October 31, 2009

IOM Report Recommends More Fiber in School Lunches

 The Institute of Medicine released their "School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children" report earlier this week. The report recommends "increasing the amount and variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains".

In order to qualify for reimbursement from the USDA's National School Lunch Program, school lunches must provide 1/3 of the Dietary Recommended Intake (DRI) for children for the following nutrients:

  • Calories
  • Protein
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Iron
There are no guidelines for dietary fiber in the current National School Lunch Program. While much has been said about the limitations and shortcomings of the National School Lunch Program - here's to hoping future guidelines will include less refined grains and an increased focus on dietary fiber.

October 30, 2009

Whole Grain Stamp of Confusion?

The Whole Grain Stamp is a product of the Whole Grains Council, which itself is a consortium of food industry, scientists and chefs founded by Oldways, the non-profit food-issues think tank based in Boston, MA. The Whole Grains Council's mission is to:
  • Help consumers find whole grain foods and understand their health benefits
  • Help manufacturers create delicious whole grain products
  • Help the media write accurate, compelling stories about whole grains
There are two whole grain stamps you sometimes see on food packaging:
  1. The 100% stamp: all ingredients are whole grain and the product contains 16 grams - one full serving - of whole grains per serving of that food
  2. The basic stamp: constitutes a half-serving of whole grains - 8 grams per serving; also used if the product has extras like bran, refined flour or germ.

While the Whole Grain Stamp program may be less misleading than other food company's front of labeling packaging programs addressed in a previous post, it still doesn't align with the government-mandated disclosures on the Nutrition Facts Panel. The Nutrition Facts Panel lists Dietary Fiber in grams of fiber, but the Whole Grain Stamp prefers to list grams of whole grain per serving. This leads to more confusion in the already confusing battle of "What is a Whole Grain?"

Keeping in mind that food manufacturers can choose their own serving sizes, it's easy to see how they can manipulate food product servings to meet trade association's labeling guidelines - including the Whole Grains Stamp. While there are no doubt many high-fiber whole grain products deserving of the Whole Grains Stamp, it seems there are just as many high sugar, high fat foods eligible for the same designation.

The Whole Grains Council even lists "Treats" that are Whole Grain Stamp Certified on its website. This Nutrition Facts Panel from Annie's Homegrown Chocolate Bunny Grahams shows the first ingredient to be organic wheat flour (not whole wheat flour). Twenty four bunny pieces have 7 grams of sugar and less than 1 gram of dietary fiber: not bad considering it's a cookie - but by no means a "high fiber" food deserving of an official-looking Whole Grain Stamp of Approval!

Keep in mind that no matter how impressive, persuasive or healthy a front of package label looks - a junk food is still a junk food - no matter how you package, process...or stamp it.

October 29, 2009

Front of Package Food Labeling Crackdown

The food industry has reacted quickly to the FDA's threatened crackdown on front of package labeling. On October 24, the New York Times reported PepsiCo is suspending its controversial SmartChoices™ food labeling program. Featured on foods as laughable as Froot Loops™ cereal boxes, logo programs like PepsiCo's SmartSpot and their General Mills' SmartChoices are industry-sponsored icons intended to override the nutritional deficits played out on the Nutrition Facts panel on the side of such packaging.

While mega-food companies suspend and scale back front of packaging (FOP) labeling, the best recommendations for choosing healthful foods will live on on the side of the food package. The government-mandated Nutrition Facts Panel and Ingredients List remain truthful, scientifically-derived roadmaps to what your food contains.

For those of you interested in your fiber intake - pay attention to the side packaging highlighted in a previous post:
  • Dietary Fiber: look for 3 grams or more of dietary fiber per serving of starchy bread foods
  • Ingredient List: look for "whole grain" or "whole wheat" as the first ingredient in starchy bread foods
Keep in mind: the front of the package is advertising and the side of the packaging is truth. While the cover of the book may be what sells, the Table of Contents always gives a better picture of what you're going to get inside!