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FDA Defines Whole Grains But Ignores Sugar & Grain Allergies

Posted Dec 18 2008 8:13pm

Consumers are confused by whole-grain claims so the Food and Drug Administration is jumping to the rescue by coming up with a new definition.

"It's very important that consumers are able to have a consistent and uniform terminology of what constitutes a whole grain," Barbara Schneeman, director of the FDA's office of nutritional products, labeling and dietary supplements, said in a statement.

According to the new explanations, a whole grain must retain its basic structure.

The FDA document considers "whole grain" to include cereal grains "that consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked fruit of the grains whose principal components -- the starchy endosperm, germ and bran -- are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain. Such grains may include barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, wheat and wild rice. In contrast, in the grain refining process some of the bran and germ is removed resulting in a loss of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals."

"The tricky part is what's done to the grain during processing," CNN.com reported.

"If it's intact, ground, cracked or flaked, it still is a whole grain. Rolled or `quick' oats are still whole grains. Popcorn is a whole grain. Pearled barley is not a whole grain; too much of its bran layer has been removed."

What's more, bagels or pizza which are labeled "whole grain" or "whole wheat" need to have dough made entirely from whole wheat or whole grain flour, the FDA said.

Well, some of this certainly sounds promising. If the grain is intact, it's defnitely a whole grain.

But, frankly, I'm now confused about this new definition. How can ground, flaked or quick oats be considered whole grains?

If they're ground up, aren't the endosperm, germ and bran no longer intact? And doesn't "quick oats" imply that the product is processed. Not so, according to the FDA, which allows that "quick oats" can be called "whole grains" because they contain all of their bran, germ and endosperm.

Here are some tips to gauge if something is whole grain.

  • When buying breads, if the first ingredient listed is enriched wheat flour or wheat flour, then that’s not a whole-grain bread—no matter how big the chunks of grain you find.
  • If the first ingredient is whole wheat flour, then it's a whole-grain bread.
  • Look for higher fiber content, because it slows down the absorption of the carbohydrates so that your blood sugar won’t spike so fast.
  • Be on the “alert for subtle nuances that spell the difference between whole grain and refined grain, points out Dr. Walter Willett in his book, Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. If the label says `made with wheat flour,’ it may be a whole-grain product or it may just be an advertising gimmick—the silkiest, most refined white cake flour is made with wheat flour. True whole-grain products should list as the main ingredient whole wheat, whole oats, whole rye, or some other whole-grain cereal.”
  • Steer clear of “fortified” grains. This means that during processing, the vitamins and minerals have been stripped away but then they're added back. As exercise physiologist and fitness expert Bob Greene points out in his book, The Get With the Program Guide to Good Eating, “fortified” doesn’t improve the quality of the grains—“eating one of these products is not the same as eating a whole-grain food: the manufacturers don’t put everything back; the only way to get all the nutrients is to eat the whole grain,” writes Greene, Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer.
  • For more info, see the consumer guide from the Whole Grains Council.

FDA Definition Neglects Sugar in the Whole Grains

Meanwhile, this is great to define whole grain, but there are two huge omissions in all of this new FDA defining.

First off, sugar has been virtually ignored. In other words, many people tend to get deceived, thinking that if they buy something that's whole grain, it's the optimum in nutrition. But that's ignoring the other components in the food.

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