Another reason whole grains may seem more healthful than they really are: people who eat lots of them tend to make smarter lifestyle choices in general. A 2006 study (pdf) reported that the quartile of people who eat the most whole grains are less than half as likely to smoke and 25 percent more likely to regularly exercise as the quartile of people who eat the least whole grains.
If one clear piece of advice is emerging about whole grains, it is that individuals should buy whole grains that are high in fiber: All of the diets that reduced disease risk in the ASN’s review were high in fiber or fiber-rich bran, and Ludwig and his colleagues found in their 2013 study that whole-grain foods with a ratio higher than one to 10 of fiber to total carbohydrate also contained less sugar, sodium and trans fats than other whole-grain products. People should consider cooking with intact whole grains, too, such as whole-wheat berries or spelt. And when in doubt, consumers should always trust their nutritional instincts. “If it’s a whole-grain cookie, you probably don’t need it,” Slavin says. Deep down, most people already know that.