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Whole Grains: Weed Out Imposter Ingredients

Focused on Health - March 2012

by Laura Nathan-Garner 

grains, ingredientsWant to curb your risk of cancer and other diseases? Eating whole grains with every meal can help.

That’s because whole grains are loaded with fiber, vitamins, minerals and natural plant compounds. These compounds help protect your cells from damage that can lead to cancer. Added bonus: the fiber found in whole grains helps you stay full longer, maintain a healthy weight, and keep your cholesterol and blood sugar at normal levels.

READ ALSO: Healthy Bites: Eat foods with whole grains

But not all grains do the trick. Only grains that haven’t been processed contain the whole grain kernel — and offer all the disease-fighting perks you get from eating whole grains.

Unfortunately, finding whole grains can be a little tricky because many foods include ingredients that sound like whole grains but aren’t.

So, how can you tell what foods are actually whole grains? Below, we break down what to look for.

grains, foodsLook for the word “whole”

Grocery store shelves are filled with grains and grain products. Those include whole grains, multi-grains, seven-grain, bran, whole wheat and stone-ground products.

But only those that include the word “whole” — whole grains and whole wheat — are actually whole grains. That’s true whether you’re looking at a package for whole wheat pasta or whole wheat bread.

Multi-grains, seven-grain, bran and wheat products usually do have some health perks. So, don’t skip them altogether. Just don’t expect them to provide your daily fill of whole grains.

After all, the grains in these foods have been refined, which destroys the grain’s nutrient-rich, cancer-fighting outer layer. And, even when food manufacturers “enrich” these grains, they don’t restore the full health benefits of whole grains.

READ ALSO: Your guide to whole grains

Get to know other whole grains

Keep in mind that many whole grains don’t actually include “whole” or even “grains” in their name. Here are some common ingredients and foods that are great sources of whole grains:

  • Bulgur wheat
  • Buckwheat
  • Barley, preferably hulled
  • Cornmeal, preferably whole graingrains, ingredients
  • Kasha
  • Millet
  • Oats
  • Oat bran
  • Oatmeal
  • Quinoa
  • Wild or brown rice
  • Tabouleh
  • Whole rye
  • Whole wheat

Choose foods with the Whole Grain Stamp

Here’s an easy way to spot whole grains: look for a golden Whole Grain Stamp on the food package. There are actually two versions of the Whole Grain Stamp.

  • The 100% Stamp says “100%” across the stamp. It only appears on products where all grain ingredients are whole grains.  Products with this stamp contain at least 16 grams of whole grain per serving.
  • The Basic Stamp does not say “100%.” Foods with this stamp contain at least 8 grams (a half-serving) of whole grain, but they also may include some refined grains, such as extra bran, germ or refined flour.

Choose whole grains listed at the top of the label’s ingredient list

Choosing a product with one or more ingredients? Whenever possible, pick items that list the whole grain ingredients first.

That’s because an item that lists, say, quinoa as the first ingredient contains far more cancer-fighting whole grains than a food that lists quinoa (or any other whole grain) last.

Include whole grains in every meal

Want to reap the cancer-fighting benefits of whole grains? Your best bet is to make them part of every meal.

Ready to get your fill? Download our whole grains cheat sheet.

Related Links
How to Spot Real Whole Grains (MD Anderson)
Foods That Fight Cancer? Whole Grains (AICR)

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