If you are feeling confused about grains, you are not alone.  When browsing the Internet, you may discover some controversial information regarding the healthfulness—and even safety—of eating grain products.  How do you know what information to believe and what to feed your family?  Read on to get the facts on grains.

Fact Checking

Some Web sites and blogs criticize grain products, blaming them for everything from acne to Irritable Bowel Syndrome to gluten intolerance. So how do you know what’s true and what’s not?  Here are some basic rules of thumb:

  • Unbiased is best. Web sites that end in .org or .gov are usually reliable sources of information. This information comes from organizations and government agencies, respectively. Web sites that end in .com may be receiving monetary benefits from sponsors (wedoitallforkids.com does not receive sponsors, is supported by Cook Children’s experts and also goes by the name of www.cookchildrens.org/checkupblog). Therefore, the information presented on these sites may have a slant or special interest. Information from blogs and Wikipedia should not be regarded as fact. 
  • Ask the experts. Who can you trust to answer your nutrition-related questions?  The experts in this field are Registered Dietitians (or “RDs”). These folks have completed a Bachelor’s degree program, an accredited supervised-practice internship, passed the national credentialing exam, and complete professional continuing education. To contact a dietitian, go to www.cookchildrens.org/nutrition.   
  • Use common sense. There are plenty of fad diets out there; some are safe and effective, while others are not. When you hear new information, think logically about it. Compare it to what you know already and the lifestyle you lead with your family. Consider the source of the information and the effects of the changes if you choose to implement them.  

What You Should Know about Grains

Grains are undoubtedly a large part of the typical American diet.  Some folks are questioning if it is healthy to eat grains in such a high quantity or even at all.  Here’s what we know to be true:

  • Grains have the goods!  Whole grain products are good sources of vitamins (thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, folate), minerals (iron, magnesium, selenium), and fiber.  They are also a source of energy, in the form of carbohydrates, which the body uses to fuel metabolic activities.
  • There is no scientific evidence to suggest that avoiding grains can cure Crohn’s Disease or IBS.  For those who suffer from these conditions, the tolerance of high-fiber foods varies on an individual basis.  If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease or IBS, you should speak with your physician or registered dietitian before making any significant dietary changes. 
  • There is no scientific evidence to suggest that anyone should avoid gluten (a protein found in some grain products) unless you have been told by a physician to do so.  Those with Celiac Disease, a condition in which gluten harms the small intestine, should be consuming adequate replacement foods, including corn, buckwheat, flax, gluten-free oats, quinoa, rice, or soy flour.  For more information on Celiac Disease, please consult your physician, registered dietitian, or visit: www.celiac.org.  Some individuals may also be gluten sensitive and be unable to tolerate gluten-rich foods.  If you suspect you may be gluten sensitive, speak to your physician before proceeding with any dietary restrictions.      
  • Eating whole grains is part of a healthy lifestyle.  The USDA recommends that half of all grains consumed throughout the day be whole grains.  Whole grains contain more fiber, which can help keep your heart healthy, aid in digestive health, and keep you fuller longer.  For more information on the USDA’s recommendations for daily grain consumption, visit: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains-amount.html#.  
  • If you choose to go grain-free, make sure the dietary replacements are nutritionally adequate.  Grain products provide many vitamins and minerals; if you are eliminating grain products it may be difficult to meet your nutritional needs.  A grain-free diet will require careful planning and consideration in order to be nutritionally adequate.

With this information, you should be prepared to make informed, healthy decisions for yourself and your family regarding grains. As of right now, grain-free or grain-restricted diets should be reserved for those with special medical and nutritional needs.  If you choose to pursue this dietary change, careful planning and consulting with a registered dietitian will help you be successful and healthy!

Sara Glanz is an intern in Nutrition Services at Cook Children’s Medical Center and attends Baylor University Medical Center.

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