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The Fiber and Whole-Grain Connection

Getting enough fiber in your diet is important for good health. And eating whole grains is an excellent way to do it. In addition to being a good source of fiber, whole grains contain many important nutrients that nourish the body. 

What is fiber? Fiber is a carbohydrate, which as part of a healthy diet can help prevent disease. Specifically, a fiber-rich diet has been shown to lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, constipation. It may also lower the risk of some types of cancer, and help improve cholesterol levels. Beans, vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, and whole grains are all good sources of fiber. 

How much fiber do I need? The Institute of Medicine states that women up to age 50 should eat 25 grams of fiber per day. For women over 50, the goal is about 21 grams per day. Men 50 years and younger should eat 38 grams of fiber per day. Men over 50 should aim for 30 grams per day. If you have a medical problem, talk with your doctor about how much fiber is right for you. 

What is a whole grain? A whole grain is a grain seed from a plant. It still has all of its original parts, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. The outer part of the grain seed, called bran, is packed with fiber. Examples of whole grains include: oats, barley, brown rice, and quinoa. In addition to containing fiber, many whole grains are good sources of the minerals magnesium, phosphorous, and manganese. Some whole grains also contain protein, iron, B vitamins, and other nutrients. 

In contrast to whole grains, refined grains (such as white flour or white rice) have been milled. In the milling process, the bran and germ are removed which removes much of the fiber and many nutrients from the grain. 

How can I include whole grains in my diet? Let’s break it down by meals. At breakfast you might have a bowl of oatmeal. At lunch, you can make a sandwich with whole-grain bread. At dinner, include a side dish of quinoa or whole-wheat pasta with vegetables. According to the Mayo Clinic, one cup of whole-wheat cooked spaghetti has about 6.2 grams of fiber. One cup of cooked pearled barley has about 6 grams of fiber. And one cup of cooked oatmeal has about 4 grams of fiber. 

Here’s what the Harvard School of Public Health recommends:  

  • Choose whole-grain products instead of white rice, bread, and pasta. 
  • Choose whole-grain cereals for breakfast. 
  • Experiment with foods from other cultures such as tabbouleh – a Middle Eastern salad that contains bulgur, a whole grain rich in fiber.

How do I know if a product is whole grain? The most important thing to do is read the food label. The Whole Grains Council website describes in detail how to read food labels so that you know what types of grains you’re really getting in the products you buy. Part of their recommendation includes looking for the one of two stamps created by the Council that appear on many food products. The 100% Whole Grain stamp assures you that all of the grain ingredients are whole grains. It also means that there are at least 16 grams of whole grains in each labeled serving. The basic Whole Grain stamp assures that at least half of the grains are whole grains and at least 8 grams of whole grains are in each serving.

What we eat matters. Sometimes we randomly choose items off the grocery shelves without taking time to look at what we’re buying. Take the time! Look for products with whole grains that are high in fiber. Choose products that are also low in saturated fat, sugar, and salt. It will go a long way toward keeping you and your family healthy.

1. Definition of whole grains. Whole Grains Council.
2. Dietary reference intakes for energy, carbohydrate, fiber, fat, fatty acids, cholesterol, protein, and amino acids. Institute of Medicine. 
3. Fiber: Start roughing it! The nutrition source. Harvard School of Public Health.
4. High-fiber foods. Nutrition and healthy eating. Mayo Clinic.
5. Whole grains: Hearty options for a healthy diet. Mayo Clinic.
6. Whole grains: An important source of essential nutrients. Whole Grains Council.

Written by:: Jane Hart, MD
Reviewed:: 9/30/2013

This information is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis of specific medical conditions. You should seek prompt professional medical attention if you have a particular concern about your health or specific symptoms. Wellsource, Inc. is not liable for any health consequences resulting from your use of this site.