My poor mother-in-law has to deal with an awful lot with the Kitchen Stewardship lady as a daughter-in-law, let me tell you. I try not to preach to her too often about nutrition, really, but I’ve done a few “mini-lessons” on whole grains. She’s supposed to cook with them because of diabetes in the household, so one Christmas we actually gave her a box of whole grain stuff (rice, couscous, pasta, etc.) to help “teach” what to buy and how to prepare it. Shortly after, she proudly told me she had bought “whole grain bread!”
I checked it out, and I had to tell her, “This bread gets about a “B-” in whole grain nutrition.” She had been tricked by one of the many ways food manufacturers use “wheat” on their bread packaging, so I taught her what to look for to find “A+” whole grain bread. (photo from Flickr.com)
There are an awful lot of terms sparkling in orange or yellow starbursts or in tempting titles on the bread bags in my grocery store.
- Cracked Wheat
- Health Bread
- Fiber for Life
- 100% Whole Wheat
- Honey Wheat
- Made With Whole Grain
- Hearth bread
- Stone Ground
Even I still get tricked initially by the “cracked wheat” label. It sounds so healthy! But I’ve checked ingredients on that one, and it’s not worth your time if you want whole grain bread.
The Only Way to Get Whole Grain Bread Without the White Flour…
…is to buy a package that says 100% Whole Wheat and check the ingredients: Whole wheat flour must be the first ingredient, and any other flours must have whole before their name. If they don’t, they’re probably white flour with all the healthy parts stripped away (see below for a quick lesson on “What is a Whole Grain”). You can also check the amount of fiber in the nutrition facts. Any bread with only 1g fiber is using white flour! Here are some common tricks:
- What is “wheat flour”? White flour, usually bleached. Remember that most of the baking in our country is done with wheat. Standard white flour is wheat flour, just with the fat, fiber and vitamins absent and the blood-sugar-spiking starches leftover.
- What is “enriched wheat flour”? White flour. When processing takes the good stuff out, they add synthetic B vitamins back in, but not nearly as many vitamins as the real thing (missing zinc, fiber, and more) and not as well assimilated by the body. It’s only “enriched” if you compare to white flour with no added ingredients, but it sounds so nutritious!
- What is “unbleached wheat flour”? Same as above, but without one chemical (bleach).
- What is “multi-grain”? This is one that gets a lot of people. We should be diversifying the varieties of grains we consume, but “multi-grain” is only truly good for you if it’s also “whole grain”. Most often, “multi-grain bread” has “wheat flour” (white flour!) as the first or second ingredient, then includes smaller amounts of other grains: barley, oats, etc., sometimes “whole grain”, sometimes just the processed white flour version of that grain. Bottom line: multi-grain does not always mean “healthy”.
- Stone-Ground, Cracked Wheat, and others: These terms describe how the wheat is processed, but it doesn’t mean that the wheat mentioned is the main ingredient. Many of these breads start with white flour and are enhanced a bit by healthy whole wheat.
The bread I bought this week is not 100% whole grain, a rarity in our house. It has a wonderfully nutritious-sounding label: “Meijer Naturals 7 Grain all natural enriched bread.” Tagline: “Made with whole grain, good source of fiber.” Whole Grain Wheat Flour is the first ingredient (after water), but Unbleached Wheat Flour comes next. I bought it because my bread store was out of the organic breads, and this one has no GMOs, which is something I’m dabbling in. I grabbed a loaf of 100% whole wheat too – it’s all about balance! If you’ve never been introduced to a bread outlet store, by the way, they’re a great place to stay frugal on your budget yet get healthy bread. Merdith’s post at Like Merchant Ships is a must-read on the subject!
Why Do I Want Whole Grain Bread Anyway?
The whole grain has all the nutrients God put into grains: fiber, protein, healthy fats, and lots of vitamins and minerals. The straight starch in white flour, in the absence of the whole, is quickly turned into simple sugars in your body. This has two effects:
- Spikes your blood sugar
- Is easily turned into fat for storage
I read a challenging article to the contrary this week, but I’m not sure I buy it. If you’re interested in some fabulous nutritional controversy, check it out here.
UPDATE: Whole grain bread may not be all it’s cracked up to be. This post on The Nutritional Value of Whole Grains is a must-read, as is information at this site on soaking grains and sourdough bread.
What is a Whole Grain?
A kernel of grain has three parts: endosperm, germ, and bran.
The endosperm contains:
- A few vitamins
The germ contains:
- B vitamins
- Vitamin E
- Healthy (polyunsaturated) fats
- Lots of folic acid (important for pregnancy)
- Iron, zinc and other minerals
The bran contains:
- Main source of the grain’s fiber
- Most phytonutrients and minerals
All these parts can be separated. You can buy wheat bran. You can buy wheat germ. (Health food folks like to do this.) You can buy wheat endosperm. It’s called “white flour”. (Processed food companies like to do this.)
Because of its oils, the wheat germ is likely to go rancid quickly. In order to extend the shelf life, as with trans fats, food manufacturers strip off the germ and the bran so that the remaining endosperm, although lacking in nutrition, can sit around for a long time and wait for people to consume it. If only it was worth consuming!
Your mission this week is still to find a new oat recipe, not to switch to whole grain bread. We’ll discuss whole grains for an entire month after the Super Foods series is over, and at that point I will challenge you to commit to whole grain bread. For now, I just want you to know what to look for in case whole grains are already important to you, but mystifying.
What does your bread bag say? Leave a comment with sketchy ingredients, starbursts or taglines so we can all decipher the code together!
***UPDATE: There may be a healthier way. Get caught up with a handy list of all the soaking grains information.
Other helpful nutrition posts:
- Monounsaturated Fats: Avocado, Peanut Butter and Olive Oil
- Omega-3s: Salmon and Flax
- Olive Oil Primer
- How to Use and Store Flax
- How to Find Sustainable Seafood
- How to Buy Safe Salmon & Season It
- Two Paradigms of Healthy Eating
- How to Buy Reduced Produce