Label language: Whole grains

Make at least half your grains whole grains by confirming they are 100 percent whole and not enriched.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that you make at least half of your grains whole grains. The amount recommended depends on your age and gender. Check out this chart provided by the USDA to see the recommended amount of whole grains you should be eating.

What does whole grain mean? Why should I eat it?

Whole grains are grains that have the kernel, which includes the bran, germ and endosperm. This means that it naturally includes some good nutrients, including fiber, iron and B-vitamins. Fiber is great for your digestive system and helps keep you full. Fiber can also reduce your risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. B-vitamins help provide your body with energy. Iron helps carry oxygen throughout the body.

What is a refined grain? Why should I eat less of it?

Refined grains are processed to remove the bran and germ. This allows for a softer texture but also removes fiber, iron and some of those important B-vitamins. These are enriched, which means the iron and B-vitamins have been put back in. The fiber is not re-added. As stated above, fiber is a very important part of a healthy diet and if you eat too much refined grains you may not meet the 25 to 38 grams of fiber that is recommended for adults to eat daily.

How do I know if a product is whole grain?

Whole grain products usually say on the front of the package that it is whole grain. To put whole grain on the label, the grains in the product must be at least 50 percent whole grain. It is best to eat 100 percent whole grain products. To make sure that’s what you are eating, check the ingredients list on the bottom of the food label. The words whole grain should be listed and not the word “enriched.” The Whole Grains Council has developed a stamp that makes it easy to figure out if a product is whole grain or not. The stamp will list how many grams of whole grains you get with one serving or it can tell you that the product is 100 percent whole grain. This way you can take a quick glance at the stamp, without having to read the ingredients list. The Whole Grains Council has also made a list of whole grains that can be found on the Whole Grains Council website. There is also a description of the grains and there are likely some listed that you have never tried before.

What about multi-grain?

When the package or label says that a product is multi-grain it means that there are multiple grains in it. This does not mean that those grains are whole grains. Eating different grains is great but you want to make sure that you are eating at least half your grains as whole grains. Multi-grain products can be whole grain, so make sure to look at the ingredients list or to look for the Whole Grains Council stamp.

What is whole white wheat?

Whole white wheat is a whole grain that is lighter in color than what we traditionally think of when we think of whole grains. The wheat itself is more of a white color and also has a milder taste compared to other wheat. If you are just trying out whole grain products, whole white wheat might be a great place to start because it is similar in taste and texture to the refined grains (like white bread). This also might be a great option for kids who have a hard time transitioning to whole grains from refined products.

Michigan State University Extension offers nutrition education classes for adults and youth that include information on whole grains and reading labels. More information can be found at http://msue.anr.msu.edu/topic/info/nutrition.

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