It comes down to truth in advertising. And some researchers say the food industry might be falling short when it comes to whole-grain products.
A study at Tufts University and the NYU School of Global Public Health found consumers are confused by the whole-grain labels on cereal, bread and crackers. And that, in turn, could lead them to make unhealthy food choices.
The researchers hope their findings might eventually lead to clearer descriptions of whole-grain content that are easily digestible.
They note manufacturers have devised clever ways of persuading people that a product is whole grain when, in fact, it isn’t. Those methods include using the “multigrain” label or coloring a food brown.
Just over 1,000 adults responded to a study survey that included photos of real and hypothetical products. These photos had different whole-grain labels along with nutritional information and lists of ingredients.
Volunteers then had to select the healthier products among the hypothetical choices and determine the whole-grain content for the real products.
For the fake products, 31% of participants answered incorrectly for cereal, 29 to 37% for crackers and a whopping 47% for bread.
Results were a little worse for the real products. Up to half overstated the whole-grain content of 12-grain bread, 43% with honey wheat bread and 41% for multigrain crackers.
Results with the real products, researchers say, make a case for tighter regulation of manufacturers’ claims.
As the researchers noted, even people with advanced degrees were left clueless about the actual whole-grain content of some of these products.