Healing Foods Pyramid™

Whole Grains
are included in the Healing Foods Pyramid™ as part of a balanced, whole foods, plant-based diet. This Food Pyramid emphasizes foods that nourish the body, sustain energy over time, contain healing qualities and essential nutrients, and support a sustainable environment.

What are the recommended servings of grains & starchy vegetables per day?

What are whole grains?

Grains are the seeds of plants. Whole grains contain all parts of the grain, including the bran, endosperm and germ.

What are processed and refined grains?

What are starchy vegetables?

Why choose whole grains and starchy vegetables?

Select Sources of Refined Grains Versus Whole Grains:


Refined Choice
(grams of fiber per serving)

(Glycemic Index)

Whole Grain Choice
(grams of fiber per serving)

(Glycemic Index)

1 slice (1 oz)

White/wheat bread (1 g)


Whole wheat/whole grain bread (5 g)


1/3 cup

Couscous (2 g)


Whole wheat couscous (7 g)


1/3 cup

Pasta (1 g)


Whole wheat / multi
grain pasta (4 g)


1 medium

Potato without skin (2 g)


Potato with skin (4 g)


3/4 cup

Corn flakes, sugary breakfast cereal (1 g)


Oatmeal, cereal based on oats, barley or bran (8 g)


*Glycemic Index information from: http://www.glycemicindex.com/

Specific Considerations

What are the glycemic index (GI) and glycemic load (GL)?

The glycemic index measures how different types of carbohydrate foods affect blood glucose (blood sugar) levels. The higher a food ranks on the glycemic index, the faster it increases glucose levels in the blood. The glycemic load is calculated by multiplying the glycemic index by the number of carbohydrates within a typical serving of the test food. Whole grains are generally low on the glycemic index indicating that they slowly increase blood sugar over time, which leads to better health outcomes including lower risk of diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Refined Grains and GI

When the fiber is removed from grains during the refining process the carbohydrate that remains is converted to glucose by the body much more quickly during digestion. The refining process increases the GI and therefore the GL of most grains, we recommend whole grains because they range from low to medium on the glycemic index. For example:


Glycemic Index (GI)

Glycemic Load (GL)

Refined - White rice, instant, 1 c

87 - High

36 - High

Whole - Brown rice, 1 c

50 - Low

16 - Medium

Whole Grains and Fiber

What are the health concerns associated with whole grains?

Gluten Intolerance

Celiac disease (CD) is also known as gluten intolerance. Gluten is the common name for the proteins in specific cereal grains that are not tolerated in persons with CD. These proteins are found in all forms of wheat (including durum, semolina, spelt, kamut, einkorn, and faro), rye, and barley. When individuals with CD ingest gluten, the villi, tiny hair-like projections in the small intestine that absorb nutrients from food, are damaged. This is due to an immune reaction to gluten. Damaged villi interfere with the body's ability to absorb basic nutrients - proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and, in some cases, water and bile salts. There are several sources of whole grains that are gluten free including: corn, millet, sorghum, potatoes, quinoa and rice.

Pesticide Use

Pesticides are chemicals that are used to control pests that destroy crops. They are used in the production of most crops sold in the United States. These chemicals may increase your risk for cancer or other chronic diseases and should be limited in your diet.

Consider Organic

We recommend organic grains because they contain less pesticide residue. We believe they also provide better flavor and may be a better nutritional choice than conventionally grown grains.

Ideas for Increasing Consumption of Whole Grains


Celiac Disease
Celiac Disease Foundation
Accessed September 4, 2009

Enriched, Fortified: What’s the Difference?
American Dietetic Association
Accessed September 4, 2009

American Heart Association
Accessed September 4, 2009

Fiber — Start Roughing It!
Nutrition Source, Harvard School of Public Health
Accessed September 4, 2009

Get on the Grain Train
USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Accessed September 4, 2009

Glycemic Index Database
The Official Site of the Glycemic Index
Accessed September 4, 2009

Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load & Cancer Risk
Dixon, S.
Nutrition Cancer Information, LLC
www.caring 4cancer.com
Accessed September 4, 2009

The Ins & Outs of Insulin Resistance
International Food Information Counsel
Accessed September 4, 2009

The Glycemic Index: What is it?
American Dietetics Association
Accessed September 4, 2009

Sugar and Cancer: Is there a connection
Dixon, S.
Cancer Nutrition Information, LLC
Accessed September 4, 2009

Organic Labeling & Marketing Information Fact Sheet
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service
Accessed September 4, 2009

Whole Grains Made Easy
American Dietetic Association
Accessed September 4, 2009

Whole Grains: Hearty options for a healthy diet
Mayo Clinic
Accessed September 4, 2009

Original Research and Review Articles

Adom KK and Liu RH. Antioxidant activity of grains. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2002;50:6182-6187.

Anderson JW, et al. Carbohydrate and fiber recommendations for individuals with diabetes: a quantitative assessment and meta-analysis of the evidence. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2004;23(1):5-17.

Barclay AW, et al. Glycemic index, glycemic load, and chronic disease risk- a meta-analysis of observational studies. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008; 87: 627-237.

Chavarro JE, et al. A prospective study of dietary carbohydrate quantity and quality in relation to risk of ovulatory infertility. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009; 63:78-86.

Delzenne NM and Cani PD. A place for dietary fibre in the management of the metabolic syndrome. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 2005;8:636-640.

Hsieh C. Treatment of constipation in older adults. American Family Physician. 2005;72(11):2277-2284.

Jenkins DJA, et al. Glycemic index: an overview of implications in health and disease. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2002;76(suppl):266s-273s.

Liese AD, et al. Whole-grain intake and insulin sensitivity: the insulin resistance atherosclerosis study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003;78:965-971.

Liu RH. Potential synergy of phytochemicals in cancer prevention: mechanism of action. Journal of Nutrition. 2004;134:3479s-3485s.

Liu S et al. Relation between changes in intakes of dietary fiber and grain products and changes in weight and development of obesity among middle-aged women. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2003;78:920-927.

Marlett JA, et al. Position of the American Dietetic Association: Health implications of dietary fiber. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2002;102(7):993-1000.

Pagano A. Whole grains and the gluten free diet. Practical Gastroenterology. 2006; 2: 66-78.

Scharlau D, et al. Mechanisms of primary cancer prevention by butyrate and other products formed during gut flore -mediated fermentation of dietary fibre. Mutation Research/Reviews in Mutation Research. 2009; doi: 10.1016/j.mrrev.2009.04.001

The Healing Foods Pyramid™ was created by the Nutrition Education Team at the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine in 2005 and updated in 2009.