When I go to the grocery store, I am an avid label reader. I read all the nutrition information and I read all of the ingredients. I am always concerned about the manufacturer slipping some meat product into my food. It happens more often than you would think.
One of my label pet-peeves is the astounding number of ingredients listed on a loaf of bread. In it’s simplest form, bread requires three ingredients; flour, water and yeast. But almost any loaf of bread you pick up at the grocery store will have an ingredient list that is a mile long. I frequently make the bread that we eat, but let’s face it, that isn’t always convenient.
I started wondering if it is possible to buy products that are ready to eat, include lots of whole grains and aren’t packed with all sorts of ridiculous additives. I made a trip to my grocery store this morning to check that out.
Before I go any further, let me give you a little bit of information about the “Whole Grain” stamp that you may have noticed on some products. It looks like this:
The Whole Grains Council, a non-profit consumer advocacy group, is responsible for this stamp. For a product to have this designation, the manufacturer must meet certain guidelines, they must join The Whole Grains Council, and pay annual dues. In other words, the manufacturer applies for the stamp. There are certainly whole grain products out there that don’t have the stamp. If a product has the stamp, it’s good to know. But if a product doesn’t have the stamp, don’t necessarily disqualify it. You can go to The Whole Grains Council website to learn more about the stamp.
OK – so let’s get back to my trek to the grocery store. I have three criteria for choosing an acceptable product:
- It must be a whole-grain product
- It must have no more than 5 ingredients
- It must not contain any ingredient that I could not conceivably have in my pantry
I went up and down every aisle. I read the labels of lots of prepared products to see what fit my requirements. Here is what I came up with:
The Cracker Aisle
I found very few crackers that fit the bill. Premium Saltines have a product that they call “Whole Grain” but the whole wheat flour was deep into the ingredient list, and it was a very long list! My big winner in the cracker aisle was Triscuit. Triscuits have exactly three ingredients and “whole grain winter wheat” tops the list.
The Pasta Aisle
I realize that dry pasta isn’t a ready-to-eat product, but I thought it was worth checking to see if whole grain pasta is the real deal. It is. I looked at several brands and they all had a very short ingredient list. It is much higher in fiber than regular pasta. It comes in lots of shapes and sizes. And it is possible to get an organic version. I don’t love the taste of whole grain pasta, but I’m working on it!
Also on this aisle, I found prepared polenta. You know those little tubes of polenta? At my store there were two different brands. They both had at least one ingredient that I would not reasonably have in my pantry. They did have very short ingredient lists. That stuff has a very long shelf life. So I suspect that the additive had something to do with freshness.
Last but not least, I found prepared pizza shells. There was a whole grain version. Sadly, it had long list of weird ingredients.
Chips and Snacks
I didn’t have any real expectation about finding whole grains on the chip aisle. But I gave it a shot. I was hopeful that there might be some whole grain pretzels. Not at my store. I may have seen that at Whole Foods. Maybe it will catch on!
I did find that tortilla chips generally fit the criteria. The bag that I picked up listed three ingredients, the first being whole grain corn. It’s not as though I needed further inducement to eat tortilla chips!
These days you can buy little pre-cooked packages of rice. I have a lot of problems with that. First, it is ridiculously expensive. And second, it uses way too much packaging. Now you can add to my list of problems that it has additives that you just don’t need. I grant that it was a pretty short list of ingredients. But still…you can make your own rice and freeze it in reusable containers.
I’ll get off my soapbox.
I did find two products that I thought were kind of interesting.
I broke my 5 ingredient rule on these but they both had a variety of different grains, each listed individually. Also the list was made longer because there were so many actual flavorings like ginger, chilies, mint leaves. Sounded kind of good. This is cooked and ready to eat, it just needs to be microwaved. I haven’t tried this product. I’ll let you know if it lives up to it’s hype.
The Cereal Aisle
I expected to find lots of products that met my criteria on the cereal aisle. But I was mistaken. Even some of the brands that I think of as “health food” had some additives that were weird. Most of the cereals had BHT which had something to do with the packaging.
Here are two cereals that I found that met my requirements. I imagine that there are others but I had overstayed my welcome on the cereal aisle! Other shoppers were getting annoyed with me.
The Bread Aisle
I already knew that this was going to be a disappointment to me. Nonetheless, I made a good faith effort. I checked all the brands; from the store brand to the premium variety. They all had more or less the same story. In fairness, I’m sure that it’s hard to give bread a decent shelf life.
In my store the bread aisle includes not only loaves, but buns, bagels, English muffins and tortillas. I didn’t find a single product that matched my list. Too many additives.
So I went to the frozen section and hunted down Ezekial 4:9 bread. Ezekial bread is a sprouted 100% whole grain bread. It is organic. It has more than 5 ingredients but that is because it is a mixture of 7 different grains and each is listed separately. I’ll give them a pass on that. Ezekial 4:9 also makes English muffins, hot dog and hamburger buns and tortillas. They are bit pricey. And they have to be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. But hey…it’s the only bread I found that fits my criteria. And it tastes really good!
What About Beans?
For ready to eat beans head to the canned bean aisle. Most canned beans have 3 ingredients: the bean, water and salt. Some canned beans have flavorings added. Watch out for the occasional bacon fat! Canned beans are generally pretty tasty. They are more expensive than dried beans but still quite reasonably priced. It’s always good to have some canned beans in your pantry.
What I Learned
I am certain that my list of ready to eat whole grains is not exhaustive. And not everything that I found is necessarily a healthy selection. Perhaps some of them don’t even taste good. But it was a good exercise to see what is available. Store bought grains won’t replace my homemade pot of grains, but it is nice to have that option from time to time.