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article imageGreen Thumbs Up: What do food labels really tell us about bread?

By Karen Graham     Jan 17, 2016 in Environment
As consumers, it is important that we educate ourselves in what constitutes a healthy food. While we depend on labels to guide us, we don't want to be fooled, either.That's why learning what the words that lure us to a particular product mean.
A stroll through the supermarket aisles can be a bewildering experience, particularly if someone is health conscious as well as being concerned about the environment and the sustainability of our food supply.
Last week we learned that with USDA and FDA regulations and guidelines, natural and organic foods must meet certain criteria before being allowed to use the labels. This is especially true with those foods certified as being organic. But for food manufacturers, it's all about profit, and labels luring the consumer to their product play a critical role in the company's bottom line.
What are artisan food products?
There are over 800 food products bearing the label "artisan" today. But do you know what "artisan" means? If you think that loaf of bread or block of cheese labeled "artisan" was made by a little bakery or cheese-maker in the country, think again.
The word "artisan" means the food product was prepared using non-industrialized methods. Perhaps it was handed down through generations and the recipe or method of preparing the food product is in danger of being lost. But guess what? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has no definition for the word "artisan." That means you can buy boxed mixes of artisan products or one of dozens of loaves of mass-produced bread labeled "artisan."
Real artisan food producers understand, through years of experience, that taste, and processes such as fermentation are developed over time, being allowed to develop naturally without the use of mass-production methods. The way to ensure that you are getting a real artisan product is to read the label. It should give the name and address of the bakery or cheese-maker. A store label like Kroger's doesn't really count.
The truth about whole grains and multi-grains
The FDA and nutritionists recommend that we eat more whole grains to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and colon cancer. U.S.dietary guidelines recommend that we have three to five servings of whole grains a day. Think brown rice, wild rice or quinoa. All these grains are great whole grains, as is old-fashioned rolled oats and rye bread.
A bread labeled as whole wheat must  by law  only  contain whole wheat.
A bread labeled as whole wheat must, by law, only contain whole wheat.
Good Housekeeping
But what about a loaf of bread that states it is "Multi-Grain," "Whole Grain" or "Whole Wheat." Actually, there is no legal meaning for those terms. By law, only whole wheat bread must be made with 100 percent whole wheat. Other wheat products can have as much or as little wheat as the manufacturers want to put in the product.
Multigrain products are made from refined grains. In other words, when the grains go through the refining process, they are stripped of almost all their germ and bran (where most of the nutritional values is) leaving mostly the endosperm. Guess what? The endosperm is the least nutritional part of the grain. They also have added food coloring to make them look like the real thing.
The really sad thing is that consumers end up paying more for these products, thinking they are getting something nutritious and healthy. Remember this, whole grain products contain grain that has not been refined, leaving all the nutrients and vitamins that nature intended. Multi-grain products are made from mostly refined white flour with perhaps a very small percentage of whole grains.
So what can the consumer look for on a label, to ensure the loaf of bread is really an artisan product, or truly whole wheat? And the pasta? How do you know if it is really multi-grain? Look for the words whole grain or 100% whole grain. Don't go by color because some products have caramel added, and are no better than white bread made with refined flour.
Green Thumbs Up is a weekly feature that looks into ways we can live more sustainable and environmentally-friendly lives. If you missed last week's Green Thumbs Up, please go HERE.
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