Don’t be Fooled by the “Whole Grain” Game

PCOS BlogI often talk to people about the importance of eating whole grains which includes whole wheat, brown rice, quinoa, oats, buckwheat, corn, bulger, and more. These grains are important for the health benefits that they provide through vitamins, minerals, and fiber in a way that refined grains do not. Refined grains include anything made from white flour, white rice, white pasta, etc. The health benefits of whole grains are especially important for girls with PCOS because the fiber helps to keep blood sugar level. Refined grains cause blood sugar spikes and dips.

A few years ago I noticed that food companies seemed to have caught on to the fact that health professionals were recommending whole grains to their patients. I also began to notice that more and more companies had changed their advertising to include the words, “whole-grain” on the packaging of their products. Not only that, but people were coming to me and telling me that they were “eating whole grains” only to find out that they were confusing certain terms.

Here is some clarification so you won’t get fooled by the whole grain game.

  • “Contains whole grains” or “Made with whole grains”: this means that at least one ingredient in the product is a whole grain. It does not mean that the main ingredient is a whole grain. This happens a lot with bread or cereal where the main ingredient is still refined (white) flour, but they have added in a small amount of whole wheat flour in order to use the claim. Look for the word, “whole” in the first or second ingredient (on the product “ingredient list”).
  • “Multigrain” or “10 grain”: this means that there are multiple types of grain in the product. It does not explain if any of the grains are whole grain however. Check the ingredient list to be sure.
  • “Gluten-free”: this means that there is no gluten in the product (the protein found in wheat that some people cannot digest or need to avoid for health reasons). Often, gluten-free products are made with refined grains such as rice flour or potato starch – just not wheat flour. Gluten-free does not equal whole grain, nor is it a healthier option unless you have Celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or you have been told by a medical provider to avoid gluten.
  • “Contains vegetables”: You might see this on veggie pasta, veggie straw snacks, or veggie chips. Usually the first ingredient is still either refined white flour or white potato; there is just a small amount of vegetable added to change the color of the product. These are usually not whole grain products.

So what terms can you look for to ensure that the product that you’re buying is actually made from whole grains?

Claims such as “Made from 100% Whole Grains” or “8g of whole grains per serving” are usually good indicators. Some products might have a yellow “stamp” indicating the number of grams of whole grain per serving. Unfortunately color alone is another way you might get fooled; it is easy to make bread brown without whole grains and some white bread is actually 100% whole wheat if made from whole white wheat. When in doubt, always check in the ingredient list. If the word “whole” isn’t there (or another type of whole grain such as buckwheat, oats, brown rice, corn, rye, or quinoa) put it back and find a different product that fits your health goals.

– Dietitian Katrina