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Labels OKd to Help You Go With the (Whole) Grain

Nutrition: FDA allows such foods to tout potential reductions in the risk of heart disease and some cancers.

July 19, 1999|SALLY SQUIRES | WASHINGTON POST

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the way earlier this month for whole-grain products to carry a new health claim touting their potential to help reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.

Filed by General Mills, the new claim is the 11th allowed by the FDA and the first to promote a food's effect on two diseases. Under the new claim, foods that contain 51% or more of whole-grain ingredients by weight may say on their labels that "diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers."

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Among the products slated to carry the new health claims beginning in August are Cheerios, Wheaties and Total cereals. In reviewing the new claims of these foods, the FDA did not give the scientific research on whole-grain foods the scrutiny that goes into the approval of a new drug, but accepted results from a review of the literature conducted in 1989 by the National Academy of Sciences.

Consumer advocates praised the new health claim, saying it will help Americans better identify which foods contain whole grains. "For years, we have been trying to get people to switch to whole grains and we have not made that much progress," said Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based consumer group. "This may make a difference."

Current dietary guidelines recommend that consumers eat six to 11 servings of grain products daily, including at least three whole-grain foods. A draft of health goals published by the Department of Health and Human Services calls for 75% of Americans to meet this intake by the year 2010.

Most Americans fall short of those goals. Only 7% of Americans eat three or more whole-grain foods daily, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture consumption figures.

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