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Why ‘whole grain’ is not always healthy. 
Current standards for classifying foods as ‘whole grain’ are inconsistent and, in some cases, misleading, according to a new study in Public Health Nutrition by Harvard School of Public Health researchers. One of the most widely used industry standards, the Whole Grain Stamp, actually identified grain products that were higher in both added refined sugars and calories than products without the Stamp. ‘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 first author Rebecca Mozaffarian. However, no single standard exists for defining any product as a ‘whole grain’.

Child eating wholegrain sandwich

For this study, Mozaffarian and colleagues assessed five different (US) industry and government guidelines for whole grain products:

  • The Whole Grain Stamp, a packaging symbol for products containing at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving (created by the Whole Grain Council, a non-governmental organization supported by industry dues)
  • Any whole grain as the first listed ingredient (recommended by the USDA’s MyPlate and the Food and Drug Administration’s Consumer Health Information guide)
  • Any whole grain as the first ingredient without added sugars in the first three ingredients (also recommended by USDA’s MyPlate)
  • The word ‘whole’ before any grain anywhere in the ingredient list (recommended by USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010)
  • The ‘10:1 ratio,’ a ratio of total carbohydrate to fiber of less than 10 to 1, which is approximately the ratio of carbohydrate to fiber in whole wheat flour (recommended by the American Heart Association’s 2020 Goals)

The researchers identified a total of 545 grain products in eight categories: breads, bagels, English muffins, cereals, crackers, cereal bars, granola bars, and chips. They collected nutrition content, ingredient lists, and the presence or absence of the Whole Grain Stamp on product packages from all of these products. They found that grain products with the Whole Grain Stamp, one of the most widely-used front-of-package symbols, were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, but also contained significantly more sugar and calories compared to products without the Stamp. The three USDA recommended criteria also had mixed performance for identifying healthier grain products. Overall, the American Heart Association’s standard (a ratio of total carbohydrate to fiber of around 10:1) proved to be the best indicator of overall healthfulness. Products meeting this ratio were higher in fiber and lower in trans fats, sugar, and sodium, without higher calories than products that did not meet the ratio.

cookingmattersaustralia – Getting kids cooking and eating healthily. 

Children cooking

In 2009 the Hunter Illawarra Kids Challenge Using Parent Support (HIKCUPS ) program, a parent-centred dietary modification and physical activity program for overweight and obese children and their families was merged with an after school cooking club already being run at a NSW Priority Action School in the Hunter/Central Coast region, Australia. This led to the creation of the Back to Basics Healthy Lifestyle Program – an evidence-based, family focused, healthy lifestyle program with an after-school cooking club for children that aims to:

  • Increase children’s and their families dietary intake of fruit and vegetables 
  • Increase children’s and their families awareness and familiarity of healthy eating, with a particular focus on fruits and vegetables 
  • Increase children’s skills and confidence in selecting, preparing and cooking fruits and vegetables 
  • Increase environmental support for easier access to fruits and vegetables for children and their families 
  • Increase children’s self efficacy (belief in their abilities). 

The program, which has been developed by Professor Clare Collins and colleagues from the School of Health Sciences at University of Newcastle, involves five cooking sessions over one school term. The sessions begin with the children’s cooking activities then their parents attend for the final half hour. Finally, parents and children enjoy the prepared meal together. The program has been funded by Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI), Newcastle Permanent Charitable Foundation (for B2B development) and Medibank Community Fund (for program dissemination). For more information about the program or if you are interested in running this program at your school contact Clare and her team through the website.