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Do you consider grains to be a priority food group for healthy eating?

No, we do not consider grains to be a priority food group. At the same time, however, we do not believe that grains are an automatically problematic food group. In fact, we believe that whole grains can be enjoyable to consume and can make significant contributions to a person's nourishment and overall health. We include eight different grains among our 100 WHFoods for these reasons.

Why our eating approach is not "anti-grain"

Over the years, various popular diets have recommended restriction of carbohydrates both for weight loss and improved health, and these diets have often advocated restricted grain intake as a means of lowering carbs. A recent example of this approach is the wheat belly diet, which generally restricts carbohydrates to 15 grams every 6 hours, and ends up with a total of about 40-60 grams of carbohydrate per day, depending on genetic, lifestyle, and other factors factors. The primary strategy for reduction of carbs in the wheat belly diet involves elimination of wheat, and secondarily, restriction or removal of other grains. This diet plan also predicts an average reduction in calories of about 400 calories per day through wheat and/or grain removal. This last aspect of the wheat belly diet (predicted calorie reduction) makes sense to us, given the fact that 6 ounces of wheat flour contain more than 400 calories, and the average U.S. adult consumes the equivalent of 6 ounces of wheat flour per day.

In addition to this predicted calorie reduction, the wheat belly diet points out the problems associated with routine intake of refined grains. We agree with this observation, and generally view refined grains as an unwanted routine component of any diet. However, we have never seen any research to suggest that grains are inherently unhealthy or special risk foods for development of any chronic disease. In fact, between 2000-2010, well over one million persons worldwide have participated in studies on whole grain intake, with results clearly establishing decreased risk of certain cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes with increased intake of whole grains. This overwhelming research evidence in favor of whole grain intake does not surprise us since a single cup of whole grains typically provides about 5-10 grams of fiber, 5-8 grams of protein, a good amount of magnesium and manganese, and helpful amounts of many B vitamins.

Why we do not consider grains to be a priority food group

At WHFoods, we do not consider grains to be a priority food group for two reasons. First, while we believe that grains can be a steady source of many key nutrients, we do view them as a concentrated source in the same was as other food groups like vegetables or legumes. This difference in nutrient concentration would allow grain intake to be replaced by intake from other foods groups, as long as food substitutions were done in an informed and careful way. Second, even though grains are counted on across the world as a reliable source of daily calories, intake of adequate daily calories is not a problem for the average U.S. adult since our average calorie intake is already too high for optimal health. To be sure, many persons in the U.S. are not only poorly nourished but also lack adequate daily calories. But on average, excess calories are a much bigger problem in the U.S. than inadequate calories, and most people deciding to restrict or remove grains from their meal plan would be able to compensate in calories with foods from other food groups.

In summary, we believe that whole grains work quite well for some people in terms of eating enjoyment, sound nutrition, and good health. We also believe that there is clear evidence of whole grain health benefits in research studies. At the same time, we believe that some people do better without grains, and that grains can successfully be replaced with foods in other foods groups, provided that the substitutions are carried out in a planned and careful way. If you are considering reduction or elimination of grains in your personal meal plan, we encourage you to read our article Adapting a Meal Plan for Little or No Grains.

Related Q&As About Wheat, Grains, and Gluten

References

To see the research articles we reviewed in the writing of these articles, see here.

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