Sara Lee to Make Clear its “Made with Whole Grain White Bread” is 30 Percent Whole Grain

CSPI Withdraws Intent to Sue as Part of Settlement


Labels for Sara Lee’s “Soft & Smooth Made With Whole Grain White Bread” will make clear that the product is 30 percent whole grain as part of a settlement agreement the company has reached with the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Last December, the nonprofit nutrition watchdog group threatened to sue the company over the bread’s labeling, which, at the time, suggested that it had as much fiber as 100 percent whole wheat bread.

Government guidelines recommend that consumers make at least half their grains whole, so Sara Lee’s disclosure that this particular bread is just 30 percent whole grain will help consumers put it into that context. As part of the agreement, Sara Lee will add copy to the label stating that two slices have 10 grams of whole grain, and that USDA recommends consumption of 48 grams of whole grains daily.

“Consumers who want the health benefits of whole grains should look for bread that is labeled ‘100 percent whole wheat,’ or failing that, a bread where whole wheat flour, not just ‘wheat flour,’ is the first ingredient,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “This settlement will help consumers comparison shop among breads: plain white bread, breads like Sara Lee’s with 30 percent whole grains, and 100 percent whole wheat bread.”

Sara Lee says its “Soft & Smooth Made With Whole Grain White Bread” is meant to be a transitional product, designed to get consumers who are used to the taste and texture of white bread to consume more whole grains.

Plenty of food companies try to give consumers the impression that their white-flour-based products are “made with whole grain” even if there is only a small amount. Kraft uses phrases like “good source of whole grain” or “excellent source of whole grain” on labels even if the product is mostly refined white flour. (Kraft Supermac & Cheese, for instance, is advertised as a “good source” of whole grain, even though its first ingredient is white flour.) General Mills, to its credit, according to CSPI, recently began transitioning away from those types of source claims in favor of indicating the amount of whole grains in grams.

The distinction between white flour and whole wheat flour is an important one nutritionally. When whole wheat is refined into white flour, most of the fiber and key nutrients are lost. Though some nutrients are added back in when white flour is “enriched,” studies show that whole grain foods might be useful in reducing risk of heart disease and diabetes. White flour does not have anywhere near the same beneficial effects, according to nutrition experts.

“It’s time to take the whole grain halo off of foods made primarily with white flour,” said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. “Companies that use the phrase ‘whole grain’ absolutely have the legal responsibility under state consumer protection laws to disclose exactly how much whole grain is there. We are pleased that Sara Lee has agreed to do that.” 

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