Food labels contain a wealth of information: calories, serving size and, among other things, the amounts of fat, sugar, vitamins and fiber that a food contains. But do consumers know how to use this information effectively? A recent study found that some consumers struggle, especially when it comes to understanding whole grains.
Current study shows confusion among consumers
For the study published in Public Health Nutrition, the researchers conducted two experiments to examine consumer understanding of whole grains on food labels. The research, which focused on food labels for bread, cereal, and crackers, was done online and included more than 1,000 adults.
In the first experiment, the researchers showed product pairs with different amounts of whole grain products (based on the list of ingredients and fiber content), sugar and salt in simulated nutrition tables. One of the products contained a good amount of whole grains but did not include any information on the front of the package. The other product had fewer whole grains overall, but sold with terms like “multigrain” or “wheat” on the front of the packaging. The results showed that 29% to 47% of study participants mistakenly identified the less healthy product as the better option.
The second experiment used actual food labels and asked study participants to identify which products contained 100% whole grains, mostly whole grains, or little to no whole grains. About half of the study participants (43% to 51%) overestimated the amount of whole grains in the products, which were primarily refined grains. For another product, which consists mainly of whole grains, 17% of consumers underestimated the whole grain content.
The study concluded that consumers have difficulty determining the health and whole grain content of some packaged foods and that they rely on the whole grain label on the front of the package instead of looking at information from the nutrition label and ingredient list.
Why should we eat whole grains?
Whole grains refer to the whole kernel, including bran, germ, and endosperm. Refining the grains removes most of the bran and germs and leaves the endosperm (white flour) behind. Each component of whole grains contains different nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other health-promoting compounds.
In contrast to refined grains, which are deprived of valuable nutrients during refining, whole grain products offer a comprehensive package of health benefits. Studies show that they reduce our risk of various chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and death from any reason.
Whole grains are also a rich source of vitamins and minerals. Compared to fortified white flour, 100% whole wheat flour contains: 96% more vitamin E, 82% more vitamin B6, 80% more selenium, 78% more magnesium, 72% more chromium, 58% more copper, 52% more zinc, and 37% more folic acid.
Peeled barley, bulgur, whole grain couscous, oats, rye, spelled, triticale and whole grain wheat are whole grain products. Gluten-free whole grain products are amaranth, brown rice, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, teff and wild rice.
Tips on choosing whole grains
Don't rely on front-of-the-package marketing. Just because the packaging shows a photo of a beautiful wheat field doesn't mean the contents are made from whole grains. Even packages that say "multigrain", "wheat", "double fiber", "cracked wheat", "7 grains", "ground stone", "fortified", "fortified" or "made with whole grain" can mostly be fortified White flour.
Don't assume that darker is better. Products that are darker in color are not necessarily whole grains. Ingredients like molasses or caramel color may have been used to add color.
Check the ingredients list. The relative amount of whole grains in the food can be measured by the placement of the grain in the ingredient list. Whole grains should be the first ingredient – or the second ingredient after water. For foods with several whole grain ingredients, they should appear at the beginning of the ingredients list. Choose foods that have “whole grain” or “whole grain” listed in front of the name of the grain, e.g. B. Whole rye flour, whole wheat flour or whole wheat.
Know what the labels really mean
|If the label says …||The product contains …|
|100% whole grain||Not refined flour|
|Made from whole grain products||May contain a little or a lot of whole grains|
|full grain||Already 51% whole wheat flour|
|Good source of whole grains||15% to 25% whole grain|
|Multigrain||A mixture of grains, possibly all or mostly refined grains|
Look at the nutrition label
The amount of fiber stated on the food label can provide helpful information about the whole grain content of a food. When choosing a product, choose breads that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, cereals that have at least 5 grams of fiber per serving, and crackers that have at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Don't just focus on whole grains, however. When trying to improve your diet, use food labels to go to products with less sodium, saturated fat, and extra sugar.