Whole Grain Food Definition Effects on Determining Associations of Whole Grain Intake and Body Weight Changes: A Systematic Review
Within epidemiological and intervention studies, whole grain consumption has generally shown positive associations with reductions in markers of overweight and obesity. However, studies use varied methods of determining whole grain intake, including different definitions of a whole grain food, which may explain varied results. This systematic review aimed to identify how different methods of reporting and calculating whole grain intake, including whole grain food definitions, affect reported associations between whole grain intake and body weight measures in adults. Systematic searching of PubMed, Scopus, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), Cochrane Central Register for Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), and MEDLINE (all years to 11 June, 2020) identified eligible studies. Cohort and cross-sectional studies assessing whole grain intake and body weight measures in adults were included. Studies that did not specify methods used to calculate whole grain intake were excluded. Twenty-one cross-sectional studies (from 24 articles) and 9 prospective cohort studies (from 7 articles) were included in the review. Many cross-sectional studies showed whole grain intake was, to some degree, significantly associated with body weight measures, whereas associations varied greatly among cohort studies. Studies calculating whole grain intake using total grams of intake, USDA databases, or ≥25% whole grain in combination with listing specific foods, showed consistent beneficial effects of increasing whole grain intake on body weight. Studies with general lists of foods included as “whole grain foods” or lower cut-offs for whole grain content were inconsistent. The majority of studies reported whole grain intake as servings/day or grams whole grain/day. This review suggests that an association between whole grain and body weight measures remains likely, although precise associations are difficult to determine due to heterogeneity in methodologies and an inability to formally compare studies. Moving forward, application of a standardized methodology to calculate whole grain intake is essential.