U.S. Federal Law (7 USC Sec. 5341) says that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans shall be updated every five years and that these Guidelines “shall be promoted by each Federal agency in carrying out any Federal food, nutrition, or health program.” The most recent Dietary Guidelines, in 2005, stated that Americans should make at least half their grains whole.

And yet, almost five years later, serving whole grains in school lunches is merely voluntary. There is no mandate for whole grains under the National School Lunch Program, because USDA has not yet updated school lunch rules to comply with the 2005 Guidelines. They worked on the update for three years, then, having failed to reach agreement, asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM, the health arm of the National Academy of Science) to undertake a two year study and come up with recommendations.

The pig is working its way through the python: This week, the IOM report was released, with guidelines for updating school lunch requirements. There’s lots to like about the whole grain parts of this report, which start with the recommendation that at least half of the grains served in schools should be “whole grain-rich.”  

To be considered ‘whole grain-rich’ foods must qualify as a grain serving (14.75g for most school foods) and must meet at least ONE of the following tests:
a. Must contain at least 8g of whole grain per serving (based on Child Nutrition
Program serving sizes) OR
b. Must include the Whole Grain Health Claim on its packaging OR
c. Must list a whole grain as the first ingredient overall (for non-mixed dishes
like breads, cereals) or as the first grain ingredient (for mixed dishes like pizza
or corn dogs)
It’s gratifying to note that the IOM, respected in all areas of government as an independent arbiter of health issues, has clearly endorsed 8g per serving — the same standard as the Whole Grain Stamp — as its definition of “whole grain-rich.” In fact, the report goes on to say that IOM’s bottom-line recommendation is 8g per serving, and that options (b) and (c) above were thrown in just to make life easier if the grams-per-serving aren’t clearly labeled. (Hard to imagine, but there are still some products out there without the Stamp!)

We’re quite proud that the nonprofit Whole Grains Council used the same five year period since 2005 to spearhead a voluntary industry effort to create more whole grain-rich products and label them clearly with the Whole Grain Stamp. In fact, more than 3,000 products have now been reviewed and shown to qualify for the Whole Grain Stamp, which is now being used in 14 countries.

This is just the sort of action that the IOM goes on to urge in their report, which ends with a series of recommendations. It urges all manufacturers to clearly label the whole grain content of foods. Then, in Chapter 10, Recommendation 6 states, “The Food and Drug Administration should take action to require labeling for the whole grain content of food products.” It goes on to say,

Requiring manufacturers to provide information about the grams of whole grains provied per servings would enable operators to identigy the grain products that would enable them to meet the Dietary Guidelines recommendation for whole grains. Voluntary action by manufacturers to provide whole grain content information for their food products might be achieved within a few years. Regulatory action would be expected to take longer.

The Whole Grain Stamp at your service. It’s already happened; a strong program is in place and it would be not only possible but simple to expand our Stamp program to to include any existing products not yet using the Whole Grain Stamp.

But now. Back to the kids. What happens next? Many school districts and even states across the country are already serving whole grains (bless them!) but must battle budgets and bean-counters to do so when whole grains are just The Right Thing rather than The Required Thing to do.  Now USDA will start its rule-making process to make IOM’s recommendations into regulations. That process is expected to take 18-24 months – but at least we’re now one giant step closer!

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