Nabisco crackers to include more whole grains

For decades, Nabisco's Wheat Thins and Honey Maid Grahams reigned as some of the healthiest choices in the snack aisle. But in the past few years, consumers have begun to sling around the words "processed foods" and "refined flours" as if they were curses, and embraced new offerings from upstarts like Kashi, a company so committed to whole grains, wheat berries are its logo. New on the list of foods that parents worry about their children eating: Ritz crackers, and the Lunchables that feature the high-calorie, low-nutrient munchable.

On Monday, Kraft announced that this was about to change. In the next three years, it said its signature crackers will enjoy a "significant" increase in their whole grain content.

Crackers such as Ritz and Premium, which contain no whole grains at all, will have whole grains added into the mix. Honey Maid Original Graham Crackers will have the comparatively greatest increase, from 5 grams of whole grains to 20 grams per serving (servings are about 30 to 32 grams each). The whole grain content in Wheat Thins will double, from 11 grams to 22 grams -- and both the graham crackers and Wheat Thins will have 100% whole grains.

The crackers, assures a company spokesperson, won't suffer from the change. "Just adding whole grain can change a product's flavor and, in the case of crackers, can make them denser and grittier," said Nabisco cracker chief Carlos Abrams Rivera. "But the combination of the right recipe and ingredients can help us maintain delicious taste and texture while adding significant levels of whole grain."

Some of the other ingredients that have nutrition experts and parents avoiding crackers won't change, however. The Honey Maids, for instance, contain several items that many have put on do-not-eat lists, including sugar, high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil and/or partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and artificial flavor. Adding whole grains, even in the large amounts planned by Kraft, is not a cure all -- and doesn't at all address some of the oft-heard complaints about snack foods, such as the sodium levels, the omnipresence of sugar and reliance on a few "monoculture" crops (corn, soy and wheat), which require large amounts of pesticides and unsustainable oil-based fertilizers.

"Healthier" does not always equal "healthy," and your family is still better off with freshly-made and organic foods; I made my own whole-grain graham crackers last week and they were a huge hit, even though they were organic, and very low in sugar.

It is, however, a nice thing to see packaged food companies moving toward less processed foods, even if they are baby steps. As the company's press release states, "Most Americans only get about one serving (16g) of whole grain a day, compared with the recommended minimum three servings (at least 48g) per day," crackers may not rise to the definition of "health food," but they're soon to be, at least, the lesser of many evils.
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