Wholegrain goodness

Study finds those who eat more wholegrains have a better diet overall

We know that something in wholegrains is good for us. Whether it’s the fibre, phytochemicals or more likely a combination of multiple components working together in the wholegrain. Whatever the mechanism, there is something good in wholegrains that makes them really special.

Despite strong growth in wholegrain products, there is limited information about wholegrain intakes in the Australian population. A recent study just published has assessed the consumption of wholegrains and association with nutrient intake in a nationally representative US population.

The data was collected from a secondary analysis of cross-sectional data from the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey in 1999-2004. In the absence of Australian consumption data for wholegrains at a nationally representative level, this study may give some indication about the level of wholegrain intake in developed countries such as Australia. The US study investigated over 7000 adults, aged 19 to 50 year olds and over 6000 adults, 51 years and over. Participants were divided into four wholegrain consumption groups 0-0.6, 0.6-1.5, 1.5-3.0, and >3.0 serves a day. Serve sizes are calculated based on ounce equivalents of grains (one serve). One ounce equivalent is equal to the amount of food considered equivalent to ½ cup cooked rice, pasta or cooked cereal, 1 slice of bread or 1 cup of breakfast cereal. Note that Australian and US serve sizes are different. Australian serve sizes are larger, for example, one serve is equal to 2 slices of bread.

The study found that Adults aged 19 to 50 and 51+ years consumed a mean of 0.63 and 0.77 servings of wholegrains per day respectively. Seventy two percent of 19 to 50 year olds, and 70% of 51+ year olds consumed less than 0.6 servings of wholegrains or less daily, with only 4.8% and 6.6% of individuals in these age groups, respectively, eating the recommended 3 serves of wholegrains daily.

For both age groups, diet quality and intake of energy, fibre and polyunsaturated fatty acids were significantly higher in those consuming the most servings of wholegrains. Intake of negative nutrients such as total sugars, added sugars, saturated fatty acids, and cholesterol was significantly lower in those consuming the most servings of wholegrains, as was monounsaturated fatty acids. Apart from Vitamin B12 and sodium, the intake of all micronutrients was higher among those individuals who consumed the most servings of wholegrains.

Although these are positive results, unfortunately the majority of the Adult US population was not consuming enough wholegrains, which is likely to be the similar story in Australia. What we do know is US adults who consumed the most servings of wholegrains had better diet quality and nutrient intakes.

The researchers in this study used a stricter definition for wholegrain than many previous studies. Known as the My Pyramid Equivalents Database (MPED), this definition excludes added bran and pearled barley, which are not technically wholegrain; most published studies have not used this newer definition. The intake of wholegrains was slightly lower in this study compared to other US studies, however this is likely due to the change in the definition of wholegrains used.

Some of the well documented barriers to wholegrain consumption include lack of familiarity and preparation, lack of understanding of the health benefits, the higher price associated with some wholegrain foods, an inability to identify wholegrains and a reported preference for refined grain foods. The authors conclude how important it is for health professionals, industry, government and public health campaigns to promote the consumption of wholegrains more vigorously. They state that dietitian’s need to know more about wholegrains and ways to promote them; health claims could be another way to help increase wholegrain consumption and they also stress the importance of a national wholegrain campaign such as the 2&5 fruit and vegetable campaign.

Go Grains Health & Nutrition is actively involved in many similar strategies aimed to ultimately increase wholegrain consumption and the results of this study help to support the work of Go Grains in Australia.


O’Neil C, Nicklas T, Zanovec M and Cho S. Whole-grain Consumption is Associated with Diet Quality and Nutrient Intake in Adults: The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2004. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Oct 2010, Vol 110, (10) 1461-1468.

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