Whole Grains: Consumer Confusion

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These days many consumers think they know what whole grains are and the importance they have on our health.  But you may be more deceived than you know.  Companies have an ambiguous way of advertising “whole grains” on almost every package possible, yet the actual product may not be as healthy as you think.

Ok, now a little detail about whole grains . . .


A whole grain consists of the entire grain, seed or kernel.  It contains three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm.  Refined grains (e.g. all purpose flour, white bread, etc.) are milled to remove part of or all of the bran and/or germ.  They are usually labeled “enriched” since some of the nutrients (iron, thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin) are added back to the product that were lost during the milling process (a.k.a., fortifying the product).

Unfortunately, the removed bran and germ contain important nutrients:

  • The bran containing fiber, B vitamins, and trace minerals;
  • And the germ containing antioxidants, Vitamin E, and healthy fats.

What remains is the endosperm which comprises of carbohydrate, protein, small amounts of B vitamins, but is absent of the natural fiber.

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Whole Grains: whenever the word whole is used before a grain of flour (whole wheat flour), along with brown rice, brown rice flour, rolled oats and oatmeal (including old-fashioned, quick-cooking, and instant oatmeal), wild rice, bulgur, whole grain barley, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, graham flour, whole durum wheat flour and whole grain corn (this list is not inclusive).

Non-Whole Grains: wheat flour, enriched flour, bread flour, all purpose flour, rice flour, corn grits, couscous, hominy, and enriched rice (this list is not inclusive).


It’s amazing how confusing labels are at the grocery store for the lay shopper.  Generally, for a product to be labeled whole grain, a “whole grain” must be listed as the first ingredient in the product (a USDA standard).  Interestingly, a darker color of the food — often associated with whole grains — is not necessarily whole grain.  For example, there is a 100% whole white wheat bread that is 100% whole grain but is lighter in color (it is a whole grain, just made from white wheat, and has a milder flavor).  Also, foods with these confusing labels are usually NOT whole grain: 100% wheat, multi-grain, or 7 grains.

Many products will advertise “whole grains” on package labels, but keep in mind the product still may not be the healthiest choice.  Examples of this include whole grain cookies, crackers or chips (with a product label such as “contains 8 grams of whole grains”).  A better way to consume whole grains is through healthier options such as those listed below.

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Now you know how to find whole grains when you’re shopping.  Let’s apply this new knowledge.  It is recommended that half of the grains we eat in a given day should be whole grains.  Try some of these changes to your daily diet:

  • The obvious one — substitute white bread for whole wheat bread (not all whole wheat breads are extremely dense — try a variety of breads to find one you enjoy)
  • Try whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta (or use half whole wheat and half white)
  • Use whole wheat Panko crumbs in place of Italian bread crumbs
  • Choose whole grain crackers or popcorn for snacks
  • For breakfast try whole wheat pancakes, whole wheat waffles, oatmeal or whole grain cereal
  • Substitute whole wheat flour for the total flour needed in baked goods (e.g., muffins, breads or cookies). Substitute no more than 25% of the flour needed for whole wheat and keep the remaining as all-purpose flour (too much whole wheat flour may make the baked goods heavier and denser than desired).

© 2014 Kristy Hegner



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