In his informative article, P.J. Skerrett, Managing Editor, Harvard Health, advises readers on the best way to identify healthful whole-grain foods.
Skerrett notes some of the products we buy may not deliver all the healthful whole-grain goodness we’re expecting, and wryly comments: “If sugary Froot Loops can tout itself as a whole-grain food, there’s something amiss.”
“Whole grain” has become a healthy eating buzzphrase, warns Skerrett, and food companies use it to entice us to buy products.
“Browse the bread, cereal, or chip aisle of your favorite grocery store and you’ll see what I mean. Last year, nearly 3,400 new whole-grain products were launched, compared with just 264 in 2001.”
According to Skerrett, the best way to choose whole-grain foods is to ensure that for every 10 grams of carbohydrate there is at least one gram of fiber.
“Why 10:1? That’s about the ratio of fiber to carbohydrate in a genuine whole grain—unprocessed wheat. This recommendation comes from a new report from the Harvard School of Public Health published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition.”
The Harvard researchers evaluated 545 grain products from two major grocery store chains. They determined the amount of grams of whole grains in each product, along with the amounts of carbohydrates, fiber, added sugar, trans fat, and sodium, plus the number of calories.
Foods that met the 10:1 ratio tended to have less sugar, sodium, and trans fats than those that didn’t.
Skerrett points out that while a little math is required, the information needed is easily found on food labels, which list both total carbohydrates and fiber (see illustration).
Divide the grams of carbohydrates by 10. If the grams of fiber is at least as large as the answer, the food meets the 1:10 standard.
“I find this a lot easier than reading through an ingredient list, which can be long and baffling (plus there are at least 29 different whole grains that can appear in the ingredients list).”
In the nutrition label shown here, one serving of this whole-grain roll has 23 grams of carbohydrate.
Divide that by 10 and you get 2.3. It also has 5 grams of dietary fiber, which is bigger than 2.3. Skerrett claims that signals a healthful whole-grain food.
“You aren’t alone if you are confused about whole-grain foods,” said Rebecca Mozaffarian, a project manager for the HSPH Prevention Research Center and first author of the study.
She and her colleagues started this project when they realized there was scant information for guiding consumers, schools, and other organizations about choosing healthful whole grain foods.
The importance of eating whole grains is that they offer fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other phytochemicals.
Skerrett says as long as they aren’t overprocessed, the body digests them more slowly, which can delay hunger.
“And large, long-term studies have shown that consuming whole grains is one way to help reduce the odds of developing heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions. They also taste better than processed grains.”
The best source of whole grains are wheat berries, oat berries, brown rice, and quinoa. “They’re a slam dunk,” says Mozaffarian. Ground whole grains come next, as long as they still deliver fiber without sugar, trans fats, or sodium.