Many health experts urge us to eat more whole grains; the mixture of fiber, nutrients and antioxidants may lower the risk for several chronic ailments. (“Whole-grain” means the grain contains the original endosperm, germ and bran, hence delivering a bigger nutrition payload.) However, you could spend hours at the supermarket analyzing all the bread, crackers, cereal and other products that tout themselves as “whole-grain” on the label and still come home with fewer whole grains than you’d planned.
Out of 1,030 participants in a Public Health Nutrition study, 51% overestimated the whole-grain content in a sampling of 12-grain bread products, and 41% overestimated the whole-grain count in multigrain crackers—all of which had whole-grain lingo on the front of the package. When then trying to select the healthiest options from a list of hypothetical grain products with terms like “multigrain” and “made with whole grains” on the labels, respondents answered incorrectly 29%–47% of the time.
The reason why consumers remain flummoxed in the bread aisle is that manufacturers have a plethora of ways to persuade us that a product has a higher whole-grain content than it actually does. For instance, they can tell us it’s multigrain when, in fact, it’s mostly made with refined flour. “Made with whole grains” means the food contains some amount of whole grain, but not that the food is entirely whole-grain. So instead of relying on marketing to tell us how “healthy” a food item is, we need the skills to discern true healthfulness—by scanning ingredient lists, for a start. Seeking out products flaunting the regulated term “100% whole-grain” helps, too. There is also the opportunity for more regulation of food labels, to help stamp out misleading sales pitches.
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