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.