Nothing is quite as it seems in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Health Canada has adopted a similar stance with “whole” wheat. In a decision that was five years in the making, the agency charged with looking after the health of Canadians has decided to allow industry to continue calling products “whole wheat” even if they are not.
Here’s how it works. The germ of a wheat berry carries the bulk of its nutritional value. Unfortunately, it also carries life. Along with life comes the certainty of eventual death. So in 1964, Canada’s food regulators gave industry permission to remove 70% of the germ and still call the resulting product “whole wheat.” While such a move lessened the nutritional value, it also increased shelf life.
Industry was happy. Consumers were confused. So in 2007, Health Canada proposed ending the muddle and asked for comments.
Health Professionals Call for Accurate Labels
Dietitians of Canada proposed a simple solution, where “whole” would mean “whole:”
“Whole wheat” should mean “whole grain” and we therefore urge Health Canada to ensure that products labelled as whole wheat comply with the definition of whole grain.
Carol Dombrow, a consulting dietitian to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, had a similar response:
The Heart and Stroke Foundation wants clear guidelines. When a label says whole, as it does in whole wheat, then 100% of all the components, not just 30% of the germ, should be present. If the information is not what we thought, how are we to educate Canadians?
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