The Whole Story…as Far as It Goes
November 1, 2008
by Laurie Gorton
So you think you know what “whole grain” means when it comes to formulating and labeling baked foods made with whole-grain ingredients? Think again. This matter remains open-ended, an important caveat affecting the work of bakery formulators.
Recent actions, however, by AACC International and a pending announcement of updated or final guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) promise resolution of this issue.
WHOLE GRAIN HISTORY. Good science supports the role of whole grains intake in reducing the risk of various chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes. The 2000 and 2005 editions of US Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended increased consumption of whole grains, and the 2005 guidelines quantified this level as at least three “ounce equivalents” (48 g) of whole grains among the six servings a day of grain-based foods.
The 2005 dietary guidelines committee described whole-grain foods as “foods made from the entire grain seed, usually called the kernel, which consists of the bran, germ, and endosperm. If the kernel has been cracked, crushed or flaked, it must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, germ, and endosperm as the original grain in order to be called whole grain.” Although the initial announcement did not list the grains involved, subsequent analysis gave examples of how whole grains could be listed (see “Grain Choices” on Page 80).
Fortunately, industry anticipated this change. Knowing that whole grains would be part of the 2000 dietary recommendations, AACC International assembled a special ad hoc committee of experts to consider a formal definition. As approved in 1999, the definition read: “Whole grains consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked caryopsis, whose principal anatomical components — the starchy endosperm, germ and bran — are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact caryopsis.” Caryopsis is the technical term for a small one-seeded dry indehiscent fruit (as of Indian corn or wheat) in which the fruit and seed fuse in a single grain, and indehiscent means that the fruit remains closed at maturity. Thus, a kernel.
Formed in 2003, the Whole Grains Council (WGC) included in its mission to clarify the definition of whole grain. The result, announced in 2004, was: “Whole grains or foods made from them contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed. If the grain has been processed (for example, cracked, crushed, rolled, extruded, and/or cooked), the food product should deliver approximately the same rich balance of nutrients that are found in the original grain seed.” WGC’s list of whole grains, also noted in the table below, is somewhat longer than that offered by the dietary guidelines committee. The council was careful to note that the list was not meant to be comprehensive but to include grains most familiar to consumers. Other grains from the Poaceae (or Gramineae) family can also be considered whole grains when consumed with all of their bran, germ and endosperm.
FDA initially backed away from defining whole-grain content on food labels, but in February 2006, it released its first guidance document on the topic. The intent is to clarify the labeling of whole-grain products, and its definition of whole grains came very close to AACC’s effort.
In the document, the agency said it considered whole grain to include cereal grains that consist, either intact, ground, cracked or flaked,“of the fruit of the grains whose principal components — the starch endosperm, germ and bran — are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain.” As examples, the agency cited barley, buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, rice, rye, oats, sorghum, wheat and wild rice.
The guidance gives the OK to calling quick oats “whole grains” because the product contains the bran, germ and endosperm, but other widely used products may not meet the whole grain definition. The agency said it does not consider products derived from legumes (soybeans), oilseeds (sunflower seed) or roots (arrowroot) to be whole grain, a position also taken by WGC.
AACC TASK FORCE. Several questions remain concerning the status of sprouted and malted grains and of grains that lose some of their content during normal processing but are used whole (bulgur, nixtamalized whole-grain corn and pearled barley). The matter of ounceequivalent vs. reasonable amount commonly consumed (RACC) has not been resolved — a situation that occurs because RACCs used by FDA to determine serving size are usually larger than the ounce-equivalents mentioned in the dietary guidelines. Yet to be resolved is how to label multigrain foods that are predominantly whole grain but that also contain enriched flour.
These matters have been taken up by the AACC’s Whole Grains Task Force (WGTF) in an effort to provide scientific background to regulators and industry. Results from this work are now being reported. For example, in partnership with WGC, the task force recommended that malted or sprouted grains could be considered whole grains if the sprout is not longer than the kernel length and the pericarp is ingested. The group found little research comparing sprouted and nonsprouted grains, but it noted that sprouting causes enzymatic changes similar to those that occur during fermentation of doughs. Longer sprouts have more vitamin C and more closely resemble vegetables.
The spring 2008 joint AACC-WGC announcement about sprouted wheat was followed by a 2-part summary report in the fall from WGTF, written by Julie Miller Jones, PhD, WGTF chair and a professor in the Food and Nutrition Department of the College of St. Catherine, St. Paul, MN. The report’s first part was published in the September-October issue of AACC International’s Cereal Foods World.
The task force addressed an ambiguity inherent in the term whole grain: the matter of recombination at the mill. In the commercial process of milling whole-grain flour, the kernels are divided into germ, bran and endosperm and then recombined into their original proportions before the flour leaves the mill. Substantial re-engineering of flour mills would be required if recombining was declared unacceptable, according to WGTF, and very little whole grain product would be available to consumers in the interim. Also, most studies reporting health benefits were done with recombined whole grains.
Some grains are inedible or not used until they have been processed. WGTF cited covered barley, whose kernels must be abraded to remove the hull, with the result that some of the pericarp is lost. It also noted that traditional processes such as those used to nixtamalize corn or make bulgar wheat resulted in some loss of grain kernel fractions. Members of the task force agreed that these grains should be categorized as whole grains, stating that the traditional processes actually make the food safer by minimizing components such as heavy metals and mycotoxins, which are concentrated in the outer layers. (The second part of WGTF’s report, which discusses the whole-grain status of specific processed grains in length, was not available to the author at press time, but it is expected to be published in a coming issue of Cereal Foods World.)
HOW MUCH? Among its objectives, WGTF was “support of the use of foods made with a blend of whole and enriched grains, but that contribute dietarily significant whole-grain content — not just foods that are entirely or almost entirely manufactured with whole grains. This will enable manufacturers to add whole grain to their lines and will allow consumers to adapt to products containing whole grains.” This goal led to detailed examination of whole-grain labeling issues.
When making a whole-grains claim in the US, the product must be formulated with at least 51% whole grain by weight. This high level can be hard to accomplish for baked foods, which can have a finished moisture content that reaches 40%, leaving just 9% for all the rest of the ingredients. Although making 100% of the formulation flour whole-grain will be the usual approach, other ingredients can contribute. Malted whole-grain barley and pregelatinized (soaked) whole kernel and flaked forms of the kernel also count toward that 51% threshold.
WGFT did not support the “51% rule” because moist foods such as bread are held to a higher standard than lowmoisture products such as cookies and crackers. The task force recommended that whole-grain claims be allowed for foods containing 8 g of whole grain per labeled serving, or one-half of an ounce-equivalent. This level is also what WGC set for use of its Whole Grain Stamp. The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection strongly recommended that an absolute amount of whole grain per serving be established.
Reasoning further, the AACC task force noted that successful dietary change in the population occurs slowly and that transitional products help pave the way. It quoted dietary data stating that consumers often get the bulk of their whole grains from partially wholegrain foods. Today’s market offers many “made with whole grain” baked foods that fit this transitional role.
The validity of the “made with whole grain” formulating concept was supported by a new study from University of Minnesota, St. Paul, reported in the fall 2008 issue of the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management (available online at www.schoolnutrition.org ). Researchers in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition learned that elementary school students will eat more whole grains when healthier bread products are gradually introduced into their school lunches. Current wholegrain consumption by children is about one-third of the recommended level.
In another recommendation, the task force floated the idea of revising the way the grain content of multigrain bread is represented in the package’s ingredient legend. Use of parentheses would allow all the grains to be grouped in the same fashion that enrichment nutrients are currently shown. This approach would push the grains closer to the top of the ingredient list than if reported individually.
As the American Bakers Association (ABA) asserted in its April 18, 2006, letter to FDA regarding the draft guidance document about whole grains: “Wholegrain food producers must retain maximum flexibility to convey truthful and nonmisleading information about whole-grain content in a manner that motivates and resonates with consumers.” Recent communications between Lee Sanders,ABA’s senior vice-president, government relations and public affairs, and inside sources at FDA indicated that whole grains are moving forward in priority at the agency. An updated or final guidance may be ready by the end of the year.