Enriched grains deserve more attention

by Laurie Gorton
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Americans consume enriched grain-based foods from a variety of sources and often depend on these foods to obtain adequate levels of key nutrients.
 

Educating consumers to the benefits of enrichment is an everyday assignment for the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF). Baking & Snack recently interviewed GFF Executive Director Christine Cochran for her insights about coming Dietary Guidelines for Americans and continuing education efforts involving refined and enriched grain products. She also provided guidance on making gluten-free foods more nutritious. Here’s our exclusive Q&A.

Baking & Snack: How does the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF) communicate the benefit of enriched grains directly to consumers? Can you document results or describe feedback from these efforts?

Christine Cochran: Although GFF does not communicate directly with consumers, we equip health care providers, media and policymakers with information that generates a deeper understanding and appreciation for enriched grains, which ultimately impacts consumers. Some of our more recent examples of this work include journal articles highlighting some of our novel research endeavors, media outreach with outlets such as Telemundo, Food Network, National Geographic and Newsweek, partnership with the Spina Bifida Association and consumer-friendly videos and infographics.

GFF also provides our investors with informational toolkits to use within their organizations and to share in their communication with consumers.

After 12 years of working on enrichment education, the feedback has been generally positive. However, the lack of education, even among health care providers, somewhat remains. 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. Similarly, at the International Dietary Fibre conference in 2015, GFF’s research presentation, which illustrated the importance of enrichment in the American diet, was enthusiastically received and praised for its importance to public health discussions.

Enrichment education scored another win in 2015 when the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee urged consumers to check the label for enrichment. As part of its MyPlate My Wins campaign, the US Department of Agriculture explains that most refined grains are enriched, stating, “This means that certain B vitamins and iron are added back after processing. Check the ingredients list to make sure the word ‘enriched’ is included in the grain name.”

Is this an effort that needs to be directed to commercial and retail bakers, too?

Absolutely. Americans consume enriched grain-based foods from a variety of sources and often depend on these foods to obtain adequate levels of key nutrients. So, any baker, whether commercial or retail, 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. There currently exists an information gap associated with the nutrient profile of our category and how it contributes to the nutrient sufficiency of the average American. The desire to bridge this gap with scientific evidence is what initially drove our work with Nutrition Impact.

How are GFF and other industry groups carrying the message of enriched grains to regulators? How will you address this matter with the next Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee?

The Dietary Guidelines process, and its commitment to scientific literature, is a moment when the need to bolster scientific work in support of enrichment is emphasized. To gauge the level of scientific evidence available on enriched grains, GFF conducted a grains literature review that included over 1,200 peer-reviewed journal articles spanning 2010 to 2013. In that review, we found less than a dozen studies mentioned enrichment, and even fewer discussed the merits toward public health, which demonstrates the need for additional exploration in this area of nutrition research. As a result, GFF is working to partner with several academic institutions and is working to match them with both private and public grants to conduct additional research and bridge this information gap.

However, we can be proud that mandatory folic acid fortification of cereal grain products has helped about 1,300 US babies to be born without neural tube defects each year. As a result, 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 top 10 public health achievements of the first decade of the 21st century.

(Source: Key Findings: Folic acid fortification continues to prevent neural tube defect (Jan. 15, 2015) available at www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/folicacid/features/folicacid-prevents-ntds.html)

Does enrichment fit into the gluten-free market?

Fortifying corn masa may help increase the nutrient density of some gluten-free grain foods, but nutrient deficiencies remain a concern for individuals on a gluten-free diet. Gluten-free grain products are not made of enriched flour, so consumers who exclusively rely on gluten-free grain products will need to ensure they obtain adequate levels of folate, iron and other B vitamins from other food or supplement sources.

(Source: Thompson, T. (2000). Folate, Iron, and Dietary Fiber Contents of the Gluten-free Diet, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 100(11), 1389–1396. doi:10.1016/s0002-8223(00)00386-2)

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