“Whole Grain” Doesn’t Necessarily Mean “High Fiber”
One of the recommendations contained in the newest (2010) “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” is to consume “at least half of all grains as whole grains.”
You’d think that following such a recommendation would be pretty easy, no? Dump the “balloon bread” and other white flour products in favor of their 100% whole wheat counterparts; switch from white rice to brown; ditch the Rice Krispies for old fashioned oatmeal – badda bing, badda boom.
But there’s no recommendation that’s so straightforward that the food industry can’t twist. Shortly after the recommendations were publicized, I started seeing quite a few front-of-package label claims, like “made with whole grains,” “rich in whole grains,” and – my favorite (Cheez-Its) – “made with 5 grams of whole grain in each serving.”
Five whole grams???? Wowsers!
Seriously: that’s NOT much: 5 grams is roughly 17% of an ounce. It’s a piddling amount.
Unfortunately, labels like this are all but meaningless when it comes to assessing products. All a manufacturer has to do is add a sprinkle of whole grain flour to a predominantly white flour product, to proudly proclaim that the product is “made with whole grains” (or words to this effect).
Are people being suckered in by this deceptive tactic? According to a new expert “roundtable” discusson published in the Journal of Nutrition, they are, indeed.
The roundtable convened to grapple with the issue of fiber – and why Americans (still!) aren’t eating enough of it. Guess what one of the reasons was?
Whole-grain labeling and content do not guarantee fiber
The roundtable experts agreed that whole-grain labeling of foods may be a source of consumer confusion regarding fiber content…At the same time, it has become increasingly clear that labeling claims for “fiber” and “whole grain” may be synonymous in the minds of consumers (38). Yet, all whole-grain foods do not qualify as a “good” source of fiber. A web-based study in 1000 adults was conducted to measure perceptions and understanding of the relationship between whole grains, fiber, and potential health benefits. This research found that 85% of respondents believed that if a product indicates it is made with whole grains, then it also contains at least a good source of fiber (38).
There is also contradiction in consumers’ perceptions of whole-grain products and the actual amounts of fiber delivered by products that contain whole grains. A marketplace audit was conducted of nationally distributed ready-to-eat cereals with whole-grain claims, such as “made with whole grains,” “rich in whole grains,” and “whole grain guaranteed” during a 3-y period from 2005 to 2008 (38). The fiber content in the 72 cereals analyzed ranged from 0 to 11 g/serving, with nearly half of the cereals containing less than the minimum amount of fiber to be labeled as a “good” source of fiber. Approximately 60% of these cereals with whole-grain claims that provided less than a “good” source of fiber contained < 1 g of fiber. With evidence that consumers are seeking out more whole-grain products with an expectation of obtaining fiber, this scenario has the potential to create the unintended consequence of increased energy intake without a substantial increase in fiber intake.
No surprise here. In the absence of strict regulatory guidelines, “whole grain” is just a buzzword. As long as it’s technically true, the claim, “made with whole grain” can be made with a straight face. But it cannot be taken to mean that the product is a) healthy; and/or b) high in dietary fiber.
As always, the only way to ensure that the “whole grain” product you’re planning to buy is really a whole grain product, is to look at the ingredients panel. And the only way to ensure that it’s also a high (or higher) fiber product, is to look at the nutrition label.
(h/t IFT “The Weekly“)