Why enrichment still matters

by Laurie Gorton
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The desire for cleaner labels can make life difficult for formulators wanting to enrich their products.
 

Nutritionists dub the standard enrichment of flour and baked goods “the quiet miracle” for its proven ability to stave off once-common deficiency diseases. But the rush to clean up ingredient statements on package labels has precipitated a move away from this gold standard — because the change eliminates several chemical-sounding words from the ingredient list.

“Americans consume enriched-grain-based foods from a variety of sources and often depend on these to obtain adequate levels of key nutrients,” said Christine Cochran, executive director, Grain Foods Foundation (GFF). “So any baker who might be considering the use of unenriched flour must be aware of the ramifications of this decision and its potential impact on public health.”

Such potential can be measured by the results of the decision to add folic acid to standard enrichment of cereal grain products. This simple change ensures that 1,300 US babies are born without neural tube defects each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention named folic acid fortification of enriched grains, and its role in the prevention of birth defects, as one of the Top 10 public health achievements of the first decade of the 21st century.

Ms. Cochran said an information gap plagues the baking industry’s products and how they contribute to the nutritional sufficiency of the average American diet. Educating the media and decision makers about enrichment is a primary and essential mission of GFF. “For example, after drafting public comments for consideration by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, we were advised by former committee members to focus on enrichment education because most committee members were not versed on the public health aspect of enrichment,” Ms. Cochran noted.

GFF is laboring to bolster scientific work in support of enrichment. To gauge the level of scientific evidence available on enriched grains, GFF conducted a grains literature review that included more than 1,200 peer-reviewed journal articles spanning 2010–13. It found fewer than a dozen studies that mentioned enrichment, and even fewer discussed the merits toward public health.

To encourage additional exploration of this area of nutrition research, GFF is working to partner with several academic institutions and to match them with both private and public grants to conduct additional research into enriched grains.

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