MONDAY, Aug. 10, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Folks who want to eat healthy by choosing whole grain foods aren’t helped by product labels that can confuse and mislead consumers, a new study shows.
Almost half were unable to identify the healthier whole grain option when asked to rely on food package labels, researchers discovered.
A similar proportion of participants were unable to accurately state the whole grain content of different products, according to the study.
Terms like “multigrain,” “contains whole grains,” “honey wheat” and “12-grain” can be used to hawk breads, cereals and crackers as healthier options even if the product mostly contains refined flour, explained lead researcher Parke Wilde, a professor at Tufts University’s School of Nutrition Science and Policy in Boston.
“If they say it contains whole grains, it really does have to contain some whole grains. They would get into trouble if they made a claim that was outright false,” Wilde said. “But it’s totally permitted to say it contains whole grains even if it’s mostly refined grains.
“For terms like multigrain or seven-grain or 12-grain, or the coloring, there’s no rules at all,” Wilde continued. “There’s no rules against using any of those terms on a refined grain product, or coloring the product brown, which consumers associate with whole grains.”
Current U.S. dietary guidelines recommend that whole grains make up at least half of a person’s overall grain intake. Studies have shown that whole grains can protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer, researchers said in background notes.
Refined grains have been ground into flour or meal, with the healthy outer layers of grain stripped away. Whole wheat products contain the entire grain, which boosts the fiber content and adds higher levels of nutrients.
Wilde and his colleagues used two different methods to test consumer savvy when it comes to picking whole grain products.
In one experiment, they asked people to choose between two hypothetical products — one product that contained a lot of whole grains but made no claims on the front of the package, and another that had lower overall whole grains but bore packaging selling itself as “made with whole grains” or “multigrain” or “wheat.”