Look for “The Whole (Grain) Truth” in Nutrition Action Healthletter

“Good Source of Whole Grain” and Other Such Claims Can Often Mean “Made with Mostly Plain Old Refined White Flour”


The Dietary Guidelines for Americans released by the federal government in 2005 place welcome emphasis on the importance of including whole grains in the diet. Happily, many genuinely whole grain products line supermarket shelves. But according to the cover story in the May issue of Nutrition Action Healthletter, some food companies are trying to cash in on the whole grain trend by adding whole grain claims on labels—even if their products have more refined white flour or sugar than whole grain.

“The average American eats less than one serving of whole grains a day,” writes Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition at the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, publisher of Nutrition Action Healthletter. “Yet it would be hard to find an American who doesn’t know that people need to eat more of them.”

The proliferation of such misleading promises as “made with whole grain” and “good source of whole grain” and phrases like “harvest wheat” certainly aren’t helping consumers who want to follow the Dietary Guidelines’ recommendation to “make half your grains whole.” Three of the examples CSPI highlights include: 

Kraft Supermac & Cheese is one of many products whose labels boast that it is “good source of whole grain.” The Food and Drug Administration issued voluntary guidelines to industry to curb such claims, but until industry does, a “good source of whole grains” can have much more refined grain than whole grain, according to Liebman. 

DiGiorno Harvest Wheat Rising Crust Pizza boasts of the “goodness of its harvest wheat crust” that has “9 grams of whole grain per serving.” CSPI says that’s better than no grams of whole grain, but this particular pizza has more refined white flour than whole wheat. “Wheat” can mean refined flour or whole wheat. 

Entenmann’s Multi-Grain Cereal Bars’ “multi-grain” crust is mostly bleached wheat (meaning refined) flour, and has more sugars and palm oil than whole grain oats or wheat. Added minus: The “real fruit filling” has more corn syrup than fruit. CSPI says that “multi-grain,” or phrases like 5-grain, 10-grain, or 12-grain, don’t mean “healthy,” if those grains are mostly refined.

CSPI’s article also helps consumers separate the whole wheat from the chaff when it comes to the science surrounding whole grains and the extent of their impact on cardiovascular health, diabetes, colon cancer, and obesity.

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