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The New York Times this morning reports on the label changes that will have to take place on products containing whole grains. It is a fertile marketplace for manufacturers these days – with sales of whole grain breads up 17 percent over the past year, and product introductions in the category more than doubling in 2005 compared to 2004.

"But slapping 'whole grain' on the label is not very helpful to shoppers," the NYT writes, "because the levels are not made clear and vary significantly from product to product. During two days of shopping — in a conventional and then a natural supermarket — and an examination of at least 200 products that market a whole grain image, only two labels carried the actual grams of whole grain. Many use the words 'good' or 'excellent' to describe the whole grain level…while others imply their goodness with 'whole grain' or 'multigrain' in very large type."

Part of the problem is that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hasn't yet figured out how to deal with the whole grains issue; stepping into the void has been an industry organization called the Whole Grains Council, which is trying to set guidelines.

The Times notes that products currently meeting "certain requirements can carry one of two stamps provided by the council. A stamp that says 'good source of whole grains' means the item contains 8 to 16 grams of whole grains. The 'excellent source of whole grains' stamps are on products with 16 or more grams…But on May 1, the council's stamps will start to provide the actual grams of whole grains per serving and the total daily recommendation."

Still to be determined is whether whole grains are just a fad or a long-term trend. While whole grains are believed to help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, that is no guarantee that their growth rate will continue.
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