“I’m confused about what I’m getting—or not getting—when I read the labels.” - Adam Hickman: Age 25, Recipe Tester and Developer, Birmingham, Ala.
“I eat raisin bran and feel proud, but I’m not even sure it’s whole-grain,” says Adam. “I need help translating what the marketing people put on packages.” Adam, an avid cook and a young addition to our staff, lives on a tight budget and is used to making a little go a long way. This means plenty of starch and pasta, but not enough whole grain beyond bread and oatmeal. “Whole grains can be expensive, and I want to make sure what I’m buying is genuine, and that I’m eating the right amount of it.”
Yes, raisin bran is a whole-grain choice, but nothing on the box really tells you how much whole grain you’re getting. Label literacy is crucial for anyone who eats grains from any place other than the bulk-food barrel.
- Focus on 48: Forty-eight grams of whole grains are recommended per day, useful when looking at processed foods (though many labels don’t tout how many grams the product contains). Aim for 16 grams of whole grains per serving. Wheat Ritz crackers, for example, have 5 grams per serving, but, tasty as they are, you’d have to eat 48 crackers (224 calories) to get a 16-gram serving.
- Read front-of-box claims: Look for “100% whole grain” or “whole grain.” The 100% claim means all grains in the product are whole, and you’ll get at least 16 grams per serving. To earn a “whole grain” claim, a product need contain only 51% whole grain and at least 8 grams. Good, but not as much bang for the buck. “Made with whole grains” is not always a reliable claim: You may just get a light dusting.
- Study the ingredient list: If the product lists “100% whole” or “whole-grain” wheat, corn, or other whole grain first, you’ve found the real thing.
- Look for other claims, stamps, and dingbats: If you see a claim or stamp (like the USDA’s MyPyramid logo or a Whole Grains Council stamp), use this as a starting point. Still check for “100% whole” or “whole grain,” and avoid products with a long list of ingredients. Also know that the absence of a stamp doesn’t mean much: We’ve seen 100% whole-grain products that have no WGC stamp.
- Buy unprocessed whole grains. Wild rice, popcorn, and other whole grains often aren’t labeled as 100% whole, even though they are. Find a list of versatile whole grains, plus recipes.