KANSAS CITY — Increasing by one the recommended daily servings of whole grains has been recommended in comments to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee by industry groups representing grain-based foods. Scientific research the “Grain Chain” uses to support the suggested addition points to the power of both the federal government and the grain-based foods industry to be catalysts of positive change.
For 15 years, the guidelines have recommended consumption of six servings of grains daily, with whole grains accounting for at least half of the servings. In their comments, the group recommends maintaining the six servings at a minimum. In addition, the Grain Chain is asking the guidelines committee to add an additional whole grain serving “to bolster educational information and messaging for consumers around the nutritional benefits of higher whole grain consumption.”
To make its case, the group cited a 2019 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine showing a sharp increase in consumption of whole grains after the guidelines for U.S. Department of Agriculture school meals were revised to require half of grains served be whole grain-rich. In 2007-08, before the guidelines were changed, 8.6 per cent of grains consumed at schools were whole grains. By 2013-14, the figure jumped to 21.5 per cent. The group said the research offers “valuable insight into the potential impact of federal nutrition policy on consumer behavior.”
The study cited by the Grain Chain demonstrates the power of federal policy to bring about healthier eating. While the school meal guidelines remain controversial (and have been loosened), the 21.5 per cent share of grains intake achieved in schools makes the goal of 50 per cent for whole grains seem attainable.
The study offers other insights about whole grains intake that merit examination by grain-based foods executives. It is rich in data about consumption of whole grains by schoolchildren dating back to the early 1990s, at school, at home and at restaurants. Of interest are data showing a decrease in intake of whole grains among schoolchildren before the 2005 Dietary Guidelines recommendations that at least half of grains intake should be whole grains. Whole grains intake from a period beginning in 1994 to one ending in 2004 fell by more than 25 per cent, to 0.49 ounces per day from 0.66.
After the recommendations were changed in 2005 but before the school guidelines were tightened, meaningful progress was made in elevating whole grains intake among schoolchildren. Importantly, progress was made at home and not at schools. During the period beginning in 2004 and ending in 2012, whole grains consumed at home jumped by nearly 50 per cent, to 0.62 ounces per day, from 0.42. Particularly impressive is such gains occurred among children, a group believed to be particularly resistant to whole wheat foods. The increase shows consumers responded positively to a wave of whole grain product innovation during this period. While whole grain-rich new products were introduced by numerous companies, particular emphasis was given to this opportunity by Sara Lee Corp. with its Soft and Smooth bread made with a blend of enriched flour and ultra-fine whole wheat, and ConAgra’s Ultragrain white whole wheat flour. Additionally, the Whole Grains Council launched its Whole Grain Stamp in 2005 to offer consumers a visual cue to help them identify whole grain foods.
Over the last several years, the pace of innovation in whole grains foods has ebbed. This slowdown has been particularly evident in data showing flat production of whole wheat flour over the last several years. Whole wheat flour production accounted for 5 per cent of all U.S. flour production in 2018, down from 5.7 per cent in 2014. The share was below 5 per cent in the first three quarters of 2019. The addition of another whole grains serving by the Dietary Guidelines Committee would represent a welcome injection of energy for the introduction of new whole grain-rich foods.