That stamp is given to products that have at least 8 grams of whole grains per serving. The stamp was created by the Whole Grains Council, a nonprofit group. Companies pay annual dues to belong to the council, and use the stamp on foods that meet the standard.
The researchers found that the products that had the whole grain stamp were higher in total calories and sugars, overall, than some other products.
In response, the council said on its website that the stamp lives up to its purpose -- identifying products with a significant amount of whole grains.
The Harvard team did find that products that met another standard, the American Heart Association's 10:1 ratio, tended to be healthier overall. This standard says that the carbohydrate-to-fiber ratio must be less than 10 to 1. These items were likely to have less sugar, salt and trans fats than other products. For instance, a slice of bread with 20 grams of carbohydrates and 2 or more grams of fiber would meet the 10:1 ratio.
Products that had whole grains listed on the label as a first ingredient with no added sugars were judged almost as healthy as those meeting the 10:1 ratio in terms of their other ingredients, the researchers added. This standard is suggested by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In the middle were the other two standards -- products with whole grain listed first (USDA, FDA) and products with the word "whole" before any grain anywhere in the list (USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010).
Mozaffarian hopes the information will be useful to policy makers if they decide to discuss standardizing whole grain labeling. The report was published in the Jan. 4 online edition of the journal Public Health Nutrition.
Lichtenstein said few if any consumers would take the time to compute a 10:1 ratio before choosing or eating a whole grain food. Her advice? Look for products that have whole grain as t
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