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'Whole Grain' Labels Often Mislead: Study

Tuesday, 15 Jan 2013 10:58 AM


Confused by the profusion of “whole grain” food labels and wonder which products truly offer the most health benefits? You have plenty of company, according to a new Harvard School of Public Health study that suggests current standards for classifying foods as "whole grain" are inconsistent, at best, and misleading, at worst.
The study, published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition, calls for a uniform new evidence-based standard to help consumers and organizations choose foods that are rich in whole grains.
Among the Harvard researcher’s findings: The “Whole Grain Stamp” — one of the most widely used industry standards — may actually identify grain products that are higher in sugars and calories than those without the stamp.
SPECIAL: These 4 Things Happen Right Before a Heart Attack — Read More.
"Given the significant prevalence of refined grains, starches, and sugars in modern diets, identifying a unified criterion to identify higher quality carbohydrates is a key priority in public health," said lead researcher Rebecca Mozaffarian, a project manager in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at HSPH.
Mozaffarian and her colleagues noted switching from refined to whole grain foods can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and weight gain. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans consume at least three servings of whole grain products daily, and the new U.S. national school lunch standards require that at least half of all grains be whole grain-rich.
But the researchers noted no single standard exists for defining any product as a "whole grain."
Mozaffarian and her colleagues assessed five different industry and government guidelines for whole grain products:
• The Whole Grain Stamp, a packaging symbol for products containing at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving (created by the Whole Grain Council, a non-governmental organization supported by industry dues);
• Any whole grain as the first listed ingredient (recommended by the USDA's MyPlate and the Food and Drug Administration's Consumer Health Information guide);
• Any whole grain as the first ingredient without added sugars in the first three ingredients (also recommended by USDA's MyPlate);
• The word "whole" before any grain anywhere in the ingredient list (recommended by USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010); and
• The "10:1 ratio," a ratio of total carbohydrate to fiber of less than 10 to 1, which is approximately the ratio of carbohydrate to fiber in whole wheat flour (recommended by the American Heart Association).
The researchers identified a total of 545 grain products in eight categories — breads, bagels, English muffins, cereals, crackers, cereal bars, granola bars, and chips — from two major U.S. grocers. They collected nutrition content, ingredient lists, and the presence or absence of the Whole Grain Stamp on product packages from all of these products.
SPECIAL: These 4 Things Happen Right Before a Heart Attack — Read More.
The results showed grain products with the Whole Grain Stamp were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, but also contained significantly more sugar and calories than those without the stamp. The three USDA recommended criteria also had mixed performance for identifying healthier grain products. Overall, the American Heart Association's “10:1” standard proved to be the best indicator of overall healthfulness, with most products higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, sugar, and sodium, and calories than those that did not meet the ratio.
"Our results will help inform national discussions about product labeling, school lunch programs, and guidance for consumers and organizations in their attempts to select whole grain products," said researcher Steven Gortmaker, professor of the practice of health sociology.
The study was funded, in part, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.




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Current standards for classifying 'whole grain' foods are inconsistent and misleading, new Harvard research finds.
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Tuesday, 15 Jan 2013 10:58 AM
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