When it comes to shopping for groceries, food marketers can make deciphering labels a breeze or it can leave you feeling beaten and frustrated. We've all witnessed the cereal boxes laden with colorful check marks, plus signs, pictures of grains, and vitamin claims. Not to mention the artificially inflated adjectives used to describe their products, such as good, great, excellent... I'm figuring out how to sift through all of this to get to the good stuff,
In my attempt over the past couple weeks to de-code the food I am buying, I have learned 2-1/2 ways to "read the labels." The first and easiest way is to look for the whole-grain stamp. Basically, a company has to pay to join a club full of other companies who love whole grains, The Whole Grains Council. If you are a member of the Whole Grains Council, you can put a stamp on your product. The stamp will tell you how many grams of whole grains are in one serving. For example, Honey Nut Cherrios have 8 grams per serving (the same as Count Chocula), which is the minimum amount of whole grains allowed to be able to stamp the product. Frosted Mini-Wheats have 49 grams per serving, 1 gram more then the recommend 48 grams per day.
Because companies have to pay to be able to place a stamp on their product, not all products that are chock-full of whole grains will have a stamp. These products are usually the cheaper store-brand version of the stamped product. To understand these products, look at the list of ingredients.* The ingredient "100% whole grain _____," is what you are looking for. If you don't see this, just look for the term " whole grain ____." 100% whole grain is where you get the most bang for your buck (Frosted Mini-Wheats), but whole grain ingredients are a great start.
The last 1/2 way I learned, was to remember that certain grains are almost always 100% whole grain. The common ones are corn (including popcorn), oatmeal, and any non-white rice.
I have found that it helps to get a good start on whole grains in the morning. Allison Fishman wrote a great blog recommending Crock Pot Oatmeal for the morning. Check out Syma's comment for a easy tip.
*Read Decoding Whole-Grain Food Labeling by our staff RD, Sidney Fry, for a deeper look into the world of food labels.