Study finds ‘whole grain’ standards are inconsistent

February 5, 2013

Boston – Foods labeled “whole grain” may not be the healthiest, and current standards for classifying them are inconsistent, according to a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers assessed five different industry and government standards for whole grains using 545 grain products, including breads, cereals, crackers, granola bars and chips. Although foods with the widely used whole grain stamp were found to be higher in fiber and lower in trans fat, they had more sugar and calories than products without the stamp, researchers said.

Three criteria from the U.S. Department of Agriculture pertaining to whole grains on the ingredients list also had mixed results in terms of identifying healthier foods. The best standard, researchers said, was from the American Heart Association, which classifies whole grains as having less than a 10:1 ratio of total carbohydrate to fiber.

Researchers suggested adopting a consistent, evidence-based standard for whole grain labeling.

USDA recommends consuming at least three servings a day of whole grains, which are linked to lower risk of cardiovascular disease, weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

The study was published online Jan. 4 in the journal Public Health Nutrition.