FDA: Whole Grains Must Be Better Labeled

Possibly coming soon to a grocery store near you: much clearer definitions about whole grains on food labels.

That's because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced this week that anything labeled as containing whole grains must contain a comparable amount of the fibrous, protein-dense and nutrient-rich portions of grains -- the endosperm, germ and bran -- in the same proportion normally present in the intact grain.

Whole grains include barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, wheat and wild rice. Foods containing those grains can be promoted as whole grain as long as they are kept from being over-processed and stripped of their health benefits, which is the case for white flour.

Why is eating whole grains important? As the Whole Grains Council explains, whole grains are a key source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber.

Or, in other words, they are very good for you.

The FDA changes also mean certain foods once labeled as whole grain will no longer fall in that category -- such as products derived from legumes (soybeans), oilseeds (sunflower seeds) and roots (arrowroot).

Currently, food products can be labeled as an "excellent source" or "good source" of whole grains. However, the new FDA draft guidance said that these statements should be replaced with factual, measurable information such as "10 grams of whole grains" or "half ounce of whole grains."

How do you eat enough whole grains? The FDA suggests that people eat at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day. One ounce is about a slice of bread, a cup of breakfast cereal, or a half cup of cooked rice or pasta.

"Consumers should also look to see that grains such as wheat, rice, oats or corn are referred to as 'whole' in the list of ingredients," the agency stated in a press release.

Food companies have 60 days to comment on the proposed ruling.

The Food Products Association, a large trade association, released a statement in support of the new rules but said its group would be "consulting with our members to develop a response to FDA's draft guidance and propose any recommendations for ways to effectively communicate to consumers about whole grains and diet and health."