Tablebread: Welcome Cynthia! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your position, and your organization?
The WGC’s many initiatives help individuals and families to find whole grain foods and to understand their health benefits; help the media to write accurate, compelling stories about whole grains; and help manufacturers to create a wide variety of appealing whole grain products.
The WGC was originated in 2003 by Oldways, the non-profit food issues think tank that creates and organizes a wide variety of programs and materials about healthy eating, drinking and lifestyles, and the traditional pleasures of the table. Its educational programs are for consumers, scientists, the food industry, health professionals, chefs, journalists and policy makers. You can learn more about the Whole Grains Council at www.wholegrainscouncil.org.
I’m Director of Food and Nutrition Strategies for Oldways and the WGC – a job I love because it lets me spend my time thinking up innovative ways to communicate on health issues with both consumers and manufacturers.
TB: When did you first see major national attention turn towards whole grains?
This was one of those “perfect storm” things, where several elements came together at the same time, about the beginning of 2005. At that point we had seen the worst excesses of low-carb mania come and go, which ironically helped. Both the Atkins diet and South Beach pretty much said, “Avoid carbs, but if one should cross your lips, at least make sure it’s a whole grain.” Somehow (for once!) we kept the baby and threw out the bath water. When the low-carb tide subsided, a certain level of knowledge about whole grains survived above the high-water mark.
Then in January 2005 the new Dietary Guidelines were released by our government, with the first-ever recommendation to “make half your grains whole” – recommending at least three servings a day of whole grains. A week later we introduced the Whole Grain Stamp, which we’d already been developing for over a year. Interestingly, many manufacturers tell us that the low-carb fad taught them a lot about different options for making grain foods, and left them ready to capitalize on the new interest in whole grains. After all, if you can formulate a low-carb bread or muffin so it’s at all palatable, creating one from real whole grains seems easy afterwards!
TB: The Whole Grains Council won the 2006 Packaging Innovation of the Year for the Whole Grain Stamp and the 100% Whole Grain Stamp. Can you give us an idea of the thought that went behind this and what kind of impact the introduction of the Stamp has had on introducing whole grains into the American diet?
We worked on the Whole Grain Stamp for almost a year and a half before its January 2005 introduction. In its finished form it seems so simple and logical that that may be hard to believe, but starting from scratch we had to answer questions such as, Would the Stamp signify a certain percentage of whole grain, or a certain amount? What would our process be for verifying compliance? What would the graphic look like? And of course we had to test it with consumers, and get legal and regulatory opinions and so on and so on.
Our big goal — which we achieved — was to develop a way for consumers and manufactures to get “partial credit” for whole grains. Before the advent of the Stamp, only products that were 100% whole grain or very close to it could say anything on their packaging. But just as most people don’t switch from whole milk directly to skim – they adjust their palate slowly, with 2% milk then 1% – people need a way to find whole grains at a range of levels, while their palates adjust to the fuller, nuttier taste of whole grains. And manufacturers can similarly learn as they go, adding more and more whole grain to their most popular products and getting credit for each step.
The result? Whole grain product introductions and sales are up markedly. You can buy whole grain English muffins in any grocery, where they used to just be at the health food store. People even know how to pronounce quinoa! We’ve come a long way. In good part, this is because the Whole Grain Stamp is now on about 1,700 products.
TB: We see that The Whole Grains Council has worked to get the Stamp on Canadian products. Do you see The Whole Grains Council as a possible world wide institution?
In February 2008 we just announced a two-fold expansion of the Whole Grain Stamp. We now have a bilingual version of the Stamp for use in Canada, and a new Whole Grain Menu Symbol for use in restaurants and foodservice. Already, six of our members are based in Europe, and there’s interest from them in using the Stamp on their products overseas as well as in North America. We’re exploring regulatory questions and looking into the possibility of a universal international version of the Whole Grain Stamp, as the interest is definitely there – and the health benefits of whole grains are the same worldwide!
TB: What advice do you have for everyone reading my blog?
I would love to invite everyone to visit our website at WholeGrainsCouncil.org, where you can learn what a whole grain is, what the health benefits of whole grains are, how to find them in stores and in restaurants, and so much more.
There are so many quick, easy, delicious whole grain foods available today that there’s something for every taste. When whole grains taste good and they’re good for you, why would you not go for it?
TB: Here are some further sources of whole grain baking and cooking:
- King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking
- Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads
- Hodgson Mill Whole Grain Baking
- Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way
- The New Whole Grains Cookbook
How are you adding whole grains into your life? Do you have a special recipe that you use to sneak whole grains into your family? Stop by and leave a comment and share with us how you are using whole grains in your diet!