Grains under attack at dietary guidelines meetings
by Laurie Gorton
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TAMPA, FLA. — Members of the “Grain Chain” who gathered on Capitol Hill recently to conduct meetings with agency representatives and members of Congress influential to the completion of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines are not the only ones casting a watchful eye toward how the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee will handle the importance of whole and enriched grains in the American diet. A recent technical meeting also brought the topic to the fore.
“Grains are on the firing line,” said Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., R.D., professor, department of food science, University of Minnesota, St. Paul, about the tone of discussion at recent public hearings held by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory committee.
She spoke April 11 at the Spring Technical Conference held by the AACC International’s Milling & Baking Division in Tampa on April 9-11.
Dr. Slavin, who served on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, observed that current members are primarily epidemiologists and public health policy makers, with very few nutritionists and no food scientists.
“The 2015 committee is dividing its efforts up differently [from previous committees],” she said. “Many members see gluten-free at the top of the list. Basic nutrition may not be reviewed at all. And you will probably see a recommendation to decrease carbohydrate consumption.”
While the advisory committee does not write the actual guidelines, it produces a science-based report and submits it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The federal agencies use the report to frame the recommendations that make up the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
“Once something gets into the science document, it affects everything down the line,” Dr. Slavin explained.
Diets and dietary guidelines change all the time, which is not unusual in itself.
“There is no perfect diet,” Dr. Slavin said. “Humans are omnivores and have survived and prospered on all kinds of diets, mostly reflecting access to the food supply, to what’s available.”
Dietary guidance issued by the U.S. government has varied widely down the years.
“Before the 1970s, dietary recommendations were intended to prevent nutritional deficiencies,” she explained. But times changed, and scientists saw a need to change the diet to reduce the rising rates of heart disease.
“There was a shift to lower fat and higher carbohydrate levels, a big benefit to the baking industry,” she said. “Now we’re seeing the diet ship turning again, this time to fewer carbohydrates.”
This runs counter to basic principles of nutrition.
“Carbohydrates are what should fill you up after your protein needs are met,” Dr. Slavin explained. The Recommended Dietary Allowance for carbohydrates is 130 grams per day. For protein, it’s 46 grams for adult women to 56 grams for adult men.
Touching on the changes now under way for the Nutrition Facts Panel, Dr. Slavin questioned how the recommendation to list “added sugars” would work.
“Added sugar will be difficult to quantify because analytically, this is very difficult,” she said.
She praised the recommended increase in fiber from its current Daily Value of 25 grams to 28 grams.
“One marker of a healthy diet is that it contains things high in fiber,” she said. “Most people don’t eat enough fiber. It is a big deficiency in American diets, but whole wheat flour and enriched grains help the diet’s overall nutritional status.”
Federal dietary guidelines are evaluated every five years by law. The big recommendation in 2010 was that Americans increase the nutrient density of their foods and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. The 2010 group found four “shortfall” nutrients: potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D.
The 2015 advisory committee continues to gather information, and Dr. Slavin testified at its Jan. 15 meeting as part of “The Grain Chain” presentation. She summarized what she learned at that event.
The 2015 report is sure to be different, she predicted.
“You will probably see a move to decrease carbohydrate consumption,” she said. Nutrient level recommendations won’t change, but the movement to whole foods and away from specific nutrients will continue. “There was also a lot of discussion of topics such as sustainability, gluten and vegan diets.
“The discussion [at these meetings] seems to be dominated by politically savvy critics of the food industry,” Dr. Slavin observed. “The anti-dairy, anti-wheat and anti-processed foods commentary is high, and I heard a lot of hate, which is very troubling to me.”