Whole Grains 101

whole grains 101

Existing Standards for Whole Grains

What exactly IS a whole grain food? What counts? Consumers wanting to get the recommended number of servings each day want to know. School foodservice directors being asked to "serve more whole grains" want to know. And manufacturers looking to label their products responsibly want to know.

The answer is fairly straightforward when you're dealing with 100% whole grains. A dish of brown rice or oatmeal is whole grain – no questions asked. As is a slice of bread made with no other grain but whole grain.

The answer isn't simple, however, when a product's ingredients include both whole grains and refined/enriched grains. In many cases, whether such a product is considered "whole grain" depends on which government agency or program, in which country, has a say in the answer. Our list below covers most known standards in the U.S. plus several in other lands; we welcome visitors to this website to alert us to other standards elsewhere.

Where+When Who+What What qualifies as a whole grain food
Other restrictions /notes
USA
May 2013
AACC International

Characterization of a Whole Grain Product
A whole grain food product must contain 8 grams or more of whole grain per 30 grams of product.  
USA
Jan. 2012
USDA
Food & Nutrition Service (schools)


Definition of "Whole Grain-Rich"
Foods must meet one of three requirements:
a. Contain at least 8g of whole grain content per serving OR
2. Qualify for FDA whole grain health claim (51% whole grain by weight) OR
3. Have a whole grain as the first ingredient (or the first grain ingredient by weight for non-mixed dishes (e.g. breads, cereals) or as the first grain ingredient for mixed dishes (e.g. pizza, corn dogs)
In essence, at least 50% of the grain must be whole grain.
Must also meet the FNS definition of a serving.
Australia
August 2009
Go Grains There is no official government regulation on the definition of a wholegrain food, but Go Grains encourages manufacturers to make whole grain claims only if the food has at least 10% wholegrain content or 4.8g wholegrains “per serve.”  
Netherlands NBC
Dutch Bakery Centre
Breads can only legally be called whole grain if 100% of the grain is whole grain. There’s no law for other foods, but common practice is to “use the 50% rule” and call products whole grain if at least half of the grain in a product is whole grain. Terms such as 20%, 30% , 50% or 80% wholegrain on packaging are not used (and for bread legally not allowed).
Germany   Foods must have a certain baker’s percent of whole grain to use the name whole grain:
  90% whole grain for wheat and rye bread
100% whole grain for pasta
 
USA
Oct. 2009
IOM
School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children report
Calls for schools to serve “whole grain-rich” foods; to qualify, a food must meet ONE of the following:
a. contain at least 8 grams of whole grain content per serving  OR
b. qualify for the FDA whole grain health claim (51% whole grain by weight)  OR
c. have a whole grain as the first ingredient by weight for non-mixed dishes (e.g., breads, cereals) or as the first grain ingredient by weight for mixed dishes (e.g., pizza, corn dogs)
Must qualify as a Grain/Bread serving in the Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs (minimum of 14.75g of grain, in most cases)

Note: The report recommends raising the standard to more than 8g as time goes on.
Sweden – 1989
Denmark – 2009
Norway – 2009
Livsmedelsverket
Natl. Food Admin.
Keyhole Symbol
Calculated on dry matter, the whole grains shall be the specified percent or more of the total grains, for each category:
100%    for flour, meal, grains
  50%    for crispbread, porridge, pasta (unfilled)
  25%    for bread, sandwiches, wraps
  15%    for pizzas, pierogis, other savory pies
Only the categories listed here are eligible. Limits on fats, sugars and sodium; minimum of fiber in some categories. See details.
USA
2008 update
USDA / FNS
Healthier US School Challenge
For the majority of whole grain foods, WG must be the first ingredient – or the weight of all whole grains totaled together must be more than the weight of any other ingredient. Some products qualify if the weight of all whole grains, totalled, is more than the weight of any other grain ingredient. Must qualify as a Grain/Bread serving in the Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs (minimum of 14.75g of grain, in most cases)
Denmark
2007, 2008
DTU (Danish National Food Institute)
Fuldkorn (Whole grain) report
Calculated on dry matter, the whole grains shall be the specified percent or more of the total grains, for each category:
100%    for flour, grains, rice
  50%    for bread (AND 30% of total weight)
  60%    for crispbread, breakfast cereal, pasta
Only the foods listed here can be called whole grain – so no whole grain cookies, cakes, waffles, etc.!
USA
Dec. 2007
(final rule expected
Feb. 2011)
USDA / FNS
WIC interim rules
In general, WG must be the first ingredient and foods must qualify for the FDA whole grain health claim. Only certain grain products qualify; no added sugar, salt, or oil allowed in rice, barley, bulgur or oatmeal; sugar restriction and iron requirement for breakfast cereals.
Canada
Dec. 2007
Whole Grains Council
WG Stamp Canada
At least 8g WG per serving (Basic Stamp)
At least 16g WG per serving and all the ingredients are whole grain (100% Stamp in Canada)
none
UK
Nov. 2007
IGD
UK Whole Grain Guidance Report
For packaged foods wishing to communicate the presence of whole grain, for example, by stating ‘contains whole grains’ or ‘with whole grains’ on pack and in brand communications, the IGD Working Group recommend that foods should contain a minimum level of 8g whole grain per serving (based on final batch load proportions). Foods calling attention to their whole grain content will need to make a Quantitative Ingredient Declaration (QUID).
USA
Apr. 2007
IOM report on
Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools
Requires foods to be (or contain a serving of) fruits, vegetables or whole grains but does not clearly define "serving." Limits on fat, sugar, calories and sodium.
USA
Aug. 2006
Whole Grains Council
WG Stamp FSIS
At least 8g WG per serving and at least 51% of the grain is whole grain (Basic Stamp)
At least 16g WG per serving and all the grain is whole grain (100% Stamp)
(for use on foods containing meat and poultry and therefore under the jurisdiction of USDA FSIS)
USA
Oct. 2005
USDA / FSIS
Interim Policy Guidance
At least 8g WG per serving
At least 51% of the grain is whole grain
none

USA and
International
Jan. 2005

Whole Grains Council
US WG Stamp
Intl. WG Stamp

At least 8g WG per serving (Basic Stamp)
At least 16g WG per serving and all the grain is whole grain (100% Stamp)

none
USA
1999 / 2003
FDA
Whole Grain Health Claim
At least 51% of the total weight must be WG  limits on fats and cholesterol

 

Here are some definitions that may also be useful to understand:

Country Term
Meaning
Source
USA 100% Whole Grain All the grain is whole grain. Feb 2006 Draft Guidance, FDA
Canada 100% Whole Grain All the ingredients are whole grain.  

 

All information on this website is © 2003-2013, Oldways Preservation Trust/Whole Grains Council, unless otherwise noted.