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All crackers are not created equal.

All Crackers Are Not Created Equal

Crackers are big business. Nabisco spends $9 million a year advertising Ritz, another $9 million on Wheat Thins, and $5 million each on Better Cheddars and American Classics.

Creating a demand for your company's cracker can be expensive because--as with so many foods--it's the image that's being sold. What's important is not so much what the manufacturer puts in the box as what goes on it.

Take Nabisco's American Classic Cracked Wheat crackers. Judging from the name, most shoppers would assume this snack is chock-full of whole grains. In fact, it contains more white flour and oil than cracked wheat.

Worse yet are Nabisco Whole Wheat Premium Plus Saltines. Finding the words "whole wheat" on a package of bread or crackers usually guarantees that all the flour is whole grain. Nabisco not only adds some refined white flour--it adds more white than whole wheat.

If you only eat crackers once a year in clam chowder, it doesn't much matter what you choose. But for the avid cracker-snacker, what's in the box can make a difference. Some brands do add a decent dose of whole grain fiber to your diet without pouring on the fat and salt. The trick is to find them.

To help you sort through the confusing ads, here is our Snack-Lover's Guide to Good Crackers. 1. If you're looking for fiber, go Nordic. Brands like Ryvita and Wasa seem to specialize in the (largely) rye "flat" or "crisp" breads that the Scandinavians sometimes eat instead of soft bread. You get 2 to 4 grams of fiber in a half-ounce serving. (That may only be one or two pieces for these largish crackers.)

That's more fiber than you'll find in most crackers. For example, a half-ounce serving of 100 percent whole wheat Triscuits has only 1/2 gram of fiber.

The "crisp" and "flat" breads, with 2 to 4 grams of fiber at a "cost" of only 40 to 70 calories, are nothing to sneeze at.

That's because the average American now consumes only about 10 grams of fiber per day. The National Cancer Institute and others recommend boosting that to 20 to 30 (but not more than 35) grams. 2. "Wheat" usually means "white" (flour). Pepperidge Farm Hearty Wheat, Keebler Toasted Wheat, Pepperidge Farm Toasted Wheat, and Nabisco Wheatsworth--these and other names convey an image of back-to-nature whole grain goodness. But the ingredient lists reveal otherwise.

Each of these crackers has more white flour--and more fat--than whole wheat flour. Manufacturers know that many consumers think "wheat" means "whole wheat." But refined white flour is also "wheat."

And don't be fooled by "unbleached" wheat flour either. It's most of the vitamin E left in. So it's still low in all the other nutrients lost in refining, including vitamin B-6, folic acid, zinc, magnesium, copper, manganese, and chromium.

The only way to be sure you're getting a whole wheat cracker is to check the ingredient list. Whole wheat should be the first or--better yet--the only flour. 3. "Unsalted" doesn't mean salt-free. To their credit, many cracker makers now sell less salty versions of their products. But it's easy to get confused if you don't know what the different salt claims mean. * Low-Sodium or Low-Salt: Any food containing no more than 140 mg of sodium per serving can carry these claims. A half-ounce serving of five Nabisco Premium Low-Salt Saltines, for example, has 115 mg of sodium. Just keep in mind that the salt savings might not be that tremendous. Nabisco's regular saltines have 180 mg--not much over 140. * Unsalted: If a manufacturer adds no salt (sodium chloride) to a food that usually contains salt, the product can be called "unsalted." However, cracker makers often use "unsalted" to describe only the tops of their snacks. Inside, they add as much salt as they want.

That's why a serving of five Sunshine Krispy Unsalted Tops Saltines still has 120 mg of sodium, three Nabisco Uneeda Biscuits with Unsalted Tops contain 100 mg of sodium, and five Keebler Unsalted Top Zesta Saltines have 88 mg. * Sodium-Free: This claim can only appear on foods that contain less than 5 mg of sodium per serving. 4. How much fat do your crackers have? Most packages have no nutrition labeling, so you're stuck with checking the ingredient list. But it will only tell you if fat has been added, not how much.

Some of the fattiest crackers we found were also the most popular: Nabisco's Ritz, Cheese Tid-Bits, and Better Cheddars; Keebler's Club and Town House; Sunshine's Cheez-Its and Hi-Ho's; and Pepperidge Farm's Goldfish. All get 40 to 55 percent of their calories from fat.

Granted, if you eat only a half-ounce, that amounts to no more than a teaspoon of fat. But face it: People have been known to eat more than four Ritz or eight Wheat Thins at a time.

PHOTO : The words "Whole Wheat" or "Whole Grain" on the package don't guarantee that all--or even

PHOTO : most--of the flour is whole-grain.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Oct 1, 1989
Previous Article:Risky business.
Next Article:How's your diet? Take the CSPI nutrition quiz.

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