Whole What?

Nutrition labels are confusing.

Perhaps because your teachers never gave the same importance to nutrition as they did algebra or grammar. What a shame.

So, it's not surprising that most New Yorkers suffer from nutrition label illiteracy.

Don't be one of them!

Answer this: What's the most important information on a nutrition label?

Saturated fat? Don't want heart disease, like grandpa, right?

Salt? That will shoot up my blood pressure, won't it?

Protein? Can't get enough, am I right or am I right?

None. Of. The. Above.

The ingredient list is most important.

The ingredient list identifies the most common ingredient first and the least common ingredient last.

Have a look at the ingredient list. What's your general impression? 

Only a handful of ingredients or too many to count?

Ingredients commonly found in your kitchen or strange chemical compounds that sound like they belong in a laboratory?

Let's make some generalizations.

The fewer the ingredients, the healthier the food.

The more ingredients that you've never heard of, the less healthy the food.

But, what if your ingredient list isn't telling you the whole truth?

Does "Whole wheat" actually mean 100% whole grain or is it a mixture of whole grain and processed grain? Unless the nutrition label declares "100% Whole Grain" you don't know.

Terrifying, I know.

But, don't give up just yet!

I'll teach you how to distinguish between the good carbs and bad carbs.

It's fiber.

Fiber is the most important value on the nutrition label when eating carbs: bread, pasta, rice, cereal, cookies and cake.

Fiber is the surrogate marker for grain integrity.

You see, enriching of wheat--that is, adding vitamins and minerals to grains which have already been processed to remove those very vitamins and minerals--can trick the consumer into believing that enriched wheat is equal, or even superior, to whole wheat. 

But fiber don't lie.

Unlike vitamins and minerals, fiber isn't added back to processed grain.

This means that fiber is your best clue to how "whole grain" a carbohydrate is.

How many grams of fiber per serving, you ask?

At least three grams.

Fiber 3, Fiber 3, Fiber 3

Ingrain this in your mind.

As a general rule, three or more grams of fiber per serving means you can be confident about eating the carbohydrate.

Fiber slows down digestion. This helps make you feel fuller, faster. And, slower absorption of carbohydrates means blood sugar and insulin levels increase gradually, rather than the sharp glycemic spikes caused by eating processed grains.

Your body doesn't absorb most fiber.

Where does your fiber friend go?

After his stint in the small intestine, fiber passes on to the colon, or large intestine, where he is devoured by healthy gut bacteria, thereby increasing the relative proportion of healthy microbes in your gut.

And, as if your fiber friend hadn't taken enough of a beating already, he has one final task: promote a smooth, solid stool that exits without the need to strain. As such, fiber combats constipation and prevents hemorrhoids. 

Now after realizing the pivotal role fiber plays--or could play--in your life, you must be in shock.

Why would carbohydrates be processed to remove this wonderful fiber?

Surely this is a food crime!

Alas, the gargantuan food industry is less interested in your health and more interested in selling addictive carbohydrates that won't spoil on the shelves as they await your tummy.


Take Home Points

The ingredient list the the most important part of the nutrition label.

100% whole wheat >>> enriched wheat flour.

3 grams or more of Fiber per serving is the best indicator of whole grain integrity.