Chew on this: 01/20

Get more in the know about your dough

By Jayne Powers
Sometimes, we don’t know when we think we did know. Got that?

The next time you visit your go-to grocery store – and after heeding the following tips – you will know more about how to make healthier choices and not let food marketers get the best of your health and your wallet.

Buying grain products is one area where consumers are faced with dubious choices, especially when the smell of baked bread wafts through the air. Sometimes, that smell is fake, misted in the air to lure you into making an impulse buy, often an unhealthy one.

Resist the temptation, and choose bread based on facts rather than your emotions. On a recent visit to my local store, the front-of-the-package come-ons from a loaf I pulled off the shelf stated, “Split Top Wheat” and “Made with Whole Grains.” Turns out, this product is nothing more than enriched flour that has less than 1 gram of fiber.

While enriched bread is an important source of B vitamins and iron, you’d be better off with whole grains. The nonprofit Whole Grains Council says foods made from whole grains must contain the entire grain kernel – the endosperm, bran and germ – and in their original proportions. The word “Whole” should be the first word in the ingredient list, as in Whole-Grain Oats, Whole Wheat or Whole-Grain Wheat.

Saying the bread is “Multigrain” is another bread trap. This just means that the food product is made with several different types of grains, not necessarily whole grains.

Lesson Learned: Resist the lure of descriptive words: Read the food label. Words, such as “Country,” “Home,” “Harvest” and “Seven Grain” also don’t make bread products more healthful. Neither does a darker color. That could be from molasses or caramel coloring.

As for “Stone-Ground” bread, that means that the milling process doesn’t flatten the grains as much, preserving more of the texture. The food label would need to say “Stone-Ground Whole Wheat” as opposed to “Stone-Ground Wheat” for it to be more nutritious.

Sprouted wheat bread is also a source of whole grain. It’s simply wheat that has started to grow. But there is a tradeoff as to whether sprouted wheat bread is nutritionally superior. Technically, there are greater health benefits from sprouts – more vitamins and minerals. The tradeoff: Protein and fiber content will be somewhat lower.

The Whole Grains Council substantiates claims made by food manufacturers. For participating manufacturers that produce whole-grain products, they can pay for the privilege of including the council’s whole grain stamp on its packaging, provided their product qualifies. But other products may be as nutritionally sound without the stamp.

The council offers two stamps. The 100 percent Whole Grain Stamp is reserved for products when all of its ingredients are whole grains. Popcorn, for example, would be one of them because it is 100 percent whole grain. If a product bears the Basic Stamp, it has at least 8 grams – a half serving – of whole grain but may also contain some refined grain.

Whole grain products should have 2-3 grams of dietary fiber per slice. Sometimes, highly refined white breads claim to contain 4 grams of fiber in a slice. In this case, fiber was added, and there is nothing wrong with that. But it is not clear whether adding fiber to food has the same health benefits as eating foods naturally high in fiber.

While fiber is good for you, don’t cherry-pick one nutrient when reading a food label. It is more helpful to focus on the healthfulness of the entire product, weighing sugar, sodium and fat content against the values for protein and fiber.

If you don’t like the taste of whole-grain products, consider this whole-grain alternative – white whole wheat, which is lighter and softer in texture than conventional whole wheat, is made from red winter wheat.

Well, we’ve spent a lot of time in the bread aisle. You can use this knowledge and apply it to pasta, cereals and snacks.

Here are a few more tips before I wheel my cart to the checkout counter. They will help you prepare a nutritious meal – a sandwich – using a whole-grain bread.

Pile on some vegetables. Should they be organic? No need to guess. The Environmental Working Group tests pesticide residue and has come up with the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean 15.” The nonprofit group also publishes a complete list on its site. It recently added the ever-popular kale to its list of the “Dirty Dozen.”

For protein, canned tuna is an excellent and relatively affordable source of omega-3 fat. Choose poll- and troll-caught tuna over tuna caught in deeper water using conventional fishing practices. It is more environmentally friendly and healthier because this type of fishing catches younger tuna, which has accumulated less mercury.

Oh, and choose light tuna over white, which is higher in mercury. Just make sure that the light tuna comes from Skipjack tuna and not a mix of several different species. Head over to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch website, or get the smartphone app, to learn more about which canned and fresh seafood to buy or avoid.

Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at

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Jayne Powers, MA, is a certified nutritionist and personal fitness trainer based in Washington, DC. Her column, Chew on This, speaks from the science of the current state of knowledge about all facets of nutrition. Find her online at

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