When to apply the 51% rule

by Laurie Gorton
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No regulation governs how much whole grain must be present in a whole-grain food — unless the product makes a health claim. Then, the finished product must contain 51% or more whole-grain ingredients by weight per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC).

“It really depends on how you want to market your product,” said Colleen Zammer, product manager, value-added products, Bay State Milling, Quincy, MA. “If you want to make a health claim, then the product needs to contain at least 51% whole grain. Otherwise, there are a variety of different ways to express the whole grain content such as the Whole Grain Stamp from the Whole Grains Council or to tout the increased fiber content.”

The Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim for whole-grain foods in July 1999. It reads: “Diets rich in whole-grain foods and other plant foods, and low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, may help reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers.” In December 2003, the agency approved a health-claim petition for whole-grain foods with moderate fat content. To make either health claim, such foods are expected to carry 51% by weight whole grains and be low in saturated fat and cholesterol.

Sweden, Finland and the UK also allow health claims for whole grains.

Getting to 51% whole grains is no easy task for many baked foods. Whole-wheat flour itself runs 39 to 41% moisture, and finished whole-grain bread and buns can contain 36 to 44% moisture.

“Bread needs a decent content of moisture and sweetness for taste,” observed Brian Walker, divisional technical service manager, Horizon Milling, Minnetonka, MN. “That makes it hard to achieve whole-grain content of 51% or more, but that may not be so difficult for dry products such as crackers.”

His colleague, Jessica Wellnitz, senior food technologist, Cargill Bakery Applications, Plymouth, MN, pointed out that the school lunch program has a different approach, taking into account just the grain content. The baker can use enriched flour (or refined flour) in the formula as long as whole-grain flour makes up 51% or more of the total formula flour.

Elizabeth Arndt, PhD, director of R&D, ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha, NE, provided additional detail from the nutritional standards recently proposed by the US Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service. “Half of the grains offered during the school week must be whole-grain-rich,” she explained. That will rise to all grains being whole-grain-rich by two years after implementation of the final rule. “Whole-grain-rich foods may contain less than 100% whole grain, but generally, at least 51% of the grain ingredients must be whole grain.”

The exact way that whole grains are to be described for regulatory purposes has not been finalized, said Kris Nelson, technical manager, Grain Millers, Inc., Eden Prairie, MN. “Most processors, however, like the listing of the number of grams on the label as the Whole Grain Stamp provides,” she observed.
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