Product labels can be confusing and if you're concerned about what you eat, you'll want to read on and learn how to identify whole grains on packaging labels.
What is a Whole Grain?
A whole grain is one that has not been milled, or processed, and contains three main elements. The physical chemistry of a grain consists of: a protective husk, (the bran), which is a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals; the endosperm, a starchy source of complex carbohydrates; and finally, the germ, the embryo of the grain, which contains a small amount of protein, vitamins and minerals.
Whole grains have not been manipulated or refined; they contain the endosperm, bran and germ. Conversely, refined grains have been processed and the bran and germ have been removed. Since the bran and germ contain the largest amounts of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, you can see why choosing a whole grain is preferred over a refined grain.
Additionally, whole grains are carbohydrates that offer an array of benefits including antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Other than being an excellent source of fiber, they provide B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium and iron. The medical community has acknowledged the health benefits of whole grains in lowering the risk of obesity, diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease.
Benefits of Whole Grains
Whole grains offer a variety of health and nutritional benefits. Fiber is vital to our bodies in improving blood cholesterol levels and lowering risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity and type-2 diabetes. Dietary fiber offers satiety, which provides a "full-feeling" for a longer period of time, as opposed to refined grains, which have little or no dietary fiber.
Nutritional benefits include thiamin (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), folate (vitamin B9), iron, magnesium and selenium. These nutrients aid in essential bodily functions, such as the transportation of oxygen throughout the body, the regulation of the thyroid gland, the formation of new cells and the maintenance of the immune system.
How to Identify Whole Grains
In order to inform consumers as to the percentage of whole grain in a product, The Whole Grains Council has developed three gold “stamp” images for product labeling. The gold stamps indicate if the grain is 100% whole (with a minimum of 16 grams per serving) , 50% whole grain, or less than 50% whole grain. Prior to the gold stamp, the only indication of the degree of whole grain was labeled as, “100% Excellent Source”, “Excellent Source” or “Good Source”.
If a package does not contain a gold stamp, look for specific wording in the label. The following terms on a label constitute a whole grain:
- whole grain (name of grain)
- whole wheat
- whole (other grain)
- stoneground whole (grain)
- brown rice
- oats, oatmeal (including old-fashioned oatmeal, instant oatmeal)
If a package contains any of the following terms, it may or may not contain whole grains:
- durum wheat
- organic ﬂour
- multigrain (may describe several whole grains or several reﬁned grains, or a mix of both
If a package contains any of the following terms, it does not include whole grains:
- enriched ﬂour
- wheat ﬂour
- degerminated (on corn meal)
- wheat germ
Stamp Not Required By Law
The FDA and USDA have nothing to do with the Whole Grain Council's stamp. Both government entities have their own rules and regulations for labeling products, particularly whole grain products. In order for a company to have the Grain Stamp on their product, they must apply and be accepted as a member of the Whole Grain Council, which is an entity in Oldways organization, a food and nutrition non-profit organization.
What Are Different Types of Whole Grains? (an asterisk * denotes Gluten-Free)
- Wild Rice*
Oats and buckwheat are gluten-free, but are often contaminated with wheat.
"Multigrain" Does Not Mean "Whole Grain"
The term "multigrain" can be quite confusing, particularly in food labeling. Simply put, "multigrain" does not mean "whole grain." It means that more than one type of grain is in the product.
Some products may use a minuscule amount of a whole grain in conjunction with a refined grain, and state the product is "multigrain" which it is; but it is not "100% whole grain multigrain."
Other manufacturers may use a blend of two or more 100% whole grains and label the product as "100% whole multigrain." In this case, each whole grain should be noted in the ingredient list.
If the labeling on a grain product is confusing, look for the 100% Whole Grain Stamp. Recall that the Grain Stamp is not required by law, so If no stamp is present, look for the word "whole" before the name of the grain.