How to find 100% whole grain products at the grocery store?

A side note before we begin. The consumption of gluten, the protein in wheat, has been a hot topic for some time now. ‘Gluten Free’ options are becoming more and more widely available and are certainly wanted and appreciated in the right setting. However demonizing wheat and gluten or grains in general may be the wrong approach. I will explain why the source of wheat, as well as methods of production and cultivation are more likely the culprit here, rather than the wheat itself, but this is a separate discussion. In this article I want to explain how with the two rules mentioned below you will be able to reduce your actual gluten consumption, by increasing your fiber to carbohydrates ratio, so that you are able to enjoy the nutritional value of grains without the modern day myriad of ill effects of over processed refined carbohydrates that are devoid of its goodness.

So how to find whole grains or whole grain products at the grocery store? For the longest time I didn’t know the ‘correct’ answer to this question. Over time I have come to learn that products with ingredients listed as ‘whole wheat’ or ‘whole oats’ may not actually be ‘100% whole’.

Rule #1: I learnt this trick from Dr. Michel Greger’s book, ‘How Not to Die’. Take the ratio of Carbohydrates to Fiber on the nutrition label and ensure that it is less than or equal to 5. Anything over 5 is most likely not whole. This upper limit of 5 will vary for different grains though, simply because some grains have more fiber than others. But as long as you’re close to 5, the product is most likely whole.

Although I have observed that rice is an exception to this rule. I find that this rule applies to almost every other grain, wheat, oats, barley, quinoa etc. but I have yet to find rice with a ratio of around 5 or less. I am starting to believe that this rule may not apply to rice and I believe the reason is relatively less fiber content in rice as compared to other grains. But I have observed that rice with a ratio of 10 or less is typically whole grain. Processed rice tends to have a very high ratio, usually around 40.

Rule #2: Another way to quickly spot whole grain products is to look for the 100% Whole Grain Stamp from the Whole Grains Council as shown in the image below. But there are two disadvantages to using this rule if you’re unaware of rule #1 mentioned above.

whole grain stamp

Disadvantage #1: The company selling the grain/product must be a member of the Whole Grains Council. The problem here is that if you’re only looking for the 100% Whole Grain Stamp, you will miss the local companies that are selling 100% whole grains and whole grain products but are not a member of the Whole Grains Council. Whole Grain products from local companies are typically cheaper and can be found in the bulk foods aisle at your local Community Natural Foods store and similar other stores.

Disadvantage #2: You have to be very attentive while shopping to ensure that the stamp says ‘100% Whole Grain’ and not just ‘Whole Grain’ as you can see in the image above. There is a difference. A ‘Whole Grain’ stamp means that the product is only partly whole and may contain some refined grains [1].

These two rules are especially helpful when shopping for processed whole grain products such as bread and pasta. Whole grains typically have more soluble fiber and lower glycemic index (GI). Whole grains are digested and absorbed much slower and do not cause significant fluctuations in blood sugar levels as compared to processed grains. Think of it as eating a ‘whole’ apple vs. drinking ‘processed’ apple juice. If you’re interested in learning more about health benefits of whole grains over processed grains, follow the link here.


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