FoodFacts.com has always taken issue with the labeling of some food products as whole grain when they contain the controversial ingredients consumers in our own community actively look to keep out of their diets. The term “whole grain” has come to be somewhat synonymous for some consumers with healthy. And it’s just not always the case.
A new study coming out of the Harvard School of Public Health is showing that the standards used for the classification of foods as “whole grain” are not consistent and sometimes misleading to consumers.
The study focused on five different industry and government guidelines for whole grain products:
• The Whole Grain Stamp … this is a widely-used packaging symbol for products containing at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving. It was created by the Whole Grain Council which is a non-governmental group that’s supported by the food industry.
• Products with any whole grain as the first listed ingredient.
• Products listing whole grain as the first ingredient without added sugars in the first three ingredients.
• Products with the word “whole” before any grain anywhere in the ingredient list.
• Products with a ratio of total carbohydrate to fiber of less than 10 to 1, which is about the ratio of carbohydrate to fiber in whole wheat .
Over 500 grain products in eight categories were analyzed. The categories included cereals, cereal bars, granola bars, breads, bagels, English muffins, cracker and chips. Each product was analyzed for its nutrition content and ingredient list, as well as the presence or non-presence of the Whole Grain Stamp on its packaging.
The research found that those grain products carrying the Whole Grain Stamp were, in fact, higher in fiber and lower in trans fats. Unfortunately they also contained significantly higher sugar and calorie levels compared to those products that did not picture the stamp on their packaging. The next three focal points (which are from the USDA recommended criteria for these products) also had questionable results in terms of sugar and calorie levels. The products with a carbohydrate to fiber level of less than 10 to 1 (the American Heart Association standard) proved to be the best examples of healthier products. They were higher in fiber, lower in trans fats, sugar, sodium and calories than products not meeting the ratio.
We know that consuming whole grain foods can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, helps to control weight and decreases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Dietary Guidelines for the U.S. now recommend consuming at least three servings of whole grains every day. Unfortunately there is no single standard for the definition of a “whole grain” product.
If you’re a FoodFacts.com community member, or if you visit our FoodFacts Facebook page, you know that there are products labeled as “Whole Grain” that don’t carry acceptable ratings on our site. We’ve always attempted, and will continue, to call your attention to those brands that are misleading consumers to believe that their products are healthy for you simple because the words “Whole Grain” are on their packaging.