DANA POINT, CALIF. — The body of evidence emanating from scientific research conducted with funding assistance from the Grain Foods Foundation increasingly is answering important questions about the healthfulness of grain-based foods, said Christine Cochran, executive director of the Grain Foods Foundation.
Ms. Cochran offered this assessment Oct. 27 by way of introducing a presentation by Yanni Papanikolaou, who has conducted much of the research. The two addressed the annual meeting of the North American Millers’ Association at the Monarch Beach Resort in Dana Point.
To date, four research papers have been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and another two have been submitted for publication.
“I’m very proud that over the last three years we’ve taken it from research to result, with a lot of relevance in between,” Ms. Cochran said. “The idea behind the strategy was to invest in Yanni to create published journal articles that we could then take to professional conferences reaching influencers and then take those same findings and push them out to the media. This year it has culminated for us in getting graphics of our research on one of the Jumbotrons in Times Square. It was a real pleasure that a simple press release from the foundation with an infographic was put up there in New York City.”
Ms. Cochran said the studies have been important both singly and cumulatively.
“The projects are designed to build on each other,” she said. “And I think that the lesson we learned in Times Square is that it doesn’t necessarily happen with the first piece or the second piece or the third piece. That it’s the fourth, fifth and sixth piece you put out that really starts coming into focus for everybody.”
Mr. Papanikolaou, vice-president of Nutritional Strategies, Inc., Toronto, reminded the group that the decision to conduct research on enriched grains followed a review paper funded by the G.F.F. that showed a dearth of studies looking specifically at the healthfulness of enriched grains. The issue is important because so many consumers are choosing to avoid grains based on “ludicrous claims,” Mr. Papanikolaou said.
“Yet people are following them,” he added.
He noted that the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans urged adults to make half of grains intake whole and to limit consumption of enriched grains.
Given that fewer than 20% of Americans are meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations for whole grains, the importance of understanding the healthfulness of enriched grains is heightened, he said.
Many of the studies conducted by Mr. Papanikolaou have been built upon cluster analysis based on data collected as part of the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the first study, seven different groups of grains eaters were clustered around their preferred source of grains, e.g., bread/rolls, cereals and others. The groups’ nutrition and health profiles were compared with those of subjects who consumed little or no grains. While those in all of the grain clusters consumed more calories each day than the no-grains group, the grains groups were not heavier and in some cases had overall diets with better nutrition quality.
The second G.F.F. study was conducted the same way as the first, but looked at children between the ages of 2-18 and yielded similar results. Studies three and four looked more specifically at the nutritional density of grain-based foods, showing that while the category accounts for 14% of all calories consumed, the foods provide a much higher proportion of numerous important nutrients, including fiber and iron.
In the group’s fifth study, the question explored was the theoretical nutrition implications if consumers continue to fail to meet the guidelines’ whole grains recommendations. Mr. Papanikolaou said the research found that if someone consumes 2 whole grain servings per day rather than 3, and 4 enriched grains servings rather than 3, the nutritional difference versus the 50% recommendation is minimal.
Finally, in the sixth study, the researchers note that the caloric density of sandwiches is more a function of what goes between the bread slices or within the roll than of the bread itself. More than half of all sandwiches are made with sausage, burgers or other calorically-dense components. The researchers created a number of other sandwich filling options and were able to reduce the caloric and sodium content of the sandwiches considerably.
Looking forward, Mr. Papanikolaou said an effort is under way to draft a consensus statement about the healthfulness of enriched grains.
“We’re reaching out to influential experts in the field of nutrition per se, but not necessarily grain experts,” he said. “We’re going to have an expert panel discussion, going through the literature and identifying where we think we can build consensus around grains. Also identifying where there are gaps. What’s missing? What would you like to say but can’t because there is no evidence backing it up. And we are presenting this information to an expert panel. Three members of the panel are former Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee members.”Ultimately, the G.F.F. will seek the expert panel’s input and sign off on the consensus statement, which then will be shared with registered dietitians and used to draft input to provide to the next Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.