“Whole Grains” May Equal a Whole Lot of Sugar

You’ve seen the products at the store labeled “whole grain.”  You may have even bought them thinking that they’re a better choice for you and your family. However, to date, no single standard exists for defining any product as a “whole grain.” According to a new study by The Harvard School of Public Health researchers, the standards for classifying foods as “whole grain” are inconsistent and, in some cases, misleading.

The researchers examined the ingredients and nutrients in 545 grain products in eight categories: breads, bagels, English muffins, cereals, crackers, cereal bars, granola bars and chips. They found that products with one of the most widely used front-of-package symbols, the Whole Grain Stamp (a packaging symbol for products containing at least eight grams of whole grains per serving created by the Whole Grain Council, a non-governmental organization supported by industry dues; see image above) were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, but contained significantly more sugar and calories compared to products without the stamp.

Whole grains are essential to good health and research shows that consuming whole grains can decrease cardiovascular disease risk, help manage weight and prevent diabetes. However, getting these healthful grains with a dose of sugar can negate the positive effects.

The researchers found that the most reliable standards are set by the American Heart Association, which recommends a ratio of total carbohydrate to fiber of ≤10:1. This is approximately the ratio of carbohydrate to fiber in whole wheat flour. This recommendation proved to be the best indicator of overall healthfulness. Products meeting this ratio were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, sugar and sodium, without higher calories, compared to products that did not meet the ratio.

Bottom Line: The next time you’re at the grocery store, look at the label of the product you are considering purchasing and examine the ratio of total carbohydrates to fiber. Divide the total carbs by the total fiber on the nutrition label. If the number is less than 10, it is a good choice.

Today’s blog post comes courtesy of Debra Wein, MS, RD, CSSD, NSCA-CPT, CWPD Besides being the brains behind the innovative new Koko Fuel,  Debra is a nationally recognized expert on health and wellness and has designed award winning programs for both individuals and corporations across the country. She is president and founder of Wellness Workdays, a leading provider of worksite wellness programs, and has nearly 20 years of experience working in the health and wellness industry. Debra’s interests include bringing the latest developments in nutrition, fitness and wellness to her clients and to anyone who will listen. Her goal is to inspire individuals to make simple and positive changes in their lives that improve their health.

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About Michael Wood, Chief Fitness Officer
Michael Wood, CSCS, is Chief Fitness Officer at Koko FitClub, driving the development of integrated strength and cardio training and nutrition programs for Koko members nationwide. A nationally acclaimed fitness expert, Michael has conducted research as a Senior Exercise Physiologist at the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Sarcopenia Laboratory at the Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and has lectured at Boston University and the University of Connecticut. He has been named Boston Magazine’s “Best of Boston” Personal Trainer, and made the Men’s Journal “Dream Team” list of the nine best trainers in the U.S. Michael and his family live in North Attleboro, MA.

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