Bridging the Whole Grain Gap

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Bridging the Whole Grain Gap


The General Mills Whole Grain Check-up, released last month, has found that while 61 percent of Americans believe they’re consuming enough whole grain, the truth is that just 5 percent of the population consumes the three full daily servings (at least 48 grams) recommended by the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Minneapolis-based General Mills conducted the study to better understand Americans’ attitudes toward whole grain and find ways to close the gap between the amount of whole grain they should be eating and what they’re really consuming.

“With the average person getting a little more than half of a serving of whole grain each day, America’s whole grain gap is a concern,” said Susan Crockett, VP, health and nutrition, and director of the Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition at General Mills. “As part of a healthy diet, whole grain can help with diabetes and weight management, as well as reducing the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Ready-to-eat cereal is the leading source of whole grain and packs in vitamins, minerals and key essential nutrients – without packing on calories.”

Since 2005, the company has guaranteed that every one of its Big G cereal contains a minimum of 8 grams of whole grain per serving (at least 48 grams recommended daily).

Since Americans are so off the mark in their assessment of what the proper amount of whole grain is, the survey may point to a general lack of education in this area. According to the Whole Grain Check-up, 92 percent of Americans know whole grain is important in their diets, and about half of respondents say they specifically shop for whole grain items. Despite these results, the study suggests some consumer confusion regarding whole grain. For instance, only 55 percent of respondents know how to correctly identify whole grain on a food label, while 28 percent don’t know the difference between “whole grain” and “enriched grain.”

The survey additionally found Americans know getting the recommended amount of whole grain starts with breakfast. Results showed 81 percent of respondents link whole grain with the first meal of the day. But while 46 percent of consumers think of bread as their main source of whole grain, ready-to-eat cereal is the actually the top whole grain source for Americans. More than one-quarter of all whole grain eaten by consumers comes from ready-to-eat cereals, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

A further discovery of the survey was that taste, convenience and price may be barriers to consumers’ ability to get their recommended servings of whole grain. Thirty-five percent of those surveyed cite the taste of whole grain as a disincentive to purchase, 27 percent say price is an obstacle, and 24 percent think that lack of convenience prevents them from eating more whole grain.

In general, the survey found that the older the survey participant, the more likely he or she was to believe they were getting the right amount of whole grain. Seventy-one percent of respondents 55 years old or older believe that to be the case, while among 18- to 34-year-olds surveyed, that number fell to 47 percent. Results also showed that 58 percent of women think they get enough whole grain in their diets, vs. 64 percent of men.

“We are committed to continuing our role as a health leader in the cereal category,” said said Jeff Harmening, president of General Mills’ Big G cereal division. “Closing the whole grain gap is a major part of this commitment.”

One of the ways General Mills is helping to address the problem is by donating 1 million servings of whole grain cereal to needy families. “Our goal is to ensure more Americans get the recommended amount of whole grain,” explained Harmening.

The company has also joined forces with Dr. Travis Stork, MD, author and host of Emmy Award-winning daytime talk show “The Doctors,” to raise awareness of the importance of whole grain. Over the next few months, Stork will be speaking out on the issue and encouraging Americans to consume the recommended amount.

“Whole grain is a key component of a healthy diet, and Americans aren’t getting enough,” noted Stork. “Whole grain can help with diabetes and weight management, as well as reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.”

Conducted by Opinion Research Corp.’s omnibus service, Caravan, in October 2010, the General Mills Whole Grain Check-up, a random-digit-dial telephone survey, polled a national probability made up of 1,010 adults comprising 502 men and 508 women 18 years of age and older, living in private households in the continental United States.