Welcoming Back the Carbs, Carefully

For years, consumers have hopped on the low-carb bandwagon, but they may soon hop off. The pendulum has swung back in favor of grains, thanks to new research that shows whole grains can lower the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

Hundreds of products touting the benefits of whole grains have popped up on supermarket shelves -- you'll find whole-grain Chips Ahoy cookies, whole-grain Goldfish crackers and even whole-grain white bread.

But how do you know which products are best for you? The Food and Drug Administration has issued preliminary guidelines on whole-grain food labels, but for now nothing's changed on your grocery shelves, and experts warn not all products that appear to have whole grain nutrition are what they're cracked up to be.

The 'Whole' Story

Whole grains never got much attention until the government flipped the food pyramid on its head last year, recommending more whole grains in your diet, such as whole wheat flour, oatmeal and brown rice.

For a processed food to claim "whole grain" on its label, it must include every part of the grain, which is harder to manufacture and harder to keep fresh on supermarket shelves.

"All the products that say they contain whole grains do, but they contain just widely varying amounts of whole grain," said Dr. David Katz, a nutrition professor at Yale University and an ABC News medical consultant. "The overall nutritional profile ranges from … good to bad to ugly."

He said one way consumers may get confused is by focusing on healthy-sounding words like oat nut, cracked wheat or 12 grain, which sound good but are usually not whole-grain products.

To decode the labels, Katz said look for the fiber. Fiber provides much of the health benefits of whole grains, so a serving should contain at least two grams of fiber per 100 calories.

Supermarket Test

"20/20" decided to put three smart, suburban New York professionals to the test to see how much whole grain would end up in their grocery carts when asked to shop for healthy foods.

They were given a shopping list with a variety of food categories, including bread, beverages and crackers, and were old they had 10 minutes to shop.

While none of our shoppers knew the subject of our story, all three came back with plenty of products advertising whole grains. Katz then checked their carts and critiqued their choices.

"We've got Nutri-Grain cereal bars … the name alone sounds like that's something that should be pretty good for you. Interestingly, in 140 calories, there's less than one gram of fiber," said Katz. "That tells me that whatever grain is in here … [you're] not getting too much whole grain."

Shoppers also chose oatmeal bread with whole-grain oats, but Katz said don't be fooled. Even brown-colored bread that looks healthy, may not have whole grains, as the appearance is not always an indication of the nutritional value.

Reasonable Advertising or Marketing Ploy?

During our test with New York City food shoppers, several of our participants chose General Mills cereals, including Kix, because the boxes advertised whole grains.

Last year General Mills became the first leading food manufacturer to emblazon all of its cereals with the whole-grain banner. That included Cheerios and Wheaties, along with sweeter cereals like Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms, which have more sugar than whole grains.

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