Sara Lee clarifies whole grain claim

By Laura Crowley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Wheat

Sara Lee has changed its whole grain claim on its white bread following a settlement agreement with an advocacy group, demonstrating the current sensitivity surrounding health claims.

The packaged goods company will now make it clear that its “Soft & Smooth Made with Whole Grain White Bread” only contains 30 per cent whole grain, after the American Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) threatened to sue the company over the labelling, which it said suggested had as much fibre as 100 per cent whole wheat bread.

“Consumers who want the health benefits of whole grains should look for bread that is labeled ‘100 percent whole wheat,’ or failing that, a bread where whole wheat flour, not just ‘wheat flour,’ is the first ingredient,”​ said CSPI executive director Michael Jacobson.

Whole grains have received considerable attention in the last year, especially in the US where the FDA permits foods containing at least 51 per cent whole grains as well as being low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, to carry a health claim linking them to a reduced risk of heart disease and certain cancers.

It is recommended that Americans eat three or more one ounce servings (48 grams) of whole grain per day. However, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), fewer than 10 per cent of Americans meet this recommendation. Dietary guidelines also suggest a daily consumption of 28 grams of fibre.

Sara Lee agreement

As part of the agreement, Sara Lee will state on the label that two slices of its bread have 10 grams of whole grain, equalling just under a fifth of the USDA’s recommended amount.

Sara Lee said the product is meant to be a transitional product, designed to get consumers who are used to the taste and texture of white bread to consume more whole grains.

It also has in its portfolio breads that are made using 100 per cent whole grain.

CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner said: “It’s time to take the whole grain halo off of foods made primarily with white flour. Companies that use the phrase ‘whole grain’ absolutely have the legal responsibility under state consumer protection laws to disclose exactly how much whole grain is there.”

It is important to make the distinction between white flour and whole wheat flour, said CSPI, as “most of the fibre and key nutrients are lost” ​when whole wheat is refined into white flour.

Some of these nutrients are added back in when white flour is enriched, but the CSPI argues that studies suggest white flour does not have anywhere near the same beneficial effects.

Whole grain claims

In 2006, CSPI threatened the Quaker Oats Company with a lawsuit because of claims on its labelling that said its oatmeal contained a unique whole grain food that actively finds cholesterol and removes it from the body.

As a result, the company dropped the controversial claims last April.

The CSPI began a litigation project on food labelling and marketing in 2005 and has been cracking down on food companies trying to create the impression their products based on white flour are made with whole grain.

However, some major companies have been making efforts to move away from misleading source claims to help consumers make more informed healthy choices.

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