Where’s the “Whole” in Whole Foods Market?

Pastry at Whole Foods Market New here?  Get Fooducated with our iPhone or Android App! 

 This is a guest blog post by Carol Harvey, director of nutrition labeling at Palate Works.

Something has been “softly” incongruous about Whole Foods since the opening of their first store a thousand years ago: The pastry case… and their lily-white fresh-baked goods in general.

The stuff looks and tastes good (at least in a very traditional/”European”/no-blemish sort of way), and they use nothing but “the best quality butter and unbromated flour.” But why is the temple of “whole” using 100% un-whole flour for most of their baked goods (cakes, muffins, cookies, etc.)?

Even their in-store pizza is made with 100% refined wheat (aka white) flour. There’s something not so real about that deal. (Note: They recently started to offer a limited assortment of partially-whole-grain packaged muffins and refrigerated, ready-to-bake pizzas).

Here are ingredient lists for various Whole Foods Market house-made items. Note that wheat flour is refined if it isn’t listed as “whole wheat”.

Natural Goodies snickerdoodle cookies:

All Natural Snickerdoodle  Soft Baked Cookies

And the Nutrition Facts (note that the serving size is large, almost two FDA cookie servings, but fiber is still only 1 g):

Snickerdoodle Nutrition Facts Panel

Croutons (note out-of-sequence ingredients list… one would think and hope that yeast and salt are less predominant than olive oil, especially when the product is noticeably oily):

Whole Foods Market Croutons

And a typical store-baked pizza (note use of the term “flour” rather than “wheat flour”, and the breakdown of the sauce ingredients but not the cheese ingredients):

Whole Foods Market Four Cheese Pizza

Meanwhile, Whole Foods still lists “flour” on the ingredient lists for many of their fresh baked goods, rather than WHEAT flour, which is what it is.

Here is the calzone sign, with no mention of wheat anywhere (but it’s obviously made with refined wheat flour). Label courtesy of Whole Foods – a company that now courts the gluten-intolerant with a new line of gluten-free baked goods.

Whole Foods Market Calzone

This one gets the “wheat flour” right, but screws up the punctuation (“enriched, wheat flour” means enriched is the first ingredient and wheat flour is the second), and invents a new vitamin (thaymine) and a new kind of malted flour (“malted bakery flour” should be “malted barley flour”):

Whole Food Markets Biscuits

Not long ago, my local store had a “wheat free” sign on fresh baked muffins and scones that listed “flour” in the ingredients rather than “wheat flour,” even though “flour” ALWAYS means wheat flour. Makes you wonder 1) how many gluten-intolerant/wheat-allergic people bought those thinking they were ok to eat, 2) how a staff member could have thought “flour” wasn’t a wheat ingredient, and 3) how the store expected customers to know flour = wheat flour when their own staff can’t figure it out.

(Note: I had this come up in a restaurant where the waitress said there was no wheat in a muffin, just sperry blossom flour. She didn’t know that Sperry Blossoms is a Gold Medal brand of wheat flour).

A vendor’s bagel in the muffin case still shows a lack of specifics as to the kind of “flour”:

Whole Foods Cinnamon Raisin Bagel

If Pizzeria Uno (among other chains with similar offerings) can make a partially whole grain crust with 9 g fiber per serving, Whole Foods Market should be able to offer something at least as good, especially with all those high quality ingredients for which their customers have proven willing to pay a premium.

The nutrition benefits are a given. As for taste… using part whole grain flours actually improves flavor and texture, because white/refined flour has little or none – by definition (they were stripped out). And where do we see just that memo? On the Whole Foods web site: http://www2.wholefoodsmarket.com/recipes/guides/grains.php.

There is even a “white whole wheat flour” (spring white wheat) for those who can’t handle earth tones in their baked goods, so replacing at least 50% of refined flour with whole grain couldn’t be easier on the wholly challenged. Maybe Whole Foods Market could take a tip from their vendors who have been successfully using flours from whole grain wheat, rice, oat, barley, amaranth, etc. for years, and finally plug some holes in their not-so-holy interpretation of whole.

Carol Harvey has been a nutrition labeling and product development consultant for over 15 years. She can be reached at palatemail [AT] yahoo [DOT] com.

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  • Nar30016

    There are tons of unhealthy, processed food products at whole foods, not just in the bakery case

    • Notorious

      Ditto!

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  • Preacher A1

    Finally someone who gets it. When I shop for whole foods (and that is all I EVER shop for) I want whole intact foods. You know, like an acorn squash to gnaw on or a turnip (top on, OF COURSE!) to chew away at. Never eat anything that has been processed in any fashion, EVER! If you must eat wheat eat it as the entire plant: berries, husks, straw and roots (all that dirt is a packed full of wonderful minerals!). Wholefoods should be shut down. Wholefoods shoppers should be drawn and quartered but they will be killed by processed foods any day now. Any day, I say.

  • Tiffany

    I completely agree.  I walk down the aisles and check out the bakery section hoping for some “whole”-some yummy food, only to be disappointed.  

  • carolee1945

    Do you think they could last in business if they didn’t do this?

    • Wishing for a Whole Foods

      Agree. They sell what people want to eat – and they are miles ahead of my local grocery store. Be happy you have a Whole Foods nearby, and make your own whole wheat pizza dough!

      • Notorious

        You miss the point. People like Carol see the deceit and want those who care about their health to also be aware. If you want unhealthy food, be my guest.

    • Carol

       Yes. It is being done successfully at many other places (and for many years now). I made a 30% whole grain scone for a coffee shop client 20 years ago and they were the best selling item there. If anything, putting at least 30% whole grain flours in everything (remember that whole grain pastry flour is also available) will actually improve taste and texture as well as nutrition. WF is (amazingly) still of a dated mind-set that only refined flour baked goods are… good.

      • Janet M.

        Oh, Jesus, 30% whole grain is 70% away from being whole. You are full of processed bean curd if you think 30% is worth a crap. Whole means WHOLE as in the whole effing thing without any processing whatsoever, NONE!!!!!

        You should be eating whole unprocessed food. It is easy and convenient. Just gnaw on a turnip. Nibble away at an acorn squash. Eat chard that has been pulled from the good earth with some of the lifegiving dirt clinging to the roots — eat it all. That is how mice and groundhogs live and they are always perfectly healthy because they don’t waste their time eating 30% anything.

    • Notorious

      Absolutely! So do Other corporations who do exactly the same thing.

  • Cartoonguy_99

    You mean a company that’s trying to turn a profit is lying to you?

    Say it ain’t so Joe.

    This naive blog is naive.

    • Notorious

      No ! not just turning a profit – packaging and /or selling food that is actually unhealthy and bad period.

  • Anit Food Nazi

    The whole foods at Whole Foods are first rate.  The fruits and vegetables and herbs are the best around.  The whole fish and meats are second to none.

    The food nazis that have to find the negative in everything seem to not notice all the good items.

    Sensationalist food critics have to write about something, so have at it, I’ll ignore it.

    • Carol

       If the name of the store was “Refined Foods” I don’t think there would be an issue here, but I’m guessing people just might be expecting something a little more “whole” … like the recommendations they post on their own web site and in-store to eat more whole grains. Not wanting criticism where it is based on fact could be seen as a form of nazism, whereas criticism for the sake of improvement is positive/useful.

    • Notorious

      You are not addressing the content of the article. Yes Whole Foods sells organic fruits and vegetables some of us buy. The fish is loaded with mercury. The “meat” animals they sell, Whole Foods claims a pseudo “Welfare” program. A sick joke for the animals. Carol is giving those who want the facts an opportunity to rethink what they will buy, if they decide to shop at Whole Foods. Those who choose to remain ignorant and trash others as sensationalists lack if nothing else, logic.

  • Lleebrewster2

    Strongly agree.. I read lables and try to purchase whole grain. White Wheat Pastry flour fooled my kids and highly recommend trying it.. That and parchment paper. Constructive Criticisum is how positive change occurs and reinforce the positive..Laura

  • guest

    Just another example of the typical “health halo.” ‘I got this vegan cake at Whole Foods, so therefore its healthy.”

    • Notorious

      Vegan does not necessarily mean good for one’s body. Vegan means that no animal or animal product is used in the making of the food. Whole Food actually sells a great deal of crap that is vegan.

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  • Rita

    And how much good does Whole Foods do? In buying from local growers and value-added food processors? In their loan programs and foundation work? In educating customers? Yes, they have some products that aren’t “whole” and healthy….and you drive a car (or fly, or wear something made with petroleum), and maybe once upon a time you bought more than you needed and added to over-consumption and waste of resources….why must our sustainability community constantly get into circular firing squads and attack companies who do good work when they are less than perfect? Do we expect the same from our friends? Do you look in their cleaning cabinets to see if they might have any non-natural cleaning agents? Absurd

    • Notorious

      Calling out a company that claims to have our health at the top of their list of commitments, is why we shop and compare and share with others what we learn. Perceiving this information as an attack is illogical and a smokescreen for exposing the truth. Diverting the subject to other issues is a common avoidance tactic which does not accomplish any insight or communication with others.

  • disqus_TbVV2wK1uQ

    Unfortunately as whole foods market becomes mainstream it’s losing it’s specialty items. Very disappointing! Was better as Bread & circus, shoppers that care about not eating white flour & having healthier options available, must speak up!

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  • Wholesale Nuts

    Philippine pili nuts from the Bicol region in the Philippines is a great Filipino or Philippines food orsnack. Pili nuts are very healthy and nutritious indeed, being a source of energy, potassium and iron.They also have protein, dietary fiber / fibre, and calcium as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. I know they have no cholesterol, no trans fat, and the unsalted ones have no sodium. What is great about the pili nut snack or treat is that they are so crisp, rich, and delicious.

    • Notorious

      What’s is your point regarding the author’s premise?

  • Notorious

    Thank you for noticing. Only, this is the tip of the iceberg. Whole Foods Market pours “canola oil” into anything they can make.