by Marion Nestle
Sep 27 2013

Whole grain chaos: FDA approves qualified health claim, sort of

In 2012, ConAgra petitioned the FDA to approve use of a health claim on labels and advertising for its whole grain products.  Here’s what ConAgra asked for:

Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include three servings (48 grams) of whole grains per day may reduce the risk of diabetes mellitus type 2.


Scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove, that whole grains (three servings or 48 grams per day), as part of a low saturated fat, low cholesterol diet, may reduce the risk of diabetes mellitus type 2.

To say that the FDA was less than impressed with evidence supporting this claim is to understate the matter.  After a comprehensive review of the evidence, here’s what the FDA says ConAgra can use:

Whole grains may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, although the FDA has concluded that there is very limited scientific evidence for this claim.


Whole grains may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. FDA has concluded that there is very limited scientific evidence for this claim.

No, this is not a joke.

Congress insists that the FDA must approve health claims, whether supported by science or not.

According to FoodNavigator, ConAgra is happy about this decision.  The first thing anyone will read is “whole grains may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.”

As I keep saying, health claims are about marketing, not health.  And qualified health claims are the worst examples.  A plague on all of them!

  • How bizarrely backwards. It would have been so much better to lead with the “suggests but does not prove” qualifier!

  • theprimalprepper

    This is definitely a win for ConAgra.

    People who buy this stuff to begin with think that 27 servings of whole grains make up a healthy diet. Now they have proof approved by the FDA.

  • yamanote

    Very shameful. Government is supposed to protect us, not Too-Big-To-Fail Agribusiness

  • Leoluca Criscione

    This sounds very
    “mafioso” (I was born in Corleone, Sicily)

    Congress and FDA are
    playing with people’s healthy (and their own credibility and authority)

    Recently, I defined as a CRIMINAl act the
    approval by the FDA of the “antiobesity” drug Qsymia! This drug has, among others, a teratogenic side effect!!?? (teratogenic = causing malformations of an embryo or fetus)

    Nutrition and related
    fields like obesity NEED more “scientific evidence”!!

    Kind regards from

    Leoluca Criscione

  • Miriam Bronkhorst

    Well said Leoluca. This is playing with words to cover their backs but putting health at risk.

  • primenumbers

    I don’t get why you’re criticizing this promotion of whole grains, Marion. You promote (and I still have no good idea why) whole grains.

  • K Y

    So Marion you are saying that there may be something else behind FDA’s motivation?

    But after reading the sentences again, it seems to me that FDA is simply repeating what ConAgra is saying only in their own terms.

    Because this phrase “scientific evidence suggests, but does not prove” (ConAgra’s words) is similar to “very limited scientific evidence for this claim” (FDA’s words).

  • Peggy Holloway

    Whole grains are better than refined grains. No grains are better than whole grains. For risk of “Type II Diabetes,” no grains is essential. I’ve consumed no grains for 14 years. Both my father and grandfather died of complications of “Type II.” At age 60, I have never had an elevated fasting blood sugar.

  • Grains are some of the worst things a type 2 can eat.

  • I think she is criticizing the marketing spin on whole grains. The FDA acknowledges that there is virtually no scientific evidence to support the claim, but still allows ConAgra to print the claim.

  • Pingback: Ramen vs. Chips. Why is this even a battle? | Feeding FWCF()