ALEXANDRIA, VA. — Finding ways to increase whole grains intake at schools was of central interest at the "Make (at least!) half your grains whole" conference sponsored by the Whole Grains Council and Oldways Preservation Trust. More than 150 representatives of the grain-based foods industry, academia, government, school food service and media gathered to discuss whole grains at the Alexandria Westin hotel April 20-22.

The conference, the fourth such event sponsored by the W.G.C. since 2002, is viewed as a forum for discussing the challenges of increasing whole grains intake, making sense out of research and reaching new markets. For the first time the conference featured an informational session that provided participants an opportunity to ask questions of some of the exhibitors and presenters as well as network.

A highlight of this year’s meeting was a sharp focus on finding ways to increase whole grains consumption within school food programs. Representatives from school food service programs offered insight into initiatives that are working successfully as well as those that aren’t, urging manufacturers in the audience to continue to strive to develop healthy, great tasting products that are affordable.

With discussion of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans under way, regulations and labeling also garnered interest, as representatives from the government provided updates on how whole grains fit into other nutrition promotion programs.

Consumer behavior was addressed in several presentations, with data from research firms such as the NPD Group and Rodale suggesting consumers still are not fully comfortable in their understanding of what defines a whole grain, but at the same time showing a willingness to want to eat whole grains as part of healthier lifestyle.

Cooking demonstrations, a staple of past W.G.C. conferences, again provided participants an opportunity to see how easy preparing meals with whole grains may be.

With such a diverse group of participants gathered in the Washington area, K. Dun Gifford, secretary-treasurer of the W.G.C. and president and founder of Oldways, remarked at the outset of the conference that the opportunity to attract global attention to the whole grains cause may never be greater with the "ultimate game changer" just down the street — residing in the White House.

"We hope that you all will agree that we can send a polite, respectful piece of correspondence to our president and his family that they must take the lead showing an example of whole grains at every meal," he said. "It’s delicious, healthy, inexpensive and good, and they must do it at congressional breakfasts and state dinners."

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