Whole grain density increased in school foods after 2012

Vertical bar chart showing whole grain density of food, by outlet type, consumed by the U.S. population aged 2 years and above between 1994 and 2018.

Since 2005, the Federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans have recommended that people eat at least half of their grain intake in the form of whole grains. The process of refining grains removes some portions that contain vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber, while whole grains contain all parts of the grain kernel. Whole grains are measured in ounce equivalents, with one ounce equivalent representing roughly the same amount of grain as in a slice of bread or a half-cup of rice. The Federal recommendations based on a 2,000-calorie diet are 1.5 ounce equivalents of whole grains per 1,000 calories. In 1994–98, U.S. residents 2 years old and over averaged 0.4 ounce equivalents of whole grains per 1,000 calories, less than one-third the recommendation. Whole-grain intake remained essentially unchanged in 2017–18 at 0.43 ounce equivalents per 1,000 calories. From 1994 to 2018, food prepared at home was more whole-grain dense when compared with the broad category of food obtained from all outside sources (such as restaurants, fast food, and school). However, there were considerable differences between foods obtained at school and other sources of foods prepared away from home. These differences widened after 2012, when changes in the USDA nutrition standards for school meals and other foods sold at schools established whole-grain requirements. School foods include foods obtained from USDA school meals or other foods sold at school that are not brought from home, such as snacks. This chart appears in the Amber Waves article Children Were Only Age Group Improving Whole-Grain Intakes—School Foods Are a Key Factor, published in September 2023.

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