How to choose 100% whole grains

Whole Grain Stamp

Manufacturers use lots of verbal sleight-of-hand to try to get you to think their food is healthier than their competitor’s.  That’s nothing new, and they’re incredibly good at it.  So arm yourself with this information next time you’re reading through the ingredients list at the store:

If it says “100% WHOLE GRAIN” on the front of the package you’re good to go.

If it says any of the following on the front, it’s most likely not 100% whole grain, and you should move on.

  • “Flour”
  • “Wheat Flour”
  • “Enriched Wheat Flour”
  • “Refined Flour”
  • “White Flour”
  • “Made with whole grain(s)”
  • “Multigrain”
  • “Stone-ground”
  • “100% wheat”
  • “Cracked wheat”
  • “Seven-grain”
  • “Bran”

Better yet, skip the marketing stuff on the front of the package, and go right to the ingredients list on the back.  Look for “Whole Wheat” (or other whole grain) at the top the list… The keyword being, of course, “Whole.”

Beware of another common pitfall:  In the ingredients they’ll list “Whole Wheat” first, and right behind it will be “Enriched Wheat Flour.”  That second one is just another name for refined flour.  Again, move on.

Have you seen other label trickery?  Post in the comments!

More resources:

The USDA’s Tips to help you eat more whole grains
(though in my opinion they don’t go far enough).

The Whole Grain Council’s Guide to Identifying Whole Grains.
(it’s their label pictured above… which has several versions, so make sure you find the one that says 100%!)

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Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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February 23, 2013 10:34 am

I just saw a bread that said it was made with 100% organic whole wheat flour. I looked at the ingredients list, and here is what is in it:
whole wheat((enriched (niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid))(WHEAT), milk(milk, vitaminD3)(MILK), potato, honey, butter((pasteurized cream, natural flavorings(lactic acid, starter distillate, culturoma))(MILK), yeast, salt(magnesium carbonate)

I’m just confused that it says enriched whole wheat. Is that a bad thing? Is that something to avoid? Any guidance would be appreciated.


April 19, 2010 1:25 pm

Good tips Andrew! One piece of label trickery that really bugs me involves trans fat. Lots of items claim to be trans-fat free, but in fact list partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredients. But because they have less than 0.5 g of trans fat per serving, they can round down to zero. Jerks.

Do you have any good whole grain pastas to recommend? TJ’s has some, have you tried em?