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Feature Articles: Eating Well, Dietary Guidelines for Americans


whole grain foodsIncreasing intake of whole grains

Greta Hopke, RD, and Candance Gabel, MS, RD, LD, HES Assistant Program Director, Associate State Specialist, State Coordinator, University of Missouri Extension


You may already know that grains should form the base of your diet, but do you know whether you’re eating the right type or amount of grains?


Whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. They are a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Low intake of whole grains makes it difficult, if not impossible, to meet the recommended fiber intake of 14 grams per 1,000 calories. A diet rich in whole grains can also reduce the risk of diseases and help maintain weight.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans give specific recommendations of how many whole grain servings you should eat each day, and how to identify whole grains.

What makes a grain product “whole grain”?

A whole grain product includes all three parts of the original grain: bran, germ and endosperm. Together, these three parts provide fiber, vitamins and minerals.


In refined grain products, most of the bran and germ sections are removed, eliminating most of the fiber and nutrients. Refined grains often have vitamins and minerals added back into the product, called enriched grains. Although the grains have been enriched, they do not provide as much fiber or match the vitamin and mineral content of the whole grain.


To determine if a product is whole grain, refer to the product’s ingredient label. Look for “whole” or “whole grain” before the name of the grain ingredient (such as wheat, rye or oats). For a product to be considered whole grain, the whole grain ingredient should be the first ingredient listed.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend choosing whole grains for at least half your grain and bread servings each day. For example, if you eat 8 servings of grains and breads per day, at least 4 servings should be whole grains. One grain or bread serving (a 1-ounce equivalent) is equal to 1 slice of bread, 1 cup dry cereal, or 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta or cereal.

To help increase your variety of whole grains, choose foods such as:


  • Whole wheat
  • Whole oats or oatmeal
  • Whole rye
  • Whole grain corn
  • Popcorn
  • Buckwheat
  • Whole grain barley
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Triticale
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Sorghum

(Source: Agriculture Research Service Database for CSFII 1994-1996.)

Tips for including whole grains in your diet:

  • Try whole grain cereals for breakfast. Be sure to check the ingredient list for a whole grain to be listed first.
  • Eat 100 percent whole wheat bread.
  • Use a whole grain variety when cooking with pasta, rice or other grains.
  • Snack on whole grain foods, such as popcorn or whole grain cereal.
  • Substitute whole grain flours for all or part of white flour when cooking or baking.

Though whole grains are important, the Dietary Guidelines emphasize that they are only part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. Variety, balance and moderation are important aspects of a healthy eating plan. The Dietary Guidelines emphasize consuming foods from all food groups while choosing foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, salt and added sugars. Physical activity is also an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

Adapted from Dietary Guidelines for Americans, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, January 2005.


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