Whole Grains: Are They Worth It?
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Background: Whole grains are an important component of a healthful, high quality diet. Consumption of whole grains may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and is associated with lower body weight. Whole grains are relatively inexpensive when compared to other high quality foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish. The cost of whole grain foods is high relative to refined grain foods but this gap has been shrinking in recent years. Substituting whole grains for refined grains may be a cost effective method for increasing diet quality. Methods: Observed dietary intake of grain products from 24-hour recalls were matched with national average retail price data and compared to a substitution model diet that meets dietary guidelines for whole grains. Comparisons were made across sociodemographic strata on cost and a subset of nutrients prevalent in grain foods as a measure of diet quality. Results: The substitution model diet was more expensive for all sociodemographic groups with larger cost effects for young adults and those with lower levels of income and education. The substitution model diet provided more dietary fiber and magnesium but less folate than observed diets. Discussion: Cost may keep some American adults from consuming whole grains at recommended levels. Consuming a diet with whole grains is beneficial for health but should be combined with foods fortified with folic acid to ensure all dietary guidelines are met.