People, we are kidding ourselves if we think we're eating whole grains. You know how nutritionists have been drilling it into our heads that we need to eat whole grains to lower our risk of heart disease? Well. Apparently whatever passes for "whole grain" on our food labels is totally misleading. Turns out a lot of foods labeled whole grain are so processed, we might as well be eating Wonder Bread.
So here's the scoop. If you see "whole grain" on a label, that means it's any mixture of bran, endosperm, and wheat germ. But here's the thing. If you separate those parts and grind them into oblivion, they're not going to work their whole-grainy magic. They are lower in fiber and nutrients. And yet, as far as food labels go, they still count as whole grain. Truly helpful whole grains keep all those grain parts together. They're higher in fiber. They're what we should be eating if we want the benefits of whole grains.
So great. Time to throw out that supposedly whole-grain bread and just surrender to the fluffy white? I mean, how can you even tell which is the "good" whole grain if it's all labeled the same way? I'm hoping we'll get more information soon, but in the meantime, here's a few tips for buying whole grain bread.
- Ignore the "Whole-Grain" stamp. This is a nifty little stamp created by the nonprofit Whole Grains Council. It means the bread has at least 8 grams of whole grains, but it does not mean 100 percent whole grain. That bread could still be mostly refined flour. So that stamp is somewhat helpful, but it doesn't tell the whole story.
- Ignore the color. Some breads are made with caramel coloring to make the bread look like whole wheat -- which, by the way, also isn't necessarily whole grain anyway.
- Look at the ingredients list. By law, ingredients are listed in order by weight. So choose breads that list a whole grain first or at least high up on the list. Examples: Whole wheat, cracked wheat, rolled oats, etc. If you see bran high up on the ingredients list, that's a great choice. And of course, the fewer the ingredients, the better.
- Avoid "enriched." While you're perusing that ingredients list, make sure it doesn't include "enriched flour" or "bleached flour."
- Look at the fiber content. Check out the fiber to total carbohydrate ratio. It should be higher than 1 to 10. Oh my God, math in the grocery store. I know. But the important thing is that you want LOTS of fiber. When you're comparing breads, compare the fiber content.
A few tips on other whole-grain foods:
- If it looks too good to be true, it is. Whole-grain cookies? In your dreams.
- Avoid fast-cooking foods like oatmeal. Those steel-cut oats that take 30 minutes to cook? So good for you. The instant oatmeal in a cup that reads "just add hot water," on the other hand, is doing nothing for you.
Are you trying to eat more whole grains?
Image via Jessica Spengler/Flickr