Guidelines critical of 'refined grains'

by Josh Sosland
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WASHINGTON — Recommendations in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans strongly encourage consumers to avoid “refined grains.” The final guidelines, released Jan. 31, were largely in line with a June 2010 report of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

The guidelines are published every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to offering guidance to the public and the nutrition community, the guidelines establish the scientific and policy basis for all federal nutrition programs. The guidelines have been published since 1980.

Refined grains come under criticism in the guidelines from the outset of the report. In an introductory section offering an overview, the guidelines feature “two overarching concepts” recommended, including maintaining calorie balance over time and focusing on intake of nutrient dense foods and beverages.

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the 2010 version both identified foods and food components that are over-consumed. In 2005, the D.G.A.s highlighted saturated fats, trans fatty acids, cholesterol, added sugars, salt and alcohol. The 2010 version of foods and food components to reduce is basically the same, with “solid fats” encompassing both saturated fats and trans fatty acids, sodium substituted for salt and refined grains added to the list.

Major sources of refined grains in the diets of Americans are yeast breads (26% of total refined grain intake), pizza (11%), grain-based desserts (10%), and tortillas, burritos and tacos (8%), according the report.

The 2010 D.G.A. recommended that refined grains be replaced with products made with whole grains so that at least half of all grains eaten are whole grains.

“Americans currently consume too much sodium and too many calories from solid fats, added sugars and refined grains. These replace nutrient-dense foods and beverage and make it difficult for people to achieve recommended nutrient intake while controlling calorie and sodium intake. A healthy eating pattern limits intake of sodium, solid fats, added sugars and refined grains and emphasizes nutrient-dense foods and beverages — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds.”

Last year, grain-based foods organizations had objected over the use of the term “refined.” In comments formally submitted regarding the guidelines committee’s report, the industry pointed out that the vast majority of non-whole grains were enriched. The group warned that use of the term “refined” would cause confusion.

The group also objected to the manner in which the committee lumped flour in a combination with added sugars and fats even though many grain-based foods are low in added sugars and solid fats.

Regarding calorie balance, the guidelines urge consumers to consistently pay attention to consuming only enough calories to meet their needs and to be physically active. A blunt prescription is included in this section.

“To curb the obesity epidemic and improve their health, many Americans must decrease the calories they consume and increase the calories they expend through physical activity.”

Key recommendations focusing on grains largely were in line with guidance in the 2005 edition of the guidelines.

The 2010 guidelines encourage limited consumption of foods containing refined grains, especially those containing solid fats, added sugars and sodium. The wording appeared to recognize that many enriched grain products are not high in solid fats, added sugar or sodium.

Within a section devoted to foods marked for increased intake, consumption of at least half of all grains as whole grains is urged through increasing “whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.”

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