Are Consumers Confused About Whole Grain Nutrition?

Nov. 19, 2020
In our November Product Focus, we take a closer look at what whole grain nutrition is and why consumers may be confused by it.

Today’s shoppers know that whole grains are healthful and they want to consume more of them, according to the International Food Information Council’s 2020 Food & Health Survey. Nearly four out of five consumers identify whole grains as healthful and more than half of shoppers try to consume fiber. But a new study from the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, Medford, Mass., and NYU School of Global Public Health, New York, shows consumers are confused by whole grain labeling.

The study, published on August 10, 2020 in Public Health Nutrition, surveyed 1,030 U.S. adults, representative of the population. They looked at photos of hypothetical and real products with various whole grain labels on the front of the package, along with the nutrition facts label and ingredients list for each product. Participants were asked to identify the healthier option (for the hypothetical products) or assess the whole grain content (for the real products).

For the hypothetical products, 29% to 47% of respondents answered incorrectly, specifically, 31% incorrectly for cereal, 29% to 37% for crackers and 47% for bread. For real products that were not mostly composed of whole grains, 43% to 51% of respondents overstated the whole grain content, specifically, 41% overstated for multigrain crackers, 43% for honey wheat bread and 51% for 12-grain bread.

“Our study results show that many consumers cannot correctly identify the amount of whole grains or select a healthier whole grain product,” says Parke Wilde, a food economist and professor at the Friedman School and co-author of the study. “Manufacturers have many ways to persuade you that a product has whole grain even if it doesn’t. They can tell you it’s multigrain or they can color it brown, but those signals do not really indicate the whole grain content.”

“A large chunk (42%) of Americans’ daily calories comes from low-quality carbohydrates," adds Fang Fang Zhang, Nutrition epidemiologist at The Friedman School. "Consuming more whole grains can help change that, but the policy challenge is to provide consumers with clear labels in order to make those healthier choices."

To give you a taste of a few whole grain products, we've spotlighted a few below.

Low-Carb Tortillas
Consumers can keep their carbohydrate count low and clean-eating goals high with two new offerings from La Tortilla Factory. The Organic Low Carb Whole Wheat Tortillas contain 70 calorie and only 5g net carbs per tortilla. The new Low Carb High Fiber Quinoa and Flax Tortillas deliver 10g of fiber in each 60- calorie, 5g net carb tortilla. The family-owned company has been in business since 1977 and is credited with creating the first low-carb tortilla in 2000 and their first organic tortilla in 2003.

Ethiopian Healthful Snack
New Tefftastic Puffs hold the title of being the only 100% teff snack on the market. Created by an Ethiopian entrepreneur, Tefftastic Puffs are made in small batches from pure stone-ground black teff, a gluten-free ancient grain. One serving is packed with 8g of complete plant protein, 9g of prebiotic fiber, all nine essential amino acids and a concentrated dose of vitamins and minerals, taking spicy puffed snacks to a whole new level. The snacks come in bold flavors inspired by Ethiopian spices, including Devil Pepper and Jalapeño Coriander.

Fuel for At-Home Learning 
To help parents serve better-for-you snacks during these stressful times, Core Foods developed Core Kids Chewy Granola Bar in a fudgy chocolate brownie flavor. Exclusive to Target—stores and online—the bars are said to contain 40% less sugar than the leading kids’ bar along with containing 8g of whole grains, 4g fiber and probiotics. They are also certified vegan, gluten free and non-GMO. A five pack costs $5.99.

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