CHICAGO — Processed foods deserve credit — and have earned their place on the plate — for the nutritional benefits they add to the diets of consumers. That message came through loud and clear during the 8th annual Innovations in Baking seminar sponsored by Lallemand/American Yeast Division, and held March 3 at Chicago.

With processed foods coming under increasing attack by critics of the food industry, Lallemand brought in two experts in nutrition and dietary statistics to address such concerns: Connie Weaver, Ph.D., distinguished professor and head of the department of nutrition science at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., and Vincent Fulgoni III, Ph.D., senior vice-president, Nutrition Impact, L.L.C., Battle Creek, Mich.

Fortification of processed foods through enrichment of flour, iodization of salt and vitamin D fortification of milk has a positive impact on human health by eliminating deficiency diseases such as rickets, goiter, pellagra and beri-beri, Dr. Weaver observed. All had been common in the North American population prior to World War II, when enrichment was first mandated by War Food Order No. 1.

Dr. Weaver provided a closer look at vitamin D fortification, which dates to 1919 when scientists found cod liver oil to be effective in preventing rickets in puppies. In 1932, vitamin D was used to fortify milk, and the eradication of rickets soon became evident.

Today, as much as 50% of vitamin B1 and B2 and close to 60% of vitamin D in the diet comes through food fortification, she said. This level of intake proves public health value of the fortification and enrichment of processed foods.

“Without fortified and enriched foods, the problem of shortfall nutrients would be greater,” Dr. Weaver said. Low vitamin D status is linked to various conditions, including osteoporosis, cancer, hypertension and diabetes, emphasizing the need for strategies to improve the vitamin D status of consumers. Dr. Weaver concluded her presentation by identifying new food sources of vitamin D, including bakers yeast whose vitamin D2 content has been increased by exposure to UV light.

A return to minimally processed foods — a frequent recommendation offered by critics of processed foods — would not bring the benefits touted, said Dr. Fulgoni. He detailed the contribution of processed foods to meeting dietary reference intakes (DRI) cited by dietary guidelines to measure of the nutritional quality of the daily diet.

He explained that minimally processed foods only account for about 300 calories per day but do contribute considerable amounts (greater than 20%) of dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, potassium and vitamin B12 to the American diet. Ready-to-eat foods also provide substantial amounts (greater than 20%) of dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, potassium, vitamin B12, folate, and iron but with carry with them added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.

Processed foods are important to American diets, Dr. Fulgoni explained. And he called for greater efforts to help consumers choose processed foods with lower amounts of saturated fats, sodium and added sugars while still providing nutrients that must be encouraged.

He concluded by advising the baking industry to consider ways to further enhance the contribution of grain-based foods to the American diet.

Dr. Weaver and Dr. Fulgoni answered questions from the seminar audience, facilitated by moderator Mark Sabo, president of Sosland Publishing Co., Kansas City.

Clean label was identified as a key development in the North American baking market by the seminar’s final speaker, Laurie Gorton, executive editor of Baking & Snack, Sosland Publishing Co.

She discussed the buzz about clean label and probed the level of understanding about this topic among R.&D. and marketing managers in the grain-based foods industry. Ms. Gorton reported that current knowledge about this topic indicates that the food industry is taking the concept of clean label seriously.

They are working to bring it to the bench and into the market in a serious manner.

Ms. Gorton quoted a formulation expert’s advice that the ideal clean-label product should use multifunctional wholesome ingredients, include zero or few parentheses and avoid fabricated ingredients and synthetics. The formula should have minimal deviation from the original. The finished product should offer comparable cost to similar items, and it should be nutrient-dense, rather than containing what consumers view as empty calories

“Do the bench work,” she told seminar participants. “Dissect the current formula first. The idea is to retain ingredients that provide the product’s key attributes and figure out which ingredients offer the best opportunity to transition to clean-label alternatives at the least sacrifice in quality.”

Lallemand/American Yeast sponsors such seminars to explore vital issues in bakery and snack food formulation. The company’s web site,, offers profiles of its ingredients.