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The decades of nutrition advice encouraging Americans to eat more whole grains takes one small assumption for granted: that Americans will actually know which grains are which.

Recognizing the importance of this task, Oldways founded the Oldways Whole Grains Council in 2003, and in 2005, introduced the Whole Grain Stamp packaging symbol, which now appears on more than 12,000 products worldwide. Throughout our 15+ year journey, we’ve seen encouraging progress regarding the availability of (and interest in) whole grain foods.

To better assess the whole grain savvy of American shoppers, researchers in a recent study asked 169 low-income adults in Connecticut to look at 11 foods in their original packaging and determine if each was a whole grain or a refined grain. (No mixed foods were used – all of the whole grain products were 100% whole grain.) The majority of participants (7 out of 10) correctly identified 4 out of 5 of the whole grain products as whole grain, and nearly as many (6 out of 10) participants correctly identified 5 out of the 6 refined grain products.

Specifically, 9/10 people correctly identified whole grain bread, 8/10 correctly identified whole grain crackers & whole grain cereal, and 7/10 correctly identified oatmeal as a whole grain, while popcorn tripped most people up (with only 3/10 people correctly identifying it as a whole grain food). Similarly, 8/10 correctly identified refined crackers, 7/10 correctly identified refined macaroni and tortillas, and 6/10 correctly identified refined bread and cereal, while white rice was tricky for people (with only 4/10 correctly identifying it as a refined grain).

The study made no mention of using products bearing the Whole Grain Stamp in their methods, but that would have certainly made it even easier for participants to identify whole grain foods. Furthermore, our 2018 Whole Grains Consumer Insights Survey found that 78% of adults would use the Stamp when deciding whether or not to buy a product, and that 51% of adults are less likely to trust a product’s claims about whole grains without the Whole Grain Stamp.

The authors of the Connecticut study mentioned above also suggested that reducing the cost (or perceived cost) of whole grain foods might encourage people to buy and eat more of them, as some of the low-income participants perceived whole grains as more expensive. In our own investigations in Boston-area supermarkets, we found that while whole grain sandwich breads tend to cost more than their refined counterparts, for many other grain foods (such as pasta, rice, crackers, and flatbreads), the prices are actually quite comparable. (We later expanded these findings into an infographic.)

If you’re looking for a refresher on how to spot a whole grain, our new Whole Grains 101 Poster is a great resource. You can also check out some of our free downloadable handouts, such as:

For the rest of you grain gurus out there, we challenge you to complete our 10-question “Guess the Grains” online quiz! (Kelly)


Erin C.
Why are you using a study that focuses on on only low-income consumers? People of all income levels purchase and consume whole grains!
Hi Erin -- The researchers who conducted this study noted that whole grain consumption is particularly low among low-income adults, which is why they chose to focus the study on this population. But you’re absolutely right that people of all income levels consume (and benefit from) whole grains!

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