FDA Wants Consumers to Truly Get the 'Whole Grain'

Issues definition for food labeling requirements

FDA provides guidance to labeling of ‘whole grain’ foods. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Hundreds of products on supermarket shelves tout their wholesome quality as being "whole grain." Are they, really? Some are not, and to help consumers make knowledgeable dietary choices, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a "guidance" to food manufacturers on exactly what products labeled "whole grain" may and may not include.

"One of the most important decisions people can make about their health is the choice of foods they eat," said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, FDA's Deputy Commissioner for Medical and Scientific Affairs in a press release.

"A top priority at FDA is finding additional ways to clearly communicate the health benefits found in food."

Also See: Federal Regulations: The Laws Behind the Acts of Congress

According to the FDA's new guidelines, "whole grain" includes "cereal grains that consist of the intact and unrefined, 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." Examples include: barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, wheat and wild rice.

The refining process, says FDA experts, removes some of the bran and germ from the grain, resulting in a loss of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.

The guidelines state that although rolled and "quick oats" can be called "whole grains" because they contain all of their bran, germ and endosperm, other widely used food products may not meet the "whole grain" definition.

For example, FDA does not consider products derived from legumes (soybeans), oilseeds (sunflower seeds) and roots (arrowroot) as "whole grains." The guidelines specifically recommend that pizza only be labeled as "whole grain" or "whole wheat" when its crust is made entirely from whole grain flours or whole wheat flour, respectively.

What are the dietary benefits of whole grain?
The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that half of the grain that consumers eat should be whole grains. FDA dieticians recommend eating at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day. One ounce is about 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal or 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta. Consumers should also look to see that grains such as wheat, rice, oats or corn are referred to as "whole" in the list of ingredients.