If you’ve been visiting this website regularly, you almost certainly know the basic definition of a whole grain ingredient: it’s one that has all of its original bran, germ and endosperm in their original proportions. Done. Settled. What more can there be to say about whole grain definitions?

Plenty, as it turns out, on both sides of the Atlantic. There have been some exciting developments lately on definitions of whole grains and whole grain foods, and of course, the Whole Grains Council is on top of it all! 

Last week, the “most comprehensive definition of whole grain to date” was published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research, based on research conducted by the HEALTHGRAIN EU project.  This project – focused on cereals and health – is led by some of the leading universities and food research institutes in Europe and aims to help identify healthier grain foods and detail their benefits.  

What spurred the need for a definition in the case of HEALTHGRAIN EU was the realization that products in today’s marketplace come from so many sources, that it’s impossible to be sure that the same rules have been applied to every product and every package, absent a clear universal definition.   

The HEALTHGRAIN EU definition, which you can read about in the journal article here, is very comprehensive. It shines light on some areas still unclear in current US definitions, such as whether grains can still be considered whole if their bran, germ, and endosperm are reconstituted in a food factory, and whether it’s permissible to remove the very outer layers of grains in order to eliminate pesticides and natural fungi (the HEALTHGRAIN definition says yes to both).  

These same issues need to be settled in the U.S., where the FDA is working to finalize its February 2006 Draft Guidance on Whole Grain Label Statements. To support this effort, Oldways and the Whole Grains Council recently filed comments with the FDA which we hope will contribute to a better understanding of the relevant issues before final guidance is determined.  

Our FDA comments (which you can download here) centered on two main issues:

  1. How do we define a whole grain ingredient? FDA made a good start in their 2006 Draft Guidance; we recommended the agency review the HEALTHGRAIN EU definition as they deliberate.

  2. How do we define a whole grain food? The recent “characterization of a whole grain food” from AACCI has serious limitations, which we detailed for FDA in our comments. 

As we concluded in our comments, we believe that any final guidance on whole grain labeling should 

  • Include all foods containing more whole grain than refined grain, while excluding foods that contain mostly refined grains.

  • Encourage manufacturers to make whole grain options available in all categories.

  • Help consumers increase whole grain consumption from all sources and categories.

What are your thoughts on labeling whole grains?  We invite you to read up on the information provided here, and then share your thoughts on our forum. (Cynthia)



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