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BLOG: An RD Challenge: How Well Do You Know Your Whole Grains?

Author: Rachel Randazzo
Published: Tuesday, April 16, 2013

As a food and nutrition expert “in-training,” I love to eat, cook and grocery shop. Oh yes. If you happen to shop at the Dierbergs on Clarkson and Manchester on Sundays in the near future, and notice an unusually happy girl walking up and down every aisle exploring new foods, it is more than likely me. In fact, I like to grocery shop so much that I willingly join the “after- church crowd” every Sunday, in the exhilarating rat race to Dierbergs to stock up on items that I know I will need to survive a new week of rotations. Crazy, I know.

Well just a few Sundays ago, I was cruising down the bread aisle at Dierbergs, when I noticed that my mom had added a new brand of bread to my grocery list. Assuming that she likely heard about this brand from Dr. Oz, I sighed as I looked at the enormous wall of bread staring back at me. Could it be any more overwhelming? As I zoomed in closer on the package labels, I finally spotted the fancy “Seven-Grain” bread that she had requested. Unconvinced, I grabbed the loaf and quickly began to scan the ingredient list on the packaging for its promised, seven grains. As expected, the ingredient list did not contain seven grains, or any whole grain ingredients at all.

Without hesitation, I shoved the loaf of bread back onto the crowded shelf and grabbed my usual, non-fancy 100% whole wheat bread and headed towards checkout. Already 20 minutes passed my usual time spent at the grocery store, I paced in the checkout line reminiscing over the events that had just occurred; a soon-to-be Registered Dietitian was almost fooled into purchasing an overpriced loaf of bread with minimal nutritional value. Almost. My blood pressure continued to rise as I began to think about the millions of Americans who are fooled every day into purchasing overpriced, packaged foods stamped with misleading product labels such as “Multigrain,” “100% Wheat,” or “Seven- Grain.” I began to question how food-manufacturing companies could get away with such deceptive tactics, when it suddenly occurred to me that food- manufacturers are not hired to educate consumers about the nutritional value of their product; rather, they are hired to do whatever it takes to attract consumers to purchase their product, while staying within the FDA guidelines. So who is left to blame?

Gulp! Registered dietitians, of course! As food science experts, registered dietitians (RD’s) are responsible for educating clients far beyond the health benefits of whole grains in the diet or reading food labels. Yes, it is imperative that RD’s educate clients on how to properly identify whole-grain foods at the grocery store, but what about clients who are unaware of what the term “whole grain” even means? It is the role and responsibility of an RD to educate clients on the science of whole grains, and further compare the differences between whole grains and refined grains before educating clients how to be a smart grocery shopper.

Now I am no policewoman, nor do I intend to police any RD’s client education on whole grains. Instead, I present a challenge for those of you in the dietetics community who are aspiring dietetics professionals, students, interns, or licensed RD’s. Have you evaluated your client education lately? Do you include the three portions of the whole grain kernel (germ, bran, endosperm) in your diet education, and discuss the minimum requirements for packaged food items to be considered “whole grain?” Have you assessed the knowledge base of your clients lately, to see if they understand what a whole grain even is? I challenge you to put yourself in the shoes of your clients today. Would you be happy if you spent 20 minutes searching for a loaf of 100% whole wheat bread, only to find out later that you were deceived into purchasing an expensive, frilly product that is not even considered whole grain?

Now I am no policewoman, nor do I intend to police any RD’s client education on whole grains. Instead, I present a challenge for those of you in the dietetics community who are aspiring dietetics professionals, students, interns, or licensed RD’s. Have you evaluated your client education lately? Do you include the three portions of the whole grain kernel (germ, bran, endosperm) in your diet education, and discuss the minimum requirements for packaged food items to be considered “whole grain?” Have you assessed the knowledge base of your clients lately, to see if they understand what a whole grain even is? I challenge you to put yourself in the shoes of your clients today. Would you be happy if you spent 20 minutes searching for a loaf of 100% whole wheat bread, only to find out later that you were deceived into purchasing an expensive, frilly product that is not even considered whole grain?

So what do you need to know? I have listed an example (below) of a whole grain education, intended for a client that has little to no knowledge about this subject.

Why Should We Consume More Whole Grains in Our Diet?
How Much Should We Consume?

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend increasing whole-grains in the diet by making at least half of your total daily grain intake, whole grains. Whole grains are an important part of our diet because they provide us with nutrients, such as iron, B vitamins, and dietary fiber. Not only do whole grains provide us with an abundance of nutrients and fiber, but also moderate research evidence has shown that whole grains provide us with other health benefits, such as reducing our risk of developing heart disease and type 2 Diabetes, and even having a lower body weight!

Whole Grain vs. Refined Grain

A common misconception is that most Americans are actually eating enough total grains. But what Americans do not know is that the majority of grains they are consuming are not whole grain, they are actually refined grains. So what is the difference between a whole grain and a refined grain? See the table below to learn more!

Whole Grains Refined Grains
Contains entire grain seed? x
Contains dietary fiber, iron and B vitamins? x
At least 1/2 of recommended total gain intake should be? x
Often found in foods that contain added sugars, fat and calories? x
Found in foods such as brown rice, oatmeal, wheat bread, popcorn x

What Type of Whole Grains Should I Be Consuming?

Yes, there are more whole grain options to choose from than brown rice! Any of the grains listed below, if consumed in a form that includes the entire grain seed (bran, germ, and endosperm) are considered whole grain foods and flours!

  • Barley - use in soup, as a side dish, baked in bread, or as flour in cake or cookies! Looking to increase your fiber? Barley is the highest source of fiber when compared to other whole grains!
  • Buckwheat - often used in pancake mixes and is nutty in flavor. Buckwheat is also a good source of protein (second to oats) and is the only grain known to have high levels of rutin—which is an antioxidant!
  • Corn - yes, corn is a whole grain! Corn is considered a whole grain, regardless of its form (i.e. corn on the cob, popcorn, corn cakes, polenta, tortilla)
  • Oats - most often consumed as “old-fashioned” or “instant.” Fun Fact: When reading an ingredient list on a food label, if “oats” or “oat flour” are listed, the food product will almost always be a whole grain!
  • Quinoa - small, round grain that is often added to soups, salads and baked food items. Quinoa is also packed with protein!
  • Rice - whole grain rice is not always brown! It can also be black, red, or purple. Whole grain rice is easy to digest and is popular amongst those on restricted diets or with gluten intolerance.
  • Sorghum - sometimes used as a substitute for wheat flour in casseroles, pastas, pizzas, and baked goods. Sorghum is also gluten- free!

What to Look for When Choosing Whole Grains:

The front of the food label should look similar to this:
Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns registered dietitian challenge
The side of the label should have a 'Whole Grain' stamp from the Whole Grains Council that shows the amount of whole grains the product has per serving. One serving of whole grains is 16 grams.
Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns registered dietitian challenge
In the ingredients list you should see…“Whole Grain” listed as the first or second ingredient listed after water. If additional whole- grain ingredients are listed, these should appear towards the top of the ingredient list.
Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns registered dietitian challenge
On the Nutrition Facts label you should see… high fiber, and little to no added fats, sodium, sugars or calories!
Saint Louis University Dietetic Interns registered dietitian challenge

If the term “Whole Grain” is listed on the front of a package, it may or may not be a healthy choice. The healthiness of a food product depends not just on the amount of whole grain ingredients listed on the label, but also on the presence of less healthy ingredients such as sugar, fat, and high-fructose corn syrup that may be present in the ingredients list. Therefore, keep an eye out for the 100% Stamp and the Basic Stamp when quickly shopping for whole grain foods, but read the Nutrition Facts label in order to make the most informed and nutritious choices.

Now that you have refreshed your knowledge of whole grains and discovered the importance of using comprehensive client education when discussing whole grains, join the rest of the dietetics community and I in the battle against whole grain misconceptions! Check out the listed resources (below) for more detailed information about whole grains!

Sources
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010
Article from Today’s Dietitian, “Deciphering Whole Grain Food Labels: Separating Fact from Fiction” By: Lindsey Getz
wholegrainscouncil.org.

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