By Erin Hicks
A study by Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that current standards for labeling foods as "whole grain" are inconsistent and, in some cases, altogether misleading.
The Whole Grain Stamp, one of the most widely used industry standards, identifies products that are higher in both sugars and calories than products without the stamp.
Researchers assessed food items that followed one of five industry or government guidelines for labeling whole grain products:
- Products with the Whole Grain Stamp, a symbol on package labels for foods that have at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving, created by the Whole Grain Council, a non-governmental organization.
- Any product that lists whole grain as the first listed ingredient, recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) MyPlate and the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Consumer Health Information guide.
- Any product that lists whole grain as the first ingredient and has no added sugars in the first three ingredients, recommended by USDA's MyPlate.
- Any product with the word "whole" before any grain anywhere in the ingredients list, recommended by the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010.
- Any product that met the "10:1 ratio," which is a ratio of total carbohydrates to fiber of less than 10 to 1, approximately the ratio of carbohydrate to fiber in whole wheat flour, recommended by the American Heart Association's 2020 Goals.
They identified 545 grain products from two major U.S. grocers, then collected nutrition content and ingredient lists, and noted the presence or absence of the Whole Grain Stamp on product packages.
They found that grain products with the Whole Grain Stamp were generally higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, but many also contained more sugar and calories than products without the stamp.
They also found the American Heart Association's standard "10:1 ratio" was the best indicator of overall healthfulness of the products they evaluated. Products meeting that ratio were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, sugar, and sodium -- without having more calories than products that did not meet the ratio.
This is the first study to evaluate the healthfulness of whole grain foods based on these five commonly used industry and government definitions.
"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 senior author Steven Gortmaker, PhD, professor of the practice of health sociology at Harvard, according to the press release.
The study appears in the Jan. 4 online edition of the journal Public Health Nutrition.
"'Whole Grain' Foods Not Always Healthy" originally appeared on Everyday Health.