Many products – from crackers to breads to waffles – are labeled whole grain, but that may be entirely accurate.
The Center for Science in the Public interest petitioned the FDA two weeks ago to require labels with whole grain claims to disclose the percentage of whole grains in each product.
"When you’re eating a whole grain, you’re getting the complete nutrient that’s in that product," said Hillary Maler, dietician at Whole Foods. "It’s not stripped of anything, it’s not refined or processed. So you’re really eating the whole food."
Studies show whole grains, which are grains with the hull still on, move food along the digestive track faster which may decrease the risk of stomach and intestinal cancer.
The consumer watchdog group wants the front labels to reflect the product’s ingredient list on the back label, where ingredients are listed by percentage.
If it’s listed first, the product contains the most of that ingredient. If it is listed fourth or fifth, the product contains less of that ingredient.
One product targeted by Center for Science in the Public Interest is Kellogg’s Nutri-Grain Eggo Waffles.
The group said that 59 percent of participants who viewed this box thought at least half the grains were whole. However, whole wheat flour is only the third ingredient.
Kellogg’s responded with the following statement: "All products with whole-grain are not created equal. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, consumer should look for those that are higher in fiber. Consumers can easily identify our products with fiber and whole grains by looking for the call-out banner on the front of our packaging."
The consumer group added that there is twice as much white flour as whole wheat flour in Old London Melba Toast.
Old London responded: "Old London uses about 30% whole wheat flour in the products with labels that state there are 5g whole grains per serving. There is over 50% whole wheat flour used in the products with labels that state that there are 8g-9g of whole grains per serving. Old London believes it labels are truthful and not misleading and that they follow FDA’s guidelines for Whole Grain Label Statements. You can read the complete guidelines at the FDA’s website."
The California Department of Health’s pamphlet gives the best advice: read the back labels carefully and look for a whole grain as the first ingredient.
One good way to tell whether a product is whole grain is to look for the Nutrition Council stamp of approval on the box, Maley said. Those have been tested and verified as whole grain products.