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Administration Cites Lack of Definition of 'Good' Source of Whole Grains

Feb. 15, 2006 -- Food manufacturers should stop using labels branding products as "good" or "excellent" sources of whole grain, the FDA said Wednesday.

Numerous products, including breads and cereals, now carry labels claiming to be a good source of whole grain. But a guidance issued by the agency now says the claim could be misleading because scientists have not defined what amount of whole grain is "good" or "excellent" for health.

"They should not be making statements that imply a level, such as 'high' or 'an excellent source,'" says Barbara Schneeman, PhD, director of FDA's Office of Nutritional Products, Labeling, and Dietary Supplements. The FDA does not think that that terminology is appropriate to use on these products, she notes.

"Food Pyramid" dietary guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last year call for consumers to boost their intake of whole grains, which are thought to be a good source of dietary fiber and other nutrients. The guidelines recommend half of all grain in the diet consist of whole grain.

The guidelines helped spur General Mills to announce last year that it would manufacture all of its cereals using only whole grain.

Whole grain contains all three major components of a grain kernel: bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples include:

  • Whole-wheat flour
  • Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole cornmeal
  • Brown rice

According to the USDA, refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins.

Industry groups, regulators, and researchers often differ on how they define whole grain.

FDA's guidance does not yet have the force of law. Schneeman says that the agency is trying to give consumers a "more consistent" definition of what "whole grain" means when they see it on food labels. The agency opened a 60-day comment period allowing industry and the public to give input on the guidance.

But the document does give a sense of how FDA will view food label claims in the future.

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