When the label says “Stone Ground Wheat Bread”, does that mean it’s healthy? How can you tell if a food is made from whole grains or refined grains?
It’s not always easy, but here are a few tips. Remember that the germ of a grain seed will go rancid very quickly after the seed is broken open unless it is cooked immediately. Most whole-grain breakfast cereals and “quick cooking” whole grain products (such as bulgur or instant brown rice) are steamed, toasted or otherwise cooked as soon as the seed is broken, so there is no need to remove the germ. These products usually contain the whole grain.
On the other hand, commercial products made from flour frequently have the germ and some or most of the fiber removed, so the flour can be stored without turning rancid. Manufacturers may mix some toasted wheat germ or fiber back in, but they don’t have to explain that on the label. Our US labeling laws say a product can be called “whole grain” if it contains 50 percent of the original grain components (including the germ and outer bran layers.) Healthy-sounding terms such as multi-grain, cracked wheat, rye, or stone-ground do not mean you’re getting 100 percent of the grain. I only trust “whole wheat” bread bought from local bakers who grind their own wheat and bake it the same day.
Almost all corn products have the germ and fiber removed: grits, hominy, tortillas, corn meal, corn flour (masa harina) and breakfast cereals made from milled corn are all refined grains. Most rice products such as cereals, rice cakes and rice crackers are made from white rice unless they specify brown rice as the first ingredient.
When you shop for a new cereal or grain product such as whole wheat pasta, read the labels. Look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving. More fiber is better! A 50-gram serving of wheat berries has 8 grams of fiber, so use that as your yardstick to guess whether the manufacturer has removed parts of the grain. Eat a wide variety of whole grains and whole grain products and get the nutritional benefits of them all.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin has been a radio talk show host for 25 years and practicing physician for more than 40 years; he is board certified in four specialties, including sports medicine. Read or listen to hundreds of his fitness and health reports at http://www.DrMirkin.com