Dr. K: Read nutrition labels to find the 'whole' truth

Dr. Komaroff explains how to figure out which foods will deliver the healthful whole-grain goodness expected from whole grain foods.
BY Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D. Published: May 14, 2013
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DEAR DOCTOR K: These days everything in the supermarket claims to contain whole grains, from sugary cereals to my favorite chips. How do I know which foods are healthy whole grains?

DEAR READER: “Whole grain” has become a healthy-eating buzz-phrase, and food companies aren't shy about using it. But some of the products we buy may not deliver the healthy whole-grain goodness we're expecting. And if sugary cereals can tout themselves as a whole-grain food, there's something amiss.

Wheat, rice, barley and oats are all grains used to create bread, cereals and pasta. If those grains are processed heavily before the bread, cereals or pasta are made (such as in white bread) they're called “refined” grains. The processing that leads to refined grains removes fiber — and iron and B vitamins.

If you see the term “enriched grains” on a package, it means the fiber is gone, but some iron and B vitamins have been added back.

So what's the best way to identify a healthful whole-grain food?

Use the 10:1 rule: For every 10 grams of carbohydrate, there should be at least one gram of fiber. Why a ratio of 10-to-1? That's about the ratio of carbohydrate to fiber in a genuine whole grain — unprocessed wheat.

Let's say the Nutrition Facts label on a package shows that one serving of a whole-grain roll has 23 grams of carbohydrate. Divide that by 10 to get 2.3. It also has 5 grams of dietary fiber, which is bigger than 2.3. That signals a healthful whole-grain food. (I've put a sample Nutrition Facts label, along with an explanation of how to calculate the carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio, on AskDoctorK.com.)

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