Whole Grain—Not Always Healthy?

Decoding food labels

Foods labeled as “whole grain” are not always as healthful as their labels would lead you to believe, says a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health.

The benefits of a diet rich in whole grains are well established, including lower risks of cardiovascular disease, weight gain, and Type 2 diabetes. But the researchers found that many products that carry the Whole Grain Stamp—while higher in fiber and lower in trans fats—are also high in sugars and calories.

The American Heart Association’s standard proved to be the best indicator of healthfulness. Products meeting this ratio were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, sugar, and sodium, without the higher calories of foods that didn’t meet the ratio.

The Whole Grains Council, which created the Whole Grain Stamp, responded that its stamp is intended to indicate that a product contains a meaningful amount of whole grains and does not necessarily indicate its overall healthfulness.

Spokesperson Cynthia Harriman told FoodNavigator-USA that the Harvard study “is faulting the stamp for failing to do something it was never designed to do.”

She added that many categories of whole-grain foods that bear the stamp were not tested, including pasta, oatmeal, and rice. “This is not a representative sample,” she said.

The Harvard researchers are calling for a more consistent, evidence-based standard for identifying whole-grain products to help consumers make better choices.

“Given the significant prevalence of refined grains, starches, and sugars in modern diets, identifying a unified criterion to identify higher quality carbohydrates is a key priority in public health,” said lead researcher Rebecca Mozaffarian, MPH.



“Flawed Harvard Study Unfairly Criticizes Whole Grain Stamp . . .” by Elaine Watson,, 1/11/13

“Foods Identified as ‘Whole Grain’ Not Always Healthy,” Harvard School of Public Health, 1/10/13


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