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Health Food Facts About Whole Grain Foods Labels

Whole Grain or Not Whole Grain, That is the Question!

When you pick up a loaf of bread at the store and the label says “Whole Grain”, that sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? Well, as pointed out in a comment by CeeCee, when she looks at labels, “Whole Grain Honey Wheat” bread and “Honey Wheat Bread” don’t have near the nutrients and fiber of bread that’s labeled “100% Whole Wheat.”

That’s marketing for you. Whole grain foods are becoming more popular. If the consumer (us!) thinks the bread is made with whole grains, that’s supposed to push our buttons so we’ll buy it. The catch, of course, is while they can put “whole grain” or “wheat” on the label, they aren’t saying how much of the product is actually whole grain or wheat. It could be most of it, or it could be just a smidgen. “There, we put a tablespoon of whole wheat flour in that loaf, so let’s slap “whole wheat” on the label.”

That’s why the 100% Whole Wheat bread has more nutrients, because it is indeed 100% – every bit of the product – whole wheat. If it’s labeled 100% whole grain, it has to be whole grain, with no refined grain as part of the ingredient. There can’t be any bleached or unbleached white flour hiding in there.

Why? Cause the FDA says so. They consider “whole grain” to include cereal grains that consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked fruit of the grains whose principal components — the starchy endosperm, germ and bran — are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain. Such grains may include barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, wheat and wild rice.

The Whole Grains Council, a nonprofit consumer advocacy group, is working towards making it easier for consumers to see how much grain is in a product. They’ve made labels for manufacturers to use showing how much whole grain is in their products.

There are two kinds of stamp, the Basic stamp and the 100% stamp.

Grain Stamps for Labels

If a product bears the Basic Stamp, it contains at least 8g – a half serving – of whole grain, but may also contain some refined grain. Even if a product contains a large amount of whole grain, it will use the Basic Stamp if it also contains extra bran, germ, or refined flour.

If a product bears the 100% Stamp, then all its grain ingredients are whole grains. For these products, there is a minimum requirement of 16g – a full serving – of whole grain per labeled serving.

Each Stamp also shows a number that tells you how many grams of whole grain ingredients are in a serving of the product.

So what if there isn’t one of these handy stamps on the label? Check the ingredients list to see if it states how many grams of whole grain are in the product. If it says “100%” you’re good to go. If all it says is something like “crackers made with whole grain”, be wary.  It’s only pretending to be a whole grain health food. 

Other waffle-words include wheat flour, semolina , durum wheat, organic flour, and multigrain (may describe several whole grains or several refined grains, or a mix of both). None of these specifies a 100% whole grain product.

These words on the label — enriched flour, degerminated (on corn meal), bran and wheat germ — are never 100% whole grains. Enriched flour loses most of it’s nutrients in processing, so a little stuff is thrown back in to “enrich” it and make it sound like a better buy. Why not eat the whole grains to start with?

In short, be careful of tricky labeling. Sometimes labels barely contain a grain of truth. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) 

If you want whole grain foods, look for labels that SAY 100% whole grain, either in the ingredients list or by displaying the 100% whole grain stamp.

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