FAQ

Get the facts on all your grain-related questions from our team of expert nutrition, wellness and medical professionals. Explore everything you need to know on topics from gluten sensitivity and the side effects of gluten free diets to enriched grains and the importance of a balanced diet.

B Vitamins

How are B vitamins good for the nervous system?

B vitamins, found in a number of foods, including whole and enriched grain foods, are important for production of energy and neurotransmitters in brain cells, rapid transport of signals across brain cells and reduction of metabolic waste products (homocysteine), which can damage the nervous system and decrease brain function.

How do B vitamins give you energy?

The B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin and niacin play a key role in metabolism — they help the body release energy from protein, fat and carbohydrates. B vitamins are also essential for a healthy nervous system. Many refined grains are enriched with these B vitamins.

How does folic acid benefit the brain?

Folic acid, also called B9 or folate when found in natural food sources including enriched grains, helps to protect your DNA and reduce toxic waste products, such as homocysteine, that can harm your brain and small blood vessels. Higher intake of folic acid is also associated with better attention, visuospatial function and executive cognitive skills in older adults.

What are the best sources of folic acid? What about the best sources for B vitamins?

Green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, beans and whole grains are all good sources of naturally occurring folate; however, enriched breads, breakfast cereals, flours, cornmeals, pasta, rice and other grain products are all fortified with folic acid, as well.

Folic acid is well known for its role in preventing birth defects. In fact, the Spina Bifida Association urges all women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily beginning before pregnancy and through the early months of pregnancy as part of a healthful diet. Bread, crackers, bagels, pasta, pretzels and tortillas made from enriched white flour are all great sources of folic acid.

What is the relationship between folic acid intake and the prevalence of spina bifida?

The most significant lifestyle step a woman can take to prevent spina bifida in her children is to consume enough folic acid before getting pregnant. Since a baby’s spinal cord develops so early during pregnancy, women need to pay attention to their eating habits even before getting pregnant. In fact, a recent March of Dimes and CDC survey revealed that only 28 percent of women of childbearing age knew folic acid can prevent birth defects and only 11 said they knew that folic acid should be consumed prior to pregnancy.

All women who are old enough to become pregnant should consume 400 micrograms of folic acid each day. This is important for keeping the level of folic acid in their bodies high enough should they become pregnant.

What types of grain foods are sources of folic acid?

Folic acid, a type of B vitamin necessary for cell function and growth of tissues, can be found in fortified or enriched breads, breakfast cereals, flours, cornmeals and pasta, as well as in rice and other grain products.

Celiac Disease & Gluten Sensitivity

Are there any grains I can eat if I have been diagnosed with celiac disease?

If you have celiac disease, you should avoid gluten-containing grains including wheat, rye, barley and any products made from them. Gluten-free grains include quinoa, rice, corn, amaranth, teff, millet, sorghum, buckwheat and oats (be sure to choose oats labeled as gluten-free as this grain is often contaminated.)

How common is celiac disease? What are the chances that I have it?

Celiac disease is estimated to affect approximately one percent of the U.S. population. That’s the equivalent of nearly 1 out of every 133 Americans, according to a new study by the Center for Celiac Research & Treatment in Boston.

Is celiac disease defined as an allergy to gluten?

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder, not an allergy to gluten. This means that when a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, her body essentially attacks itself; this process can damage the intestinal lining and inhibit nutrient absorption from food. Autoimmune disorders are very different from allergies.

Is there a blood test that can detect gluten sensitivity?

There is no definitive diagnostic test for gluten sensitivity at this time. If you believe you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it’s important to consult with your doctor before eliminating gluten from your diet.

Should everyone be tested for gluten sensitivity?

It is estimated that celiac disease affects one percent of the U.S. population or approximately 1 out of every 133 Americans, according to the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Celiac Research & Treatment. Additionally, although the exact number is unknown, the same group estimates the prevalence of gluten sensitivity to be roughly six percent of Americans. There is no definitive diagnostic test for gluten sensitivity at this time. If you believe you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, it’s important to consult with your doctor before eliminating gluten from you diet.

What is celiac disease?

Celiac disease is an inherited autoimmune disorder that, in the presence of gluten, causes the small intestine to become inflamed and lose its ability to absorb nutrients from food.  Additionally, a growing number of people suffer from a gluten intolerance less severe than celiac disease which makes them unable to digest gluten properly. Gluten is found in foods containing wheat and wheat-related grains such as kamut, spelt, barley and rye.

What should I do if I think I have celiac disease?

If you suspect you have celiac disease, talk with your doctor before making any dietary changes. Most people are unaware that starting a gluten-free diet before getting tested can affect the accuracy of testing.

Enriched Grains

How servings of grains per day are recommended for people living diabetes?

At this time there is no scientific evidence that points to an ideal amount of daily grain and carbohydrate intake for people living with diabetes.  The latest guidelines from the American Diabetes Association suggest each individual affected by diabetes should have a personalized dietary plan. This plan should include recommendations for carbohydrate intake, including grains, as part of a balanced diet. For specific recommendations it’s best to seek nutrition counsel from a registered dietitian specializing in diabetes.

If whole grains are so good for you, then should I cut other grains out of my diet?

No; Each grain source offers a unique “package” of nutrients that contributes to a complete diet. When eaten in different combinations, each package complements one another, coming together like a symphony keeping your body healthy. The key to optimal nutrition is balance and variety.

Both whole and enriched grains play a very important role in the body. Whole grains are good sources of fiber, B vitamins and disease-fighting antioxidants, while enriched grains are an excellent source of folic acid, which is known to reduce birth defects. According to the CDC, enriched grains are responsible for lowering the rate of neural tube birth defects by approximately one-third in the U.S., and folic acid fortification of enriched grains was recently named as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the last decade!

Is it true bread has a higher glycemic index than a candy bar?

The Glycemic Index (GI) is based on 50 grams of available carbohydrate for any food tested, not 50 grams total of that specific food. For bread this equates to 3–4 slices in one sitting (without any other foods), which exceeds the amount typically consumed in day-to-day life. Additionally, the GI is an extremely variable scale influenced by factors like macronutrient mix at meals (i.e., the mix of carbs, fat and protein), the acidity of a food and even the ripeness of a fruit. Because of its variability, the GI is not a realistic tool for everyday use.

What are examples of enriched grains?

White bread and rolls, tortillas, rice, pretzels, pasta and cereals are all examples of enriched grains.

What are fortified grains? What about refined grains – those are bad, right?

Fortification is the addition of nutrients to a food where they are not naturally occurring. Enrichment is the replacement of naturally occurring nutrients that have been removed during processing. White flour is refined and then enriched with niacin, iron, thiamine, and riboflavin to levels similar to those found in whole grains to replace what was lost during the milling process. Enriched grains are also fortified with folic acid to approximately two to three times the levels found in whole grains to help reduce rates of birth defects.

What are the benefits of eating enriched grains?

Enriched grains, such as white bread and rolls, tortillas, rice, pasta and cereals, are fortified with three major B vitamins (niacin, thiamin and riboflavin), iron and the B vitamin folic acid, which is critical in the prevention of some birth defects. In fact, enriched flour contains twice as much folic acid as its whole grain counterpart, making enriched grains the largest source of folic acid in the diets of most Americans (whole grain products, with the exception of some breakfast cereals, are not fortified with folic acid.)

What is an enriched grain?

Grains may be consumed in their enriched, or white flour, form. About 95 percent of the white flour in the U.S. is enriched, which means three major B vitamins — thiamin, riboflavin and niacin — are added back to the flour in the same proportion as is found in the whole kernel, in addition to supplemental iron. Due to this process, enriched grains contain twice the folic acid as their whole grain counterparts.

Why is it important to include a mix of whole and enriched grains as part of my diet?

Both whole and enriched grains offer health benefits. Enriched grains, such as white bread and rolls, tortillas, rice, pasta and cereals, are fortified with three major B vitamins (niacin, thiamin and riboflavin,) iron and the B vitamin folic acid, which is critical in the prevention of some birth defects. Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal, are important sources of antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and numerous other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. As part of a healthy diet, whole grains may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Gluten-Free Diets and Brain Disorders

If I have a history of Alzheimer’s disease in my family, should I stop eating grains?

There is no evidence to suggest that one should stop eating grains if they have a family history of Alzheimer’s disease. Familial Alzheimer’s disease is caused predominately by the genes inherited from your parents and therefore has very little to do with environmental factors (e.g. diet.) Eating a well-balanced diet rich in whole grain foods, vegetables, fruits and legumes is one of the best strategies we have for dementia prevention.

Will grains help me with depression?

Theoretically, whole grains may help prevent the blues since they are a source of several key nutrients that support serotonin production, a neurotransmitter associated with regulation of mood. However, this is speculative at this point and has no scientific basis.

Grains & Your Brain

Do grains offer any nutritional benefits for brain health?

As part of an overall healthful eating pattern, specifically one that follows the principles of the Mediterranean diet, research suggests consuming whole grain foods has been shown to positively impact cognitive function. Grain foods offer essential B vitamins and antioxidants that reduce inflammation associated with disease development.

How else do grains help the body?

Eating grains, especially whole grains, is beneficial for overall health. People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Grains provide many nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies.

  • Consuming whole grains as part of a healthy diet may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Consuming foods containing fiber, such as whole grains, as part of a healthy diet may reduce constipation.
  • Eating whole grains may help with weight management.
  • Grains are important sources of many nutrients, including dietary fiber, several B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate) and minerals (iron, magnesium and selenium.)
  • Dietary fiber from whole grains or other foods may help reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Fiber is also important for proper bowel function, helping to reduce constipation and diverticulosis. Fiber-containing foods such as whole grains also help provide a feeling of fullness with fewer calories.
  • Folate (folic acid,) is a B vitamin that helps the body form red blood cells. Women of childbearing age who may become pregnant should consume adequate folate from foods, as well as an additional 400 micrograms of synthetic folic acid from fortified foods or supplements. This reduces the risk of neural tube defects, spina bifida and anencephaly during fetal development.
  • Iron is used to carry oxygen in the blood. Many teenage girls and women in their childbearing years have iron-deficiency anemia. They should eat foods high in heme iron (meats) or eat other iron-containing foods, along with foods rich in vitamin C, which can improve absorption of non-heme iron. Whole and enriched refined grain foods are major sources of non-heme iron in American diets.
  • Whole grains are sources of magnesium and selenium. Magnesium is a mineral used in building bones and releasing energy from muscles. Selenium protects cells from oxidation, and is also important for a healthy immune system.
Is it true that grains make you sleepy or give you the afternoon slump?

We have all experienced the “afternoon slump” where we feel sleepy or sluggish. This is often due to a rapid fall in blood sugar levels after our lunchtime meal. Grains are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates and, when paired with a balance of fat and protein at meals, can stave off a rapid drop in blood sugar.

Is there a direct correlation between grains and Alzheimer’s disease?

Given that people eat food from various food sources as combination meals and snacks, and not in isolation, there is no evidence to suggest that grains are directly related to or are a casual factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

What are the best types of grains to eat?

Both whole and enriched grains offer health benefits. Enriched grains, such as white bread and rolls, tortillas, rice, pasta and cereals are fortified with three major B vitamins (niacin, thiamin and riboflavin,) plus iron and the B vitamin folic acid, which is critical in the prevention of some birth defects. Whole grains, including whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal, are important sources of antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and numerous other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. As part of a healthy diet, whole grains may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

What are the drawbacks of removing grains from my diet?

Whole grain consumption is associated with better weight management and digestive health, and decreased risk for diabetes, vascular disease and diabetes. Thus, removing grains from your diet may increase your risk for chronic diseases that plague Americans.

Why are grains good for the brain in particular?

A direct effect of grain consumption on brain health has not been elucidated. However, we know whole grains are rich sources of vitamins, minerals, fiber, lignans, beta-glucan, inulin, phytochemicals (non-nutrient active plant compounds,) and sphingolipids (a type of lipid that plays a critical role in transmitting signals and cell communication in the brain.) Lutein and zeaxanthin, considered ”carotenoids,” are concentrated in the bran or germ portion of whole grains. Higher intakes of these phytochemicals have been associated with superior memory performance in older adults.

Whole grain consumption has also been associated with reduced blood pressure, vascular disease, obesity, cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes, which may indirectly promote healthy brain function.

Side Effects of Gluten-Free Diets

Can I lose weight on a gluten-free diet?

It’s possible to lose weight if you follow any restrictive diet, but most people who follow the gluten-free diet actually gain weight at the start. In fact, contrary to what you might read in the media, studies show there is no evidence to support weight loss as a benefit of a gluten-free diet.

If I do have celiac disease, how can I make sure I still get the proper nutrition?

If you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you must follow a strict gluten-free diet. Because this type of diet restricts a number of staple foods, like wheat-based bread and pasta, it’s important to work with a registered dietitian who specializes in these conditions, especially if you’re just starting the diet. He or she can teach you about nutrient-dense substitutes for gluten-containing foods and how to read food labels to spot gluten while also monitoring key health metrics, such as your weight and levels of key nutrients.

What are the pros and cons of a gluten-free diet?

People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity must follow a strict gluten-free diet since it is the only medical treatment currently available for these conditions. However, the average healthy person does not need to follow a gluten-free diet. Drawbacks of cutting gluten without medical necessity may include missing out on important nutrients like fiber and B vitamins (especially if the diet is not well-planned) weight gain, inconvenience and increased food costs.

What downsides are there to going gluten-free as an athlete?

Including athletes, the average healthy person does not need to follow the gluten-free diet without medical necessity. The nutrients found in grains, especially complex carbohydrates and B vitamins, are essential for maintaining an active lifestyle and having the energy to perform. Whether you’re a weekend warrior, triathlete or training for your first 5K, there is no data showing a benefit to athletes from going gluten-free.

Who should be following a gluten-free diet?

A gluten-free diet is recommended as a treatment for those with diagnosed celiac disease or for those with people suffering from non-celiac gluten sensitivity. celiac disease is an autoimmune disease that affects about 1 percent of the population. The condition manifests in the small intestine and is characterized by adverse bodily reactions in conjunction with the consumption of gluten, including damage to lining of the small intestine. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is estimated to affect about 6 percent of the population, but is not characterized as an autoimmune disease. Both conditions require medical diagnoses and the only treatment is complete abstinence from food products that contain gluten proteins including wheat, rye or barley.

Will eliminating gluten from my diet improve my athletic performance?

Currently there is no scientific evidence supporting a relationship between cutting gluten and improved athletic performance. At this time, fueling the body with a balanced diet is the best diet strategy for any athlete. For specific dietary recommendations, it’s best seek nutrition counsel from a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition.

The Importance of a Balanced Diet

Can I eat grains if I have diabetes?

Yes. The American Diabetes Association recommends a variety of eating patterns that include all food groups, including carbohydrates like grains, are acceptable for the management of diabetes. Recommendations for daily carbohydrate consumption are specific to each individual and should be outlined by your doctor or health care professional who specializes in nutrition for diabetes management.

Has genetic engineering led to increased levels of gluten in today’s wheat plant?

No. There is no genetically modified wheat currently being cultivated anywhere in the world. According to studies conducted using wheat samples from the United States, Canada and Europe that date back to the 1920s, there has been no meaningful change in the amount of gluten found in today’s wheat plant.

How many grains should I eat per day?

How many you should eat each day depends on your age, gender, body size and activity level. The more active you are, the more you need to eat. Packaged-food labels are based on an average person’s need for 2,000 calories a day, which means consuming about six ounces of grain foods daily. It’s important to note that children, women and older adults may only need 1,600 calories per day and should consume about five ounces of grain foods. Conversely, teenage boys and very active men may require as many as 2,800 calories a day and could eat as many as 10 ounces of grain foods a day.

Is it better for you to go gluten-free?

In short, no; It’s not beneficial for the average person to go gluten-free. Unless you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there is no benefit to cutting gluten from your diet. In fact, most people who start a gluten-free diet actually gain weight and other drawbacks may include nutrient deficiencies, increased food costs and inconvenience.

What are the benefits of grains and gluten in my diet, as an athlete?

Grains, both whole and enriched, offer unique nutritional benefits to athletes and anyone engaging in regular physical activity. Enriched grains, like pasta and white bread, serve as an ideal, readily available energy source for athletes because they are easy to digest and cause very little gastrointestinal discomfort. For this reason, enriched grains are a great pre-workout energy source. Whole grains, like cereals and whole wheat bread, offer plenty of fiber and antioxidants which can help the body recover from vigorous physical activity and replenish the energy stores in muscles.

What nutrients do grains provide?

Grains, in both their whole and enriched forms, play a vital role in a healthy diet with both immediate and long-term benefits. They are an important source of antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and phytonutrients.

Where does your advice that I should eat at least six servings of grain a day come from?

The United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate program recommends that Americans eat at least six one-ounce servings of grain foods daily to maintain a healthy diet. Within those six servings, half the grains consumed should be whole grains.

Which grains will give me the most health benefits?

The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend getting six one-ounce servings of grains daily, half from whole grain sources and the rest from enriched sources, to reap the nutritional benefits of both. Whole grain products offer fiber and antioxidants, while enriched grains provide B vitamins, iron and folic acid. Many grain products, such as bread and pasta, come in both whole and enriched forms, and a combination of both is important for a healthful diet. The grains you choose should be based on your preferences but, above all, be creative, have fun and know that by following the Dietary Guidelines, you’re making the right choices!

Whole Grains

Besides fiber, are there any other reasons I need whole grains in my diet?

The three parts of a whole grain (the bran, germ and endosperm) work in synergy to provide important nutrients, including fiber, but also antioxidants, magnesium, B vitamins and phytonutrients. The greatest health benefits for the average healthy adult have been shown to come from consuming approximately three one-ounce servings of whole grains daily, which is why the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend making half your grains whole grains.

Do whole grains and fiber have any effect on the cholesterol?

Adding whole grains to a diet filled with fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats can decrease LDL (the bad cholesterol) which can lead to heart disease.

Do whole grains help with blood pressure?

Fiber is a good source of both potassium and magnesium, which can lower blood pressure.

How do I know if a product has whole grains?

When shopping for whole grain foods, a good rule of thumb for identifying them is to look for “100% whole grain” on the label. Also, check the product’s ingredient list, making sure the whole grain ingredient is the first listed.

How does fiber reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease?

When whole grains and fiber are part of a diet, it increases the cells’ sensitivity to insulin. When the cells becomes more able to respond to insulin, sugars are more easily metabolized, decreasing the risk of diabetes, and subsequently heart disease.

How much fiber do I need in a day?

The Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit organization that works to provide unauthoritative advice to decision makers and the public, recommends a daily intake of 38 grams of fiber per day for healthy adult males and at least 25 grams of fiber per day for healthy adult females. Whole grain products are often an excellent source of fiber; however, different whole grain sources contain varying levels of fiber, so it’s important to look at the number of grams of fiber per serving on the nutrition label.

Is all fiber the same?

Dietary fiber comes from plant-based foods and is a substance that is broken down or absorbed by the human digestive system. Fiber is classified as either soluble or insoluble. Soluble fiber has the ability to absorb water, creating a gel-like substance that has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels when eaten regularly, among other health benefits. Oats are a good source of soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber does not absorb water and acts as roughage to help move food through the intestinal tract, improving digestion and increasing satiety. Whole wheat is a great source of insoluble fiber.

Is it true bread has a higher glycemic index than a candy bar?

The Glycemic Index (GI) is based on 50 grams of available carbohydrate for any food tested, not 50 grams total of that specific food. For bread this equates to 3–4 slices in one sitting (without any other foods), which exceeds the amount typically consumed in day-to-day life. Additionally, the GI is an extremely variable scale influenced by factors like macronutrient mix at meals (i.e., the mix of carbs, fat and protein), the acidity of a food and even the ripeness of a fruit. Because of its variability, the GI is not a realistic tool for everyday use.

Is the fiber listed on the nutrition facts panel reflective of whole grains?

Not necessarily. Whole grain products contain varying levels of fiber, so fiber content alone is not a good indicator of whether a product is made of or contains whole grain.

What are examples of whole grains?

Popcorn, whole grain couscous, cracked wheat and oatmeal are popular forms of whole grains found in the U.S. Pseudograins, including buckwheat, quinoa and wild rice, are also accepted as whole grains.

USDA’s MyPlate suggests consuming at least three one-ounce servings of whole grains each day, but currently Americans are only consuming about one. Use their helpful Whole Grain Food Finder to make finding whole grains a snap.

What are the benefits of whole grains?

Whole grains are composed of the entire kernel — the bran, germ and endosperm — and are an important source of antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and numerous other vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. As part of a healthy diet, whole grains may reduce the risks associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Whole grains may be eaten whole, cracked, split or ground. They can be milled into flour or used to make breads, cereals and other foods. If a food label states that the package contains whole grain, the “”whole grain”” part of the food inside the package is required to have virtually the same proportions of bran, germ and endosperm as the harvested kernel does before it is processed.

What is a whole grain?

All grains start life as whole grains. In their natural state growing in the fields, whole grains are the entire seed of a plant. This seed is made up of three key parts: the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

What’s the difference between whole grain, multigrain and whole wheat?

Whole grain means that all parts of the grain kernel, including the bran, germ and endosperm, are present. Multigrain contains more than one type of grain and does not necessarily contain whole grains. It’s important to read the ingredient list when shopping for whole grains. Whole wheat is one type of whole grain.

Whole grains take a long time to cook – how can I get them on the go?

Sandwiches made with whole grain bread are great for on-the-go eating. Grain-based salads can also be prepared in advance for weekday meals. Prepare a large batch of brown rice, whole wheat pasta, wheat berries or quinoa (or even a mix of them) and toss with chopped veggies, dressing, chicken, herbs, cheese, nuts or fruit for a satisfying lunch. For snacking, popcorn is a great source of whole grain that can purchased pre-made or popped in advance for easy eating.