable proportion of the grain ingredients is whole grains. Another way to meet the recommendation to make at least half of grains whole grains is to choose products with at least 50 percent of the total weight as whole-grain ingredients.[14],[15] If a food has at least 8 g of whole grains per ounce-equivalent, it is at least half whole grains.[16] Some product labels show the whole grains health claim or the grams of whole grain in the product. This information may help people identify food choices that have a substantial amount of whole grains.

From the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

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