Whole Wheat and Half Truths

ByABC News via logo
August 15, 2001, 5:49 PM

N E W   Y O R K, Aug. 16 -- Think you're getting whole grains out of the turkey on wheat sandwich you had for lunch? Think again.

Doctors and nutrition experts say you should still load up on whole grain foods, but warn that many items that appear to be chock full of whole grains may not be, if you read the fine print on the food labels.

Whole grain foods tend to be high in fiber, which can reduce blood cholesterol levels and cut down on the production of substances in the body that appear to act as carcinogens and cause cancer, Good Morning America's foods contributor Sara Moulton said. Whole grain also helps keep the digestive system regular, warding off gastrointestinal tract troubles.

The USDA recommends eating a minimum of three servings of whole wheat each day, but a University of Minnesota study that appeared in the July issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that Americans average a paltry one serving of whole grain foods per day. So how do we get enough?

"You've got to read the labels, not just the packaging," Moulton said. "It's confusing because you see wheat or whole wheat in the title on the packaging of the food product and you assume it has whole grains."

But it may not. The key is making sure that the word "whole" is the first ingredient in the food item. Food label ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Look for "whole-wheat flour," "whole wheat," "whole grain wheat," "whole oat flour," "whole grain oats," or "100 percent wheat flour" as the first ingredient.

Confusing Labels

On a package of Arnold's Honey Wheat Berry bread, whole wheat is the fourth ingredient listed for the bread, which means it has very little whole wheat in it, and it is not a whole grain food. But Arnold's Whole Wheat bread has whole wheat flour as the first ingredient, meaning it is a whole grain food, because it is the dominant ingredient in the product.

There are other products that appear to be made of whole grain, even though they aren't.