Oldways founded the Whole Grains Council (WGC) in 2003 with the express purpose of clearing up confusion around whole grains, and we have worked on this issue 365 days a year, for more than 8 years, making remarkable progress. Eight years ago there were few whole grain products on the market, and consumers had no reliable way to find foods offering a significant amount of whole grains. Since then, a lot has changed. Our work has had proven, positive results and impact:

  • Whole grain consumption increased 20% in the three years following introduction of the Whole Grain Stamp, according to data from NPD Group.
  • The Whole Grain Stamp is now in use on 6,700 products in 27 countries.
  • The Whole Grain Stamp has prompted a “Race to the Top” among manufacturers who vie for higher numbers on their Stamped products. In fact two-thirds of products using the Whole Grain Stamp offer 16g or more of whole grain content per serving – more than double the minimum 8g level required to qualify.

Now the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is apparently being asked to issue guidance to industry on labeling of whole grain products. FDA is being urged to regulate three separate areas, all of which are currently being successfully addressed by Oldways and its Whole Grains Council, as described below: 1) Clear and consistent use of terms on labels Since 2003, the WGC has been educating consumers and companies on terminology related to grain foods. Our web page on Identifying Whole Grains – explaining which words mean whole grain and which don’t – is a popular one with consumers, and is regularly reprinted by newspapers and magazines. We also educate manufacturing companies on responsible use of whole grain terms, as we review their products for the Whole Grain Stamp program. We stress the importance of clearly designating all whole grain ingredients as whole — saying “whole spelt” instead of “spelt,” for example, and of specifying whole grain oatmeal and brown rice, rather than assume that consumers know oatmeal and brown rice are always whole grains. Additionally, we advise that companies not use the words “whole wheat” or “whole grain” or “whole” anything else in product names unless more than 50% of the grain is whole grain. While we support 8g or more per serving as responsible labeling of foods that contribute to our whole grain needs, we think that foods should only be called whole grain if they contain more whole grain than refined. 2) Indicating gram amounts of whole grains FDA recommended and approved the use of gram-labeling of whole grains in its Draft Guidance of February 2006. The Whole Grains Council immediately introduced Phase II of the Whole Grain Stamp program to quantify the amount of whole grain content of foods, in grams. The gram-specific Stamps are a successful program that has been in place, making a difference, for almost six full years. The Whole Grain Stamp, in fact, goes one step further than the recommendation to FDA, including a reminder to “Eat 48g or more of whole grain daily” – to put the whole grain content in context. 3) Indicating percentage of grains that are whole grains We explored percent-of-grain labeling with FDA at a meeting we requested with them in March 2006. FDA explained that percentage labeling on packaging should always be as a percent of all ingredients, to be consistent with the Nutrition Facts Panel. The only exception allowed by FDA is the use of “100% whole grain/wheat” on products where all the grain ingredients are whole. Until / unless FDA changes its position on percent-of-grain labeling, the Whole Grain Stamp offers consumers useful tools in this area, too. Look for the 100% Stamp. Consumers especially concerned about the percentage of whole grain in their products can look for the 100% banner on the Whole Grain Stamp. About ⅓ of all Stamped products – more than 2000 foods – qualify for the 100% banner, which signifies that all the grain is whole grain. Do some simple math. Consumers can compare the number of grams of whole grain, as quantified on the Stamp, to the total serving size, and judge for themselves whether the product they’re considering has the level of whole grain they’re seeking. Since FDA specifies standard serving sizes for each category of product, it’s easy to use the Whole Grain Stamp to compare within categories. Faced with several pastas with a standard 56g serving size, for example, it’s easy to decide whether to buy one with 12g, 43g, or a full 56g of whole grain. There is widespread agreement that whole grains are important to good health. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise all of us to make at least half our grains whole; studies show whole grain consumption lowers the risk of diabetes and heart disease, while helping with weight control, among other benefits. While there is still more to be done, we prefer to be carrying on this cause today, rather than waiting for new regulations sometime in the distant future. As the world’s leading educational non-profit focused on whole grains, we look forward to working with the FDA and other organizations to continue educating consumers about the important health benefits and great taste of whole grains.  We invite consumers, health professionals and others to visit the WGC web site for reliable, understandable resources on whole grains.

Add a Comment