Committee urged to recognize role of enriched grains

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — The role of enriched grains in healthy diets deserves specific and adequate recognition in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, according to a letter written by leading grain-based foods organizations.

The letter was directed to Carol Davis, co-executive secretary of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the group responsible for recommending changes to Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The letter was submitted by the American Bakers Association, the North American Millers’ Association, the Grain Foods Foundation, the Wheat Foods Council and the National Association of Wheat Growers.

"We urge the committee to give ample recognition of the valuable role of enriched grains in a healthy diet in the 2010 Guidelines," the groups said.

In making the request, the letter did not challenge the recommendation that half of total grains servings be consumed as whole grains. In the 2005 edition in which this recommendation first was made, enriched grains were hardly mentioned at all.

"Enriched grains also provide important health benefits, especially with the fortification of folic acid," the letter said.

The groups’ request was reinforced with data showing a nearly 30% drop in neural tube birth defects since 1998 when fortification became mandatory.

"In fact, enriched, fortified grain foods are the primary source of folic acid in Americans’ diets," the groups said.

The benign neglect toward enriched grains in the 2005 guidelines is at odds with the objectives of fortification, the letter said.

"It is critically important that the 2010 Dietary Guidelines be aligned with the government mandate for folic acid fortification," the letter said. "A consistent message is vital to retaining the confidence Americans have in our regulatory agencies for dietary advice and guidance. To do otherwise would undermine the important human health achievements gained through folic acid fortification while adding to the existing confusion in consumers’ minds regarding the important roles of enriched and fortified grain products."

Folic acid was one of a handful of topics addressed by the groups in the letter. Second was sodium intake, the group said, adding that bread in recent years has been identified as a major source of the mineral.

The letter noted that bread is not a high sodium food as defined by the F.D.A., equating to about 1% of what’s in bread on a total formula basis. The proportion of whole grain in bread doesn’t change much whether the bread is baked from enriched flour or whole wheat flour.

"Salt is required for quality, flavor, crust color, improved crumb structure, prevention of excessive yeast action and last, but not least, salt inhibits acid producing bacteria," the groups said.

They noted that average sodium content in bread declined 29% between 1963 and 2007 and warned that further cuts "would have a detrimental effect on the functionality."

"We support the overall goal of lowering sodium consumption in Americans’ diets and encourage the committee to focus on sodium intake as a whole, rather than on a particular foods or food group," the letter said.

In brief remarks on the glycemic index, the letter called the measure "scientifically questionable" as a nutrition indicator.

"Much research remains to be done to determine beneficial long-term health outcome or consumer friendly recommendations," the letter said.

More generally, the letter encouraged the committee to be practical with recommendations that are "achievable and affordable." The groups said the wheat foods industry is "working hard" to spur demand for whole grain products by introducing a wide range of new choices.

"One such success story is the whole grain white bread introduced in 2005 in response to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommendation to increase consumption of whole grains," the letter said.

In concluding comments, the groups implored the committee to base the guidelines on "irrefutably science-based" information and that the guidance be communicated in language the public will understand.

"On a daily basis, Americans are consuming a diet of health misinformation, miscommunication and misinterpretation through the news media, the web and a variety of other sources," the groups said. "We are hopeful that through consistent guidance at the national level, the public may begin to turn away from ‘fad’ diets and sensationalized nutrition information and make lifestyle choices based on sound science."

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