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10 myths about whole grains: What’s fact, ’s fiction might surprise you

Despite overwhelming evidence that whole grains in your diet are beneficial to health, 98% of Americans fail to meet the three-servings-a-day recommendation.

Including whole grains in your diet can be beneficial to your health.
Including whole grains in your diet can be beneficial to your health.
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Whole grains are recommended as part of a healthful diet.

The government’s 2020-2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends three servings a day of whole grains such as whole grain amaranth, barley (not pearled), brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oats, popcorn, quinoa, dark rye, whole-grain cornmeal, whole wheat bread, whole wheat chapati, whole grain cereals and crackers and wild rice.

Despite these recommendations and overwhelming evidence that including whole grains in your diet can be beneficial to your health, 98% of Americans fail to meet the three-servings-a-day recommendation. That shortfall could be due in partly to several myths about whole grains:

Myth 1: Whole grains cause inflammation.

The truth: Not true. The phytochemicals in whole grains act as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents.

Myth 2: Whole grains can aggravate or cause diverticulitis.

The truth: Doctors used to advise steering clear of whole grains and seeds if you’ve been diagnosed with diverticulosis — small, bulging pouches in the digestive tract that become inflamed or infected. A high-fiber diet that includes whole grains actually can help decrease pressure in the colon, preventing flareups.

Myth 3: Whole grains cause bloating.

The truth: Part true. Abruptly increasing the amount of fiber you eat from any source can cause gas and bloating. If you eat a low-fiber diet and want to increase the amount of whole grains in your diet, do it gradually so your digestive system has time to adjust.

Myth 4: Only whole grains, not processed grains, provide vitamins.

The truth: While processed grains don’t contain the fiber of whole grains, processed breads are fortified with vitamins and iron and might contain more than whole grains, which aren’t fortified.

Myth 5: Allergic reactions to whole grains are common.

The truth: Not true. People with celiac disease can become sick after eating wheat due to the gluten it contains. But celiac disease affects only about one to 2% of the population. Some people might have gluten-sensitivity that causes rumbling down below, but it’s not an allergic reaction.

Myth 6: Only organic, non-GMO whole grains are healthy.

The truth: There’s no genetically modified wheat commercialized anywhere in the world. Putting non-GMO on a product containing wheat is akin to putting a “cholesterol-free” label on a peach: Never had it in the first place. So, yes, organic wheat is GMO-free, but so is non-organic wheat. If you’re choosing organic wheat to avoid gluten, don’t. All wheat contains gluten, organic or not.

Myth 7: Whole grains are loaded with pesticides.

The truth: Glyphosate is a chemical sometimes used as to control the timing of wheat harvests, but that practice isn’t common in the United States. There’s no credible evidence that the use of glyphosphate is common or that it is a cause of digestive problems.

Myth 8: “Multi-grain” or “contains whole grains” on the label indicate the product is as high in fiber as a product that says “whole grain.”

The truth: Breads, muffins, rice mixes and the like labeled as “multi-grain” might sound like high fiber, but processed white flour also us a grain. The only way to know whether a grain product is made with whole grains is to read the label carefully. If it says “100% whole grains,” then it is. If it says “multi-grain” or “contains whole grains,” check the label for the amount of whole grains. Aim for 48 grams of whole grains a day.

Myth 9: Whole grains contain unhealthy “anti-nutrients.”

The truth: Anti-nutrients such as phytate, lectins and oxalates — found naturally in wheat and other plant foods — can block the absorption of nutrients. But, although wheat might contain small amounts of anti-nutrients even after being processed and cooked or baked, the health benefits of including whole grains in your diet outweigh any potential negative effects.

Myth 10: Ordering wheat bread in a restaurant is the same as ordering whole-grain bread.

The truth: Not true — though whole wheat would be a different story. Wheat bread might be brown, but that doesn’t mean it’s whole wheat, just that a darker wheat has been used or a coloring has been added.

Environmental Nutrition is an independent newsletter by experts on health and nutrition.