Americans' Whole-Grain Consumption Below Guidelines

Evidence indicates that eating whole grains can reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers. The newly revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January 2005, recommend that half of all daily grain servings be whole grains. For an individual who consumes 2,200 calories a day, this would mean eating 3½ ounces of whole grains a day, equal to 1½ cups of cooked brown rice or 3½ slices of whole-wheat bread.

Food availability and food intake data tell us that most Americans are not meeting these guidelines. Historically, Americans have consumed ever-increasing amounts of refined-grain products and fewer servings of whole grains. ERS researchers annually calculate the amount of food available for human consumption in the United States. The food availability data measure the flow of raw and semiprocessed food commodities through the U.S. marketing system. Between 1972 and 2003, per capita annual availability of all grain products increased 46 percent, from 133 pounds per person to 194 pounds per person.

After adjusting the availability data for waste and losses, Americans were eating, on average, 10 servings of grains a day in 2003—three servings more than recommended by the new dietary guidelines for someone who consumes 2,200 calories per day. Of those 10 servings, whole grains accounted for just over 1 serving. In food intake surveys from 1999-2000, nearly 40 percent of Americans did not report eating any whole grains in an entire day.

In the past, dietary changes have developed slowly over time. Food manufacturers can serve as catalysts to change by quickly responding to or even anticipating dietary trends. ERS researchers found that for those consumers who said they ate whole-grain foods, the bulk of those foods consisted of whole-grain crackers, salty snacks, and ready-to-eat cereals. Responding to greater emphasis on the health benefits of whole grains, General Mills announced that it would reformulate all of its breakfast cereals to qualify them as either a good or excellent source of whole grains. As other major food manufacturers change product formulations and introduce new whole-grain products, consumers may find whole-grain products more plentiful.