May 4, 2006

3 Min Read
FDA Gets Tough on Whole Grain Labeling

By Maureen Williams, ND

Healthnotes Newswire (May 4, 2006)—Shoppers will soon have an easier time ensuring they get the whole grains they want into their diet, due to new labeling guidelines from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Food manufacturers will now be required to use a consistent definition for “whole grain,” which will reduce consumer confusion about which foods are the best source of whole grains.

Studies have shown that whole grains can reduce cholesterol levels and prevent diabetes, high blood pressure, and some cancers including breast and colon cancers. While many cereals, breads, and crackers proclaim to be “good” or “excellent” sources of whole grains, until now there has not been any consistency about what these terms mean.

Adding to the confusion is the common description “multigrain.” “Using the term multigrain or seven-grain doesn’t necessarily mean that a product contains whole grains,” said Barbara Schneeman, director of FDA’s office of nutritional products, labeling, and dietary supplements.

In order to meet the FDA definition of whole grain, a product must contain grains in their entirety—whether whole, ground, cracked, or flaked. In other words, all the grain’s components must be present: the starchy endosperm, the germ, and the bran, in about the same amounts as those found in the intact grain. Grains may include barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn (including popcorn), millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, wheat, and wild rice. Rolled oats can be called “whole grains” because they contain all of their bran, germ, and endosperm.

Refined grains, such as white flour, white rice, and pearled barley, contain little if any germ or bran, and therefore significantly less fiber and fewer nutrients than whole grains.

A popular food like pizza may only be labeled as “whole grain” if its crust is made entirely from whole grain flours or whole wheat flour. Foods made from legumes (such as lentils, soy, and other beans), oilseeds (such as sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds), and roots (such as arrowroot) are not “whole grains” under the draft guidelines.

The new labeling rules will help people follow the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends that whole grains make up at least half of the grain that consumers eat, and that at least three ounces of whole grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta be eaten every day. One ounce is about one slice of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta.

“One of the most important decisions people can make about their health is the choice of foods they eat,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs. “A top priority at FDA is finding additional ways to clearly communicate the health benefits found in food.”

A draft of FDA’s new whole grain guidelines will be published in the Federal Register and will be open to public comment for 60 days. You can find the original draft at`dms/flgragui.html.

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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