Grains and Whole Grains Overview
Whole grains are excellent sources of key nutrients for your child and form part of a nutritious balanced diet for them. The simple fact is that, if you don't feed your child whole grains, you may struggle to provide them with sufficient daily nutrients to grow and develop healthily. The current recommendations tend to be to make whole grains approximately half of your child's intake of grains (the rest being refined grains). See our articles here on the benefits of 'FIBER' and 'VITAMINS AND MINERALS'.
Benefits of whole grains
There are many benefits of choosing wholegrain foods, including:
- Whole Grains are Low GI (Glycemic Index) foods, slowly releasing energy into your child's body. This therefore helps them maintain a healthy BMI
- Whole Grains are full of nutrients (much more than refined grains) : dietary fiber, minerals (e.g. iron, magnesium), B vitamins (e.g. thiamine, niacin, riboflavin) and antioxidants
- They are thought to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and constipation
What is Whole Grain?
Grains are the tiny dry seeds which you can see on grain plants (or grain crops) such as wheat and rye and legumes e.g. beans. These are planted and harvested by farmers throughout the world to feed both people and animals.
A grain seed is made up of 3 main parts (Endosperm, Germ and Bran).
Whole Grains (seeds), as the name suggests, are foodstuffs made up from the whole seed (i.e. all 3 parts : endosperm, germ and bran). Since the vast majority of the Protein, Fiber and Iron are in the Germ and the Bran, whole grains are extremely healthy foods for your child to eat. Examples of whole grains are oats, wheat, buckwheat, brown rice, maize and hulled/dehulled barley. To eat these you need to buy whole grain food products like whole wheat pasta, whole wheat bread, oats, whole wheat flour, popcorn etc.
Refined Grains take out the Germ and the Bran which leaves only the endosperm which has nowhere near the nutritional value of the Whole Grains. For example, the endosperm typically only contains 9% of the Fiber, 12% of the Iron and 44% of the protein that the bran part of the seed contains. Non whole grain products are non-whole wheat pasta, white bread, white rice, white flour etc.
If in doubt, check the label and look for word "whole"! If "Wheat flour" is high (or number 1) on the list of ingredients, it tends to suggest it is NOT a whole grain product. But if "Whole Wheat flour" is high (or number 1) on the list of ingredients, it tends to suggest it is a whole grain product. Some brown breads use colouring rather than whole wheat flour and are likely not to be whole grain.
Recommended Whole Grains Quantities for Children (from the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans)
|Age||Recommended Servings (1 serving=16g, 1oz dry pasta, 1 slice bread, 1/2 cup cooked rice)|
|2-3||Girls 1.5-3.0, Boys 1.5-3.0|
|4-8||Girls 2.0-4.0, Boys 2.5-5.0|
|9-13||Girls 3.0-5.0, Boys 3.0-6.0|
|14-18||Girls 3.5-6.0, Boys 3.5-7.0|
Note: When eating whole grains, plenty of water (good hydration) is important for your child otherwise constipation could ensue.
Actual Quantities of Whole Grains Quantities Consumed (Ireland)
A Survey checked consumption of whole grains for children aged 5-12 and teenagers aged 13-17. The study found that daily intakes were 18.5 g/day and 23.2 g/day which is lower than recommendations. Checking the U.S. Guidelines above, the U.S. minimum recommendation is 1.5 servings per day (24g) with a maximum of 7 servings (102g).
Obviously all countries have different guidelines (see our resource link below) and children's actual intakes within these countries will vary. But assuming this data is indicative, this gives an idea that whole grains are not being eaten in anywhere near the correct quantities.
What to do in Practice
- Experiment! Just try children with different whole grain foods
- Initially mix whole grain breakfast cereals and refined grain breakfast cereals and gradually increase percentage of whole grain
- Use wholemeal bread or at the start, one slice of white and one slice of wholemeal on the same sandwich
- Initially mix whole grain rice or pasta and refined grain rice or pasta and gradually increase the percentage of whole grain
Plan a gradual change over 6 months and your child will probably hardly notice. If they do, explain the health benefits and promise them a treat if they go with it (a trip to cinema for example!).
Whole Grains have major health benefits versus normal grains and should be eaten by your child from at least aged 2 onwards and maybe as young as 1. This is all part of a balanced diet. Give plenty of hydration too so they are not constipated and the added fiber will help their digestive system no end.
Guidelines for intakes from around the world. Country guidelines: 'Australia - The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating', 'Canada - Canada's Food Guide', 'Denmark - Report of the National Food Institute', 'France - La Sante Vient en Mangeant (Health comes from Eating)', 'Germany - 10 Guidelines of the German Nutrition Society (DGE)', 'Mexico - Norm for Nutrition Guidance', 'Oman - Eat Your Way to a Healthier Day', 'Netherlands - Netherlands Nutrition Centre', 'Singapore Dietary Guidelines', 'Sweden - Report of Livsmedelsverket (National Food Administration)', 'Switzerland - Swiss Society for Nutrition Food Pyramid', 'United Kingdom - the Eatwell Plate', 'United States - Dietary Guidelines for Americans', 'Other EU Guidelines on Whole Grains', 'WHO / FAO'. Health Groups Advice: 'American Heart Association', 'American Diabetes Association', ' American Cancer Society', 'American Gastroenterological Association Institute' and 'European guidelines on cardiovascular disease prevention in clinical practice'.
The first resource is the 2012 Edition which is split into breakfast inspirations and breads (e.g. 'Hot Multigrain Cereal with Blueberries & Bananas', 'Cran-Orange Sunrise Porridge with Toasted Almonds', 'Quinoa Blueberry Cereal', 'Sweet Couscous', 'Whole Wheat French Toast', 'Whole Wheat Breadsticks', 'Whole Wheat Bread', 'Walnut Apricot Baked Bean Bread' and 'Anadama Bread') and Cold Whole Grain Sides and Salads (e.g. 'Wheatberry & Apple Salad', 'Roasted Vegetable Brown Rice Salad', 'Red Rice Salad with Apples', 'Red Quinoa with Grilled Avocados and Carrot-Ginger 'Dressing', 'Quinoa, Wheatberry and Bitter Greens Salad' and 'Quinoa Salad with Orange-Cumin Vinaigrette'). The second resource shows the Whole Grains for Schools Food Service Recipes. This gives advice on how to cook and prepare some possibly unfamiliar whole grains such as bulgur rice, quinoa and sonoma rice.
The Wheat Foods Council is an organisation made up in 1972 of Wheat producers across the United States. Its aim is the promotion of wheat-based foods and all the science that backs it up. On their website is a huge amount of resources on gluten, busting the myth of fad diets, wheat teaching aid presentations, flour and bakings, wheat basics, nutrition, health and much more. It would take you you a week to read all of the information on this site!
Quaker are a huge oat company with well over a hundred years of wholesome food experience. In this resource, you can choose recipes via meal types (e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack) or recipe type (oatmeal, main, side dish, dessert).
The Bell Institute (General Mills) has a fantastic non-branded set of learning activities you can go through with your child which relates the benefits of Whole Grains.
This resource gives Whole Grain Lesson plans for teachers from Cornell. This includes handouts, visual aids, posters, teaching supplies, cooking equipment, ingredients and game supplies.
This is a great article on whole grains with information on the following topics : 'What does whole grain mean?', 'The nutritional composition of whole grains', 'Health effects of whole grains', 'Recommendations for cereal grain consumption' and 'Consumption of whole grains'.