Identifying Whole Grain Products

The Whole Grains Council has created an official packaging symbol called the Whole Grain Stamp that helps consumers find real whole grain products. The Stamp started to appear on store shelves in mid-2005 and is becoming more widespread every day.

The Whole Grain Stamp makes it easy

With the Whole Grain Stamp, finding three servings of whole grains is easy: Pick three foods with the 100% Stamp or six foods with ANY Whole Grain Stamp.

The 100% Stamp assures you that a food contains a full serving or more of whole grain in each labeled serving and that ALL the grain is whole grain, while the basic Whole Grain Stamp appears on products containing at least half a serving of whole grain per labeled serving.

But what if there is no Stamp?

Until the Whole Grain Stamp is on all foods, how can consumers know if a product is whole grain?

First, check the package label. Many whole grain products not yet using the Stamp will list the grams of whole grain somewhere on the package, or say something like "100% whole wheat." You can trust these statements. But be skeptical if you see the words "whole grain" without more details, such as "crackers made with whole grain." The product may contain only miniscule amounts of whole grains.

Words you may see on packages What they mean
  • whole grain [name of grain]
  • whole wheat
  • whole [other grain]
  • stoneground whole [grain]
  • brown rice
  • oats, oatmeal (including old-fashioned oatmeal, instant oatmeal)
  • wheatberries
YES -- Contains all parts of the grain, so you're getting all the nutrients of the whole grain.
  • wheat, or wheat flour
  • semolina
  • durum wheat
  • organic flour
  • stoneground
  • multigrain (may describe several whole grains or several refined grains, or a mix of both)
MAYBE -- These words are accurate descriptions of the package contents, but because some parts of the grain MAY be missing, you are likely missing the benefits of whole grains. When in doubt, don't trust these words!
  • enriched flour
  • degerminated (on corn meal)
  • bran
  • wheat germ
NO -- These words never describe whole grains.

Note that words like "wheat," "durum," and "multigrain" can (and do) appear on good whole grain foods, too. None of these words alone guarantees whether a product is whole grain or refined grain, so look for the word "whole" and follow the other advice here.

Check the list of ingredients

If the first ingredient listed contains the word "whole" (such as "whole wheat flour" or "whole oats"), it is likely – but not guaranteed – that the product is predominantly whole grain. If there are two grain ingredients and only the second ingredient listed is a whole grain, the product may contain as little as 1% or as much as 49% whole grain (in other words, it could contain a little bit of whole grain, or nearly half).

Multiple grains get even trickier

If there are several grain ingredients, the situation gets more complex. For instance, let's say a "multi-grain bread" is 30% refined flour and 70% whole grain. But the whole grains are split between several different grains, and each whole grain comprises less than 30% of the total.

The ingredients might read "Enriched white flour, whole wheat, whole oat flour, whole cornmeal and whole millet" and you would NOT be able to tell from the label whether the whole grains make up 70% of the product or 7% of the product. That's why we created the Whole Grain Stamp program.

Fiber is not reliable

Fiber varies from grain to grain, ranging from 3.5% in rice to over 15% in barley and bulgur. What's more, high-fiber products sometimes contain bran or other added fiber without actually having much if any whole grain.

Both fiber and whole grains have been shown to have health benefits. But they're not interchangeable. So checking the fiber on a label is not a very reliable way to guess whether a product is truly whole grain.