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How to Tell if Something Really is Whole Grain

In the last few years we have seen the term “whole grains” pop-up on everything from Sugar Smacks cereal to pastas to granola bars. Every food company with marketing dollars and brand managers worth their salt has hopped on the whole grain band wagon. And with good cause: Whole-grains provide a ton of healthier benefits, including higher doses of fiber and other nutrients and a more satiating snack or meal, as compared to their more processed and refined counterparts. Food products made with refined flours, such as many breads, pastas, cereals and baked goods, deliver very little nutritional value and as a result, translate into empty calories that leave you feeling unsatisfied, causing you to want and to eat more food.

Unfortunately, many products contain both whole grains AND refined grains. And, due to clever marketing strategies, many companies will make claims that their products are whole-grain when often they contain only a very small percentage. So, how can you be sure a product is really made with whole grains? Luckily, the Whole Grains Council (WGC) has stepped in to help consumers with that exact question.

As a minimum, it is recommended that you consume 48 grams of whole grain ingredients per day, with one serving established as 16 grams. This means you should be getting a minimum of 3 servings of whole-grains a day…with 16 grams of whole-grains equaling a serving. Note that whole grains and carbohydrates do not necessarily mean the same thing. In order to find out what is and isn’t a whole-grain product, use one of these methods:

  1. Whole Grain Stamps. Look for one of the two labels shown to the right on packaged products. In 2005, the WGC initiated two stamps to help consumers find products containing whole grains. The “Basic Whole Grain Stamp” on the left is used to identify those products that contain at least eight grams of whole grains per serving. The “100% Whole Grain Stamp,” on the right, is applied to products that are made with 100 percent whole grains and provide one serving or more (at least 16 grams) of whole grains per serving.  Understand, however, that food products that contain the “Basic Stamp” may contain some extra bran, germ, or refined flour, while the “100% Stamp” means that ALL of the grains in the product are whole.
  2. Ingredients to Enjoy. If a food doesn’t have a WGC stamp, look to see if it contains 100 percent whole wheat, brown rice, oats, oatmeal or wheat berries…or lists a whole grain or stone-ground whole grain in the ingredient list.
  3. Ingredients to Avoid. Steer clear of those foods that contain degerminated bran, wheat germ or enriched flour. And those products that contain wheat flour, semolina, durum wheat, organic flour or multigrain may or may not provide whole grains and, as a result, might be best if avoided.

Here is a chart published by The Whole Grains Council that gives you more insight into specific ingredients.

Ingredients Are they 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)
  • wheatberries
YES — Contains all parts of the grain, so you’re getting all the nutrients of the whole grain.
  • wheat flour
  • semolina
  • durum wheat
  • organic flour
  • multigrain (may describe several whole grains or several refined grains, or a mix of both)
MAYBE — These words are accurate descriptions of the package contents, but because some parts of the grain MAY be missing, you are likely missing the benefits of whole grains.
  • enriched flour
  • degerminated (on corn meal)
  • bran
  • wheat germ
NO — These words never describe whole grains.

When in doubt, buy products with the WGC stamps: They are the best indicators of exactly how whole the products are…which takes the guesswork out of the selection process.

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Posted in Brett's Blog, Nutrition Tagged with: , , , , ,
  • Thanks so much for writing about the Whole Grains Council! Great stuff.

  • Rodney Graves

    Excellent advice. Love your work especially your book. Got started after I read a column about too much cardio; that lead me to the book. My wife and I read the book and it’s helping. Really appreciate, you; you are the best. There is nothing on the market close to your level of authenicity and user-friendliness. Bless you!!!!

    • Brett

      Rodney! Thank you so much! It is so wonderful to get feedback. Good luck…I hope that you continue your journey of success!

  • Yes I do agree with you that most products in the market claiming to use 100% whole grain are not right.Most are using whole grain along with refined grain.We all know about the benefit of whole grain that’s why companies are just taking the advantage of it.

    So before buying whole grain products from market we should check the ingredients in the product as per your tips,that would be helpful to select the right one.

  • I think it may be easier to check the dietary fiber content of foods at the super market, anything above 4-5% is great.