Whole grains: Don’t be Misled by Your Bread!

Joyce Kavaras, RD, LD

Joyce Kavaras, RD, LD

November 16th, 2012

Most of us know whole grains are the way to go for better nutrition. But how can you be sure your bread is truly a whole grain? It may be a little trickier than you think. Companies are out there competing for your food dollar and know you are looking for a “healthy” bread to feed your family.

I am focusing on bread since the choices are many and it is easy to be fooled. True whole grains contain the entire edible part of any grain – bran, germ and endosperm. In order to be classified as a whole grain, a product must contain 51% or greater whole grain ingredients by weight according to FDA labeling laws.

Great. So, now what? Take a close look at your bread. Does it advertise “made with whole grain” on it? Does the label read “multigrain?” Is it brown in color? Does it have oatmeal flakes or seeds on the outside?

If the answer is yes, you may think you are getting all those B vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber, not to mention the awesome benefits of better weight management, a 30-36% lowered risk of stroke, a 21-30% lowered risk of type 2 diabetes, a 25-28% lowered risk of heart disease, and according to recent research, a reduced risk of asthma, inflammatory disease, colorectal cancer, and hypertension! You’re feeling even better about those sandwiches in the kids’ lunches now!

Not so fast there, average shopper… let’s do some detective work and make sure that bread you’re serving up is really going to perform as a true whole grain. Just because the label says “made with whole grain” or “multigrain” doesn’t mean it has 51% or more whole grain by weight in it. It could very well have 10%, or worse, only 2%, a far cry from 51% nutritionally! Forget about decreasing heart disease risk and all of the above mentioned conditions with that bread.

To get all the great benefits, practice becoming a label detective. Go to the ingredient list and read the FIRST ingredient. If it says “whole” as in whole wheat flour, whole grain flour, whole rye, whole {other grain}, oats or wheat berries, you can be sure you have the “real deal” as far as whole grain nutrition goes. By law, the FIRST ingredient listed on a label must be the largest one by weight. In other words, it makes up the biggest part of that product. All too often, companies advertise whole grain on the label, but the word “whole” doesn’t appear until the third or fourth ingredient! Next, consider color. Brown must mean whole wheat, right? Wrong! Companies add caramel color to make it look like whole wheat. Don’t be lured by breads coated with “toasted” whole grains or seeds either; check that first ingredient! Now that you’ve got the scoop, you can reap 80% more health benefits for your food dollar on your bread choice alone! That’s a deal that’s just too “Wonder”ful to pass up.

For more information on whole grains and some great recipes, visit the Whole Grains Council website.

Questions? Comments? Share your thoughts here.

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