I read that only 7 percent of Americans eat three servings of whole grains a day. Is that accurate?
That's actually a more difficult question to answer than you might think.
A November 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service reported that only 7 percent of survey respondents met recommendations made in 2005 to eat 3 ounces of whole grains per day for a 2,000-calorie diet. But to conduct their analysis, researchers had to rely on surveys from 1994-96 and 1998. More recent food intake surveys didn't collect the kind of information they needed for their analysis, so they simply used what they could get their hands on, even if the information was a bit old.
But there are indications that Americans are consuming more whole grains in recent years. For example, a 2007 Food and Health Survey conducted by the International Food Information Council reported that 71 percent of respondents say they are trying to increase their consumption of whole grains. In addition, the Whole Grains Council reported in late 2007 that not only is demand growing for whole grain foods, but hundreds of more whole-grain products have become available since 2000. Production of whole-grain flour increased 25 percent between 2006 and 2007 and more than doubled compared with production in 2003.
Still, whole-grain products, such as brown rice or whole-grain bread, tend to be higher-priced than their refined grain counterparts, such as white rice or white bread, which could dampen consumer demand. And availability (or lack thereof) of whole-grain items in restaurants could also be a stumbling block. According to the National Restaurant Association, American adults buy a meal or a snack from a restaurant nearly six times per week on average, and spend almost half of their food budget on food away from home.
When whole grains are available, there are some indications consumers respond positively: At the Whole Grains Conference held in November 2007, PF Chang's China Bistro and Pei Wei's Asian Diner reported that almost half of their diners choose brown rice instead of refined white rice.
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that at least half of the grain products we eat should be whole grains, amounting to at least three ounces or servings a day on a 2,000 calorie-a-day diet. A serving is the equivalent of one slice of whole-grain bread; a half-cup of brown rice, whole-grain pasta or cooked cereal; or a cup of ready-to-eat whole-grain cereal. Look for the term "whole grain" (or, more specifically, "whole wheat" or other type of grain) on the label.
Chow Line is a service of Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH, 43210-1044, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor: This column was reviewed by Anne Smith, associate professor in the Department of Human Nutrition and director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics in the College of Education and Human Ecology.