Kellogg's probably wouldn't sell a lot of Eggo waffles of any variety if their labels proclaimed that the waffles were "made with water" and "mostly white flour." Yet water and white flour are the top two ingredients in Eggo Nutrigrain Whole Wheat Waffles, whose labels tout their "whole grain" and "whole wheat" content.
That's typical of many deceptive whole grain claims found in the supermarket. In preparation for a meeting with officials from the Food and Drug Administration, we at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest toured the supermarket to find examples of foods that made some kind of attempt to capitalize on the whole grain craze.
It's easy to see why food manufacturers are making whole grain claims. The federal government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans and ChooseMyPlate.gov urge people to "make half your grains whole." Some manufacturers are actually adding more whole grain to products in order to capitalize on whole grain's reputation for healthfulness. But some food manufacturers making whole grain claims or using words like "multigrain" on labels are just trying to obscure the fact that the products are mostly made with highly-refined white flour.
It's our hope that the FDA will require companies that are making such claims to disclose exactly what percentage of the touted grains are whole.
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The phrase "made with whole grain" often means made with very LITTLE whole grain. Kellogg's Eggo Nutrigrain Whole Wheat Waffles have the words "made with 8 grams of whole wheat" and "Nutri-Grain" on the box. Whole wheat flour is only the third ingredient -- there is more water and white flour than whole grain.
Some bread companies refer to their product as "wheat bread" as if to suggest that they are not "white bread," but whole wheat. Home Pride Butter Top Wheat Bread is made mostly from white flour. (It has more yeast and high-fructose corn syrup or sugar than it has whole wheat.)
Many cracker brands claim to have a certain number of grams of whole grain in their products. Nabisco Whole Grain Premium Saltine Crackers boasts 5 grams of whole wheat, which is only a small percentage of the serving size. The first ingredient on the package is unbleached enriched flour -- code for white flour.
Wheatsworth Stone Ground Wheat Crackers have photos of wheat on the box, and include the words "Stone Ground" in the title to make the product appear more healthful. But the main ingredient is once again enriched flour. Nabisco adds caramel color to darken the product to reinforce the perception that the crackers are largely whole wheat.
Some cereal companies boast of whole grain content to distract consumers away from the unhealthy aspects of the product (usually sugar). General Mills Lucky Charms have the Whole Grain Stamp on the box -- which consumers associate with being a healthier choice, yet it has 10g of sugar per serving.
Lance Whole Grain Crackers appear to be a healthy snack for children -- but Lance adds caramel coloring to darken the crackers rather than using more whole wheat flour. These crackers contain more enriched white flour and vegetable oil than whole wheat flour.
Some multigrain products contain no whole grain at all. Barilla Plus Rotini Multigrain Pasta lists barley, spelt, and oats, which are not always whole grains. When we called Barilla, we were told that there is no whole grain in this product. It is impossible for a consumer to learn this by reading the label.
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