BOSTON — Nearly three out of five respondents in the 2021 whole grains survey from the Oldways Whole Grains Council said they eat the recommended daily amount of whole grains, a much higher number than reported in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020.
When asked whether they chose whole grain options at least half the time, 59% of respondents said yes. The percentages were higher for Gen Z and millennials at 64%, parents of children up to age 12 at 67%, health-conscious consumers at 74% and plant-based eaters at 77%, meaning consumers who do not eliminate animal products but focus on eating mostly plants like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consumers eat six servings of grains per day with half the servings being whole grain. Yet less than 10% of Americans eat enough whole grains, according to the DGA, which used two days of diet intake data from NHANES 2013-16 to come up with that percentage.
“In contrast, our survey was taken between May 10-12, 2021, giving us a much more recent look at consumer behavior,” said Kelly Toups, director of nutrition for the Oldways Whole Grains Council. “Another difference is in methodology. NHANES data is collected using a fairly burdensome survey tool called a food frequency questionnaire, and based on those results, the researchers estimate the whole grain content in foods. Our survey uses more user-friendly questions, which may not allow for the same level of precision as the government-run survey.”
She added one other reason for the differences could be consumers assuming they are making at least half their grains whole without remembering to account for some refined grain that may be in partially whole grain products.
The online survey, which was released July 28 and involved 1,505 Americans of the ages 18 to 88, found 95% of respondents said their whole grain consumption either has increased or has held steady compared with five years ago.
When asked when they were most likely to consume whole grains, 88% said when eating at home. Twenty percent said they were eating more whole grains than before the COVID-19 pandemic while 52% said they were eating more home-cooked meals than before the pandemic.
“Additionally, because the pandemic created supply challenges for all-purpose flour and other shelf-stable grain foods, some shoppers purchased whole grain products out of necessity, even if these were not products that they typically gravitated towards,” Ms. Toups said. “The result is that some people were surprised to discover that they enjoyed the flavor more than they expected to.”
More consumers are choosing whole grains for taste and sustainability reasons, according to the survey.
Health, at 82%, was the main reason respondents said they were choosing whole grains. Taste was second at 38%. When asked what they considered barriers to whole grain consumption, taste was first at 33%, which was down from 42% in 2018. Cost was second in 2021 at 29%.
“As more chefs, food bloggers and cookbooks have introduced their audience to whole grains over the past several years, more diners have begun to appreciate the diverse flavors and textures that whole grains can add to a recipe without thinking of them exclusively in terms of health,” Ms. Toups said.
When asked if sustainability was one of the reasons for choosing whole grains 19% said yes, which compared to 12% in 2018. Among Gen Z and millennials, 26% said yes. Twenty-one percent said they try to choose foods that are environmentally sustainable and good for the climate.
The Oldways Whole Grains Councils offer a Whole Grain Stamp for product packaging. When the survey asked respondents whether they had seen the Whole Grain Stamp on packaging, 44% said yes, 33% said no and 22% said they were not sure. The percentages were higher for Gen Z and millennials at 64% and parents of children up to age 12 at 63%.