Enriched grains vs. whole grains
Research conducted by the G.F.F. defines differences between whole grain products and foods containing enriched grain.

PHOENIX — Research conducted by the Grain Foods Foundation will help the scientific community more clearly and accurately understand differences between whole grain products and foods containing enriched grain, said Julie Miller Jones, emeritus professor of nutrition at St. Catherine University, St. Paul, Minn.

Dr. Jones participated in a Grain Foods Foundation panel March 20 during the annual meeting of the American Bakers Association at The Biltmore in Phoenix.

Other panelists were Yanni Papanikolaou, vice-president of nutrition research at Nutrition Impact, Battle Creek, Mich., and Richard Mattes, distinguished professor of nutrition science at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. Dr. Mattes and Dr. Jones are members of the G.F.F. Scientific Advisory Board. The panel was moderated by Christine Cochran, executive director of the G.F.F., and Robb MacKie, president and chief executive officer of the A.B.A.

The panel discussion addressed research conducted by Nutrition Impact looking at health outcomes for different eating patterns within the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data set.

Over the past year, Mr. Papanikolaou has traveled extensively to scientific conferences and has found a positive reception to research showing intake of grain-based foods and maintaining a healthy weight are not incompatible.

Yanni Papanikolaou
Yanni Papanikolaou, v.p. of nutrition research at Nutrition Impact

“People would come up to me and say, ‘Thank you for providing great news on grains and grain food products,’” he said. “And this is in contrast with what we’re hearing frequently.”

A mother, who was also a nutritionist, also offered appreciation for the reminder that grain foods and bread are nutrient dense, he said.

"She told me, 'I don’t need to feel guilty now giving it to my family after seeing some of the research you showed,'" Mr. Papanikolaou said.

Perhaps the key message that Mr. Papanikolaou heard and shares is that consumers need not worry about the bread they consume as much as what they put on the bread.

“It may be the olive oil you’re dipping it in as you’re casually having a conversation,” he said. “I like to say, ‘It’s not bread; it’s the friends bread keeps.’ It’s the spread, high-fat meats.”

Dr. Jones said the research conducted by Nutrition Impact helps address a longstanding hole in the science of grain-based foods.

Julie Miller Jones
Julie Miller Jones, emeritus professor of Nutrition at St. Catherine University

“It really was bothering me that the very influential public health schools such as Harvard, all of their studies bucketed all of refined grains together,” she said. “Then they have whole grains in a bucket. There weren’t any indulgent foods in the whole grains bucket. That contributed to giving refined grains a bad name. It just seemed really wrongheaded to me that you should have what I call ‘Doodles, Ding Dongs and donuts’ in the same basket as bread, pasta and cereal that people had been eating for millennia.

“I thought one way to help restore the image of bread to the place where it ought to be is to use some of the databases that are used and pull out those indulgent foods.

"What that showed is that when you eat what you’re supposed to, Yanni showed you can even include some indulgent foods. They also exonerate the other foods.”

A concern Dr. Mattes expressed about the changing landscape was the scrutiny and criticism of excessive snacking in a time of rising obesity rates.

Richard Mattes, Purdue University
Richard Mattes, professor of nutrition science at Purdue University

“Eating frequency is a concept we will need to address,” he said. “I’m not saying we should launch research to raise questions about snacking. Consumers do snack. We’re not going to change that behavior. We need to find a way to make grain food products healthful, providing nutrients without positively changing the energy balance.”

In her look at what’s changing in the nutrition landscape, Dr. Jones cited the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

“The 2020 guidelines will be a different animal, because they will include birth until the age of 2,” she said. "And there is very little data on birth to 2.”

While a challenge for grain-based foods, Dr. Jones said data were lacking for other food categories as well when it comes to the very youngest children.

An opportunity identified by Dr. Jones was for the baking industry to highlight qualities of enriched grains that largely have been ignored. She said the emphasis of guidance that at least half of grain servings consumed should be from whole grains has relegated the position of enriched grains more than should be the case.

She said, “The message becomes ‘it’s only the whole grains, and refined grains don’t count at all.’ You have really good data and need more of it really.”

For example, foods that are more refined or processed allow for better nutrient absorption, she said.

Dr. Mattes was highly critical of research conducted at the University of Texas purporting to link grain-based foods intake with higher risks of lung cancer.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Dr. Mattes said. “There is danger in data mining from cohort studies. Researchers are not required when they begin their work to declare their intentions.”

He said researchers in such studies will look at 6 different indices for possible causes measured against 28 different cancer malignancies. What results are 168 different associations to be tested.

“That’s 168 different associations they can sensationalize,” he said. “That’s just not the way to do science, but it’s the way these kinds of stories are generated. In my opinion the best strategy for these kinds of stories is to ignore them.”

Dr. Mattes and Dr. Jones were upbeat about the potential role of grains as the importance of fiber in the diet gains even greater attention ahead.

“With the microbiome, fiber is going to play an even larger role in this big story,” he said. “It’s a golden opportunity.”

Dr. Jones said women avoid grain and fiber because they cause gas.

“I think we need to reframe gas and bloating,” she said. “We need to change gas from an ‘uh-oh’ to a ‘ho-ho.’ Fiber feeds healthy colonic development. Your product delivers the fiber. You need to talk about it.”