Cereals are one of the most widely consumed foods worldwide, making up over half of the world average diet. Chances are, you eat some form of cereal, oats, rice, or bread. Do you know what types you are consuming and how they are labeled? This post will dive into these topics.
Cereal grains appear on the ingredients list and nutrition label just like any other ingredient. However, you probably see all sorts of writing on the front or side promoting healthy aspects of a product. Some of these have specific criteria set out for them, but some of them are more vague. Sound familiar?
One of the most common things you might see is enriched flour or enriched wheat flour. Federal law requires refined flour to have nutrients added to it. This restores nutrients that have been lost in processing. Thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid, and iron are added, while calcium is an optional addition.
Whole grains are cereal grains that are intact and unrefined. Wheat, for example is made up of three parts: the bran, germ, and endosperm. Refined wheat flour is made by removing the bran and germ, but whole wheat flour includes every part of the kernel. There are many foods that fall into this category including barley, quinoa, wheat, and a lot more.
If you see something labeled with 100% whole grains, you can be sure there are no refined grains used in making it. If you see something labeled as whole grain, like pizza or bagels, then it should also be made entirely of whole grains and contain no refined grains. That’s the recommendation from the FDA, but enforcement is voluntary.
Now here’s where it gets trickier. If you see something that says made with whole grains or contains whole grains, it must contain 51% whole grain ingredients and have a minimum fiber content ranging from 1.7g to 3g, depending on the reference amount customarily consumed. There isn’t an international standard for what constitutes meaningful nutrition from whole grains, so you’re best bet is to look at the ingredients list and nutrition panel and check to see if it contains what you are looking for. And be on the lookout for added coloring. It is possible to use brown or caramel coloring on a refined grain product and have it appear healthier. Especially if it contains an ingredient like wheat flour, which is the same thing as flour. Whole wheat flour is the one that contains the bran and germ.
Ancient grains is a newer term that is becoming more popular. They are loosely defined as grains that have been largely unchanged over the last several hundred years, providing a nutritional profile similar to what our ancestors ate. There is no official definition of the term, and no plans to define it as far as I know. Check the ingredients list to make sure any products with this term use acceptable ingredients.
There’s a lot more to go over in the realm of cereal grains, but that’s all I can muster up for this post. Stay tuned for the next one!