Earlier this year, the USDA updated their dietary guidelines and introduced America to the “MyPlate” model. In many ways, this update was an improvement from the older, outdated food pyramid. It also falls short in numerous ways.
One area where the USDA missed the boat was on whole grains. They suggest that 1/4 of your plate (meaning daily intake) should come from the “grain group” and half of those grains should be “whole grains”.
According to their definition, you can have a healthy diet if half of your daily grains intake are refined grains. By this they mean white bread, white pasta, regular crackers, white rice, etc. The other half should consist of “whole grains”.
Let’s see where we’re at so far. Just by suggesting that half of your daily intake of grains be refined grains, this is ludicrous. They are misleading Americans into thinking they’re eating well if 1/8 of their daily intake is from refined, processed grain products.
It doesn’t get much better. The good ol’ USDA then suggests that the other half of our daily dose of grains comes from whole grains. Let’s take a look at how they define a whole grain.
Basically, any grain product that doesn’t remove the grain kernel is considered a whole grain by the USDA. So that means any bakery product made with whole wheat flour is considered a good way to get your whole grains.
Now let’s think about this for just a minute.
According to the USDA, a person can get a healthy daily dose of grains by eating a day’s worth of white rice, Ritz crackers, a bagel made with whole wheat flour, and some whole wheat pasta.
I’m not a nutritionist and don’t claim to know it all when it comes to a healthy diet, but I can look at that list and know that does not equate to a healthy dose of whole grains for a day. We’ve all had those days, let’s be honest, but come on. That’s not what I aspire to consume each day, which is what the MyPlate model is supposed to provide.
So where exactly did the USDA get it wrong? They missed a clear distinction that should have been made. What we all need to be looking to get from the grain group is not just whole grains, but intact whole grains. Whole grains that have not been ground into flour.
Why? It’s simple. Once a whole grain has been crushed into flour, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, it has “a significantly expanded starchy surface area available to digestive enzymes and can cause blood sugar levels to spike dramatically”. (source)
When a whole grain is left intact (or cracked), you get all the benefits of the whole grain without the spike in blood sugar levels, which of course are dangerous for our body and lead to many health issues.
So what are some whole, intact grains?
- Oats (steel cut or rolled, not instant or quick cooking)
- Brown or wild rice
- Cracked Wheat
What the USDA ought to suggest, in my humble opinion, is that we strive for all of our grains be whole grains, with at least half coming from intact whole grains. Refined grains, such as white bread and rice, should only be eaten sparingly, not on an everyday basis.
It all comes down to keeping the majority of our foods from whole, unprocessed foods. Including our whole grains.
Question: What do you think? Do you get the majority of your grains from intact grains?