Food Labels and Whole Grain Foods

Is Your Food Really Whole Grain?

Learn how to decode deceiving food labels

Your Guide to Grains

Is Your Food Really Whole Grain? // whole grain foods © Thinkstock

Image: Thinkstock
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a food group as trendy and buzz-worthy as whole grains. We bet you can’t venture down a single grocery aisle without coming across multiple packages claiming to be “whole grain,” “multigrain,” or “made with whole grain”—partly because they sell. In a 2012 International Food Information Council survey, 67 percent of consumers said that whole grains were one of the top things they consider when making purchases. (Search: How many servings of whole grains do I need?) Likewise, almost half of the shoppers surveyed by the Food Marketing Institute in 2009 said they were buying more whole-grain, multigrain, and high-fiber products than they had in 2008.

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Unlike many other food fads (we’re looking at you, ’90s low-fat craze, the current trend toward whole grain products is actually a smart one. “Whole grains haven’t had their fiber- and nutrient-rich bran and germ removed by processing, which makes them a good source of fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, and iron, as well as disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals,” says Heather K. Jones, RD, author of The Grocery Cart Makeover. “Eating whole grains is linked to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain cancers, and other health problems.” In fact, the USDA recommends three to five 16-gram servings of whole grains a day.

If you’re one of these health-conscious consumers who stocks up on whole grain products, don’t pat yourself on the back just yet. The cereals, breads, and pastas in your pantry may not be as “whole grain” as you’ve been led to believe. Many companies may be taking advantage of your interest in these items by making misleading claims on their packaging. “When it comes to whole grains, I think that the media and manufacturers have done a good job of getting the word out about how they’re good to eat,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, author of Read It Before You Eat It. “But you have to be a smart shopper.” Learn to decode all of the terms on so-called whole grain foods.

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