Front-of-package (FOP) labeling is the latest dustup between food manufacturers, the government, and consumer nutrition advocates. But first things first: Fiber is a single component of whole grain, so the terms (and amounts) are not interchangeable. “If the bread wrapper says ‘100% whole grain,’ a one-ounce slice should provide 2 grams of fiber,” says Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and an expert on the U.S. food system. “But the FDA—which does regulate FOP health and nutrition claims along with symbols indicating nutritional value—has no binding rule for labeling whole grain, so manufacturers have plenty of room for creativity.”
The bottom line: All whole grain breads are not created equal. To check a product’s actual fiber content, flip to its nutrition facts label and check the dietary fiber amount. (Best choices have at least 5 grams of fiber per slice with no added sugars.) Whole grain should also top the ingredient list. Otherwise, the bread could be enriched with nutrients but not fiber. “The FDA is slowly attempting to clean up front-of-package symbols and may get to this one eventually,” says Nestle. “The Whole Grain Council promotes a ‘100%’ certification stamp for whole grains and a ‘Basic’ stamp on products made from white flour and added bran or germ. For now, however, consumers who want to know about fiber in bread are stuck with reading nutrition facts labels.”
Dr. Nestle’s latest book, Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics*, provides more information to help consumers sort through food labels and evaluate claims served up by industry promoters. Co-authored by nutrition scientist Malden Nesheim, chapter titles include: What is a Calorie?, Today’s “Eat More” Environment, and More Calorie Confusion: Portion Distortion, Health Halos, and Wishful Thinking. Follow Dr. Nestle on Food Politics.
*Published by University of California Press: available online and at local stores.