Fewer than 1 percent of Americans between the ages of 9 and 18 currently eat the recommended daily 3 to 5 servings of whole grains. A serving is equal to a slice of bread, a half-cup of pasta or rice, or a cup of cereal.
With relatively small changes by parents and school nutrition programs, however, children could increase their whole grain intake significantly, by about one serving a day, two new studies by University of Minnesota researchers have found. Among the other findings published this month in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association:
– Substituting whole-grain ingredients in common foods like tortillas and pancakes may be the simplest way to increase intake. In a study that monitored students’ preferences at schools in Texas and Minnesota, the researchers found that particularly when foods are made with lighter color, smoother white whole-wheat flour, students showed little preference for refined-grain foods over whole grains and ate about the same amounts of each.
– School food-service managers say the added cost of whole-grain foods is a significant barrier. The researchers note that the foods tested in one study were from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Food program and were widely accepted by students; that could help more schools adopt whole grains in their menu planning.
– A successful method for introducing whole grains is by gradually increasing the percentage of whole-grain ingredients so that changes in texture and taste are less noticeable.
– Successfully shifting consumers of all ages to whole grains will require major changes in the food supply chain. The authors note that whole-grain foods must be tasty, affordable and convenient, but meeting Food and Drug Administration guidelines for fat, sodium and sugar content while making the products acceptable to consumers will be another challenge.
“These studies show that getting consumers, especially children, to eat a healthier diet is possible with some relatively small changes,” said Len Marquart, a nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota and a co-author on both studies. “We’re making progress, but we still have a ways to go.”