Health Canada: It’s time to protect the health of Canadians.
Yes, I have a list of complaints about Health Canada and their lack of action on far too many issues: trans fats, sodium and peanut butter, just to name a few. But the matter of what is called whole wheat in this country ranks right up at the top. In spite of being called whole, various whole wheat flours and products may not be whole grain.
In Canada, outdated legislation (from 1963) allows for up to 70 per cent of the germ to be removed and the product can still be called whole wheat. Pick up a loaf of 100 % whole wheat bread and think you’re getting whole grain? Guess again.
The regulations may have made sense way back in the 60s when science pointed to fibre as being the important constituent in grains. Removing most of the germ also allowed for a longer shelf life for products, something the baking industry would like to maintain.
But it’s a very different story now. In the almost 50 years that have passed, a bounty of evidence points to the whole, not refined, grain as offering protection against a variety of diseases.
The latest research, a review of 66 scientific investigations linked whole grains to a lower risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease and weight gain- all scourges of today’s society. Other studies are looking into their anti-inflammatory role. Inflammation is now thought to be part of the disease process in a host of illnesses including heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes.
I first came upon what was an astonishing fact to me (since I had been a practicing dietitian for decades already) back in 2007 after a food industry representative took issue with an article I had written about the company’s product. Other colleagues, even those teaching basic nutrition at universities across the country, were no less surprised at Health Canada’s definition.
It seemed to be a dirty little secret.
So I asked the experts to weigh in on the issue. Dr. Walter Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and a professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, when told of the Canadian definition stated, “Whole wheat should mean the whole and nothing but the whole wheat. Excluding part of the germ means the loss of essential fatty acids, antioxidants and other important nutrients.”
Dr. Willett took it a step further when he said, “Whole grain consumption can reduce risks of heart attacks and type 2 diabetes. Consumers of “whole grains” with 70% of the germ missing may be rudely disappointed when they land in hospital.”
It’s interesting to note that Canada stands alone in allowing this farce. Health Canada, though assessing the matter back in 2007 when health groups and consumers were in an uproar, has now decided to allow the status quo to remain. They suggested that Canadians looking for whole grains seek out whole grain whole wheat. That may be fine for those who know to do so but for those who assume that the word whole means entire and opt for just plain whole wheat.
You might think that buying a basic like whole wheat flour would yield a whole grain flour. Maybe not. When I’m asked about a product, I often suggest calling the consumer line of a company to get answers so that’s what I did to find out about whether Five Roses® Whole Wheat Flour was whole grain. The representative had to call me back and when she did, I was given incorrect information.
As I suspected the flour was not whole grain, I contacted The J.M. Smucker Company, the parent company in the U.S. about the issue. According to Diane Silverman, Manager, Corporate Communications, both Five Roses® and Robin Hood® Whole Wheat flours are not whole grain as some of the germ has been removed.
With confusion such as this, it certainly appears that Health Canada is abandoning their mission of maintaining and improving the health of Canadians.
Let’s bring whole wheat regulations into the 21st century where the health of Canadians deserve it to be.
Send a letter, email or fax to Health Canada and to your riding’s member of parliament about the issue. You can get your MPs’ contact information by calling 1-800-0-Canada (1-800-622-6232) or by visiting the Parliament of Canada web-site.
Have you been confused by whether certain whole wheat products are whole grain? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!