Public Health Nutrition

HOT TOPIC – Food environment

Identifying whole grain foods: a comparison of different approaches for selecting more healthful whole grain products

Rebecca S Mozaffariana1 c1, Rebekka M Leea1, Mary A Kennedya1, David S Ludwiga2a3, Dariush Mozaffariana3a4a5 and Steven L Gortmakera1

a1 Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health Prevention Research Center, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA

a2 Department of Medicine, New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center, Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

a3 Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

a4 Department of Epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

a5 Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA


Objective Eating whole grains (WG) is recommended for health, but multiple conflicting definitions exist for identifying whole grain (WG) products, limiting the ability of consumers and organizations to select such products. We investigated how five recommended WG criteria relate to healthfulness and price of grain products.

Design We categorized grain products by different WG criteria including: the industry-sponsored Whole Grain stamp (WG-Stamp); WG as the first ingredient (WG-first); WG as the first ingredient without added sugars (WG-first-no-added-sugars); the word ‘whole’ before any grain in the ingredients (‘whole’-anywhere); and a content of total carbohydrate to fibre of ≤10:1 (10:1-ratio). We investigated associations of each criterion with health-related characteristics including fibre, sugars, sodium, energy, trans-fats and price.

Setting Two major grocery store chains.

Subjects Five hundred and forty-five grain products.

Results Each WG criterion identified products with higher fibre than products considered non-WG; the 10:1-ratio exhibited the largest differences (+3·15 g/serving, P < 0·0001). Products achieving the 10:1-ratio also contained lower sugar (−1·28 g/serving, P = 0·01), sodium (−15·4 mg/serving, P = 0·04) and likelihood of trans-fats (OR = 0·14, P < 0·0001), without energy differences. WG-first-no-added-sugars performed similarly, but identified many fewer products as WG and also not a lower likelihood of containing trans-fats. The WG-Stamp, WG-first and ‘whole’-anywhere criteria identified products with a lower likelihood of trans-fats, but also significantly more sugars and energy (P < 0·05 each). Products meeting the WG-Stamp or 10:1-ratio criterion were more expensive than products that did not (+$US 0·04/serving, P = 0·009 and +$US 0·05/serving, P = 0·003, respectively).

Conclusions Among proposed WG criteria, the 10:1-ratio identified the most healthful WG products. Other criteria performed less well, including the industry-supported WG-Stamp which identified products with higher fibre and lower trans-fats, but also higher sugars and energy. These findings inform efforts by consumers, organizations and policy makers to identify healthful WG products.

(Received May 24 2012)

(Revised September 18 2012)

(Accepted November 22 2012)

(Online publication January 04 2013)


  • Nutrition;
  • Whole grains;
  • Policy;
  • Price


c1 Corresponding author: Email