Whole Truths from a Grainy Trend
“Communicating about the whole-grain content of foods is important for food companies, so this guidance by the FDA has been eagerly awaited,” said Robert Earl, MPH, RD, senior director of nutrition for the Food Products Association. “By clarifying what is a whole-grain serving, the FDA's new draft guidance gives the food industry a tool to communicate the health benefits of whole grains to all consumers via the food label,” notes the Grocery Manufacturers Association's senior director of scientific and nutrition policy, Alison Kretser.
“At least half of your daily grains should be whole” is the current science-based 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommendation. A minimum of three or more ounce-equivalents of whole grains daily can cut heart disease, cancer and diabetes risk, as well as help with weight control. Such benefits are uniquely independent of any isolated fiber component within whole grains.
The guidelines define whole grains as consisting of “the entire grain seed, usually called the kernel. The kernel is made of three components—the bran, the germ and the endosperm. If the kernel has been cracked, crushed or flaked, then it must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, germ and endosperm as the original grain.”
Whole Grain is Hot“Surveys show whole grain is a top draw for getting consumer attention in the grocery store. Awareness is driving the category. The worst thing to do is confuse consumers,” advised Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies at the Oldways Preservation Trust's “Getting Whole Grains to 3” conference, held in January 2006 in Orlando and co-sponsored by the Whole Grains Council (WGC).
Oldways, known as “the Boston-based food issues think tank,” brought together healthy eating advocates and the nation's food industry leaders to strategize ways to help consumers get more whole grains into their everyday meals.
Sponsors of the “Getting Whole Grains to 3” conference included Knorr®-Lipton® Sides™, National Sorghum Producers, Panera Bread, Nature's Path, Barbara's Bakery, Bob's Red Mill, General Mills, Harvest Time Bread, King Arthur Flour, Quaker Oats, Roman Meal, Rubschlager Baking, Snyder's of Hanover, Uncle Ben's/Masterfoods USA and the USA Rice Federation.
In a study sponsored by ConAgra—cited by Judi Adams of the Grain Foods Foundation in her presentation at the “Whole Grains and Health” conference held in Minneapolis in May of last year—some 76% of consumers said whole grains are important for health. In the same study, 42% of respondents said taste was most important in choosing a product, while 24% cited nutrition as most important.
Yet, when it comes to actually meeting the Dietary Guidelines, consumers are unaware of the whole-grain gap in their own diets:
* Some 71% of consumers think they get enough whole grains, when in fact only about 10% get the recommended three servings per day. (Adalia Espinosa, MS, RD, WIC nutrition coordinator, General Mills Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition, during a presentation at the “Whole Grains and Health” conference in Minneapolis, May 2005.)
* Less than one fifth of American adults recognize that at least one half of their total daily grain intakes should be composed of whole grains. (“Whole Grains at Home Meals” survey of 2,051 adults, December 2005, sponsored by the WGC and Knorr-Lipton Sides Made with Whole Grains.)
At the whole-grains conference, Christiane Paul, marketing director, Knorr-Lipton Sides with Whole Grains, Unilever, identified consumers' lack of knowledge during her presentation: “They don't know what whole grains are, how much to consume daily or why they should.” Whole-grain consumption decreases after morning, she added; “They are missing key opportunities to eat whole grains during the day.”
According to a December 2005 survey sponsored by the WGC and Knorr, snacks and breakfast cereals account for almost 75% of whole grains consumed. Half of all cereals and nearly half of snacks are considered whole grain. Some 36% of all whole grains are eaten at breakfast, 33% as snacks, 15% each at lunch and dinner.
Eric Hentges, PhD, director, Center for Nutrition Promotion and Policy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, concluded his keynote address at the whole-grains conference with this thought, “We've had good science, but all of that does nothing until we have good implementation.”
Industry IssuesDescribing some of the challenges created in the manufacture of whole grains as compared to refined white flour, Sue Moore, director of product development at BAMA Foods, noted that because they contain the germ, whole grains have a shorter shelflife than standard refined flours. Thus, they require alternative inventory, storage, delivery and sanitation systems management considerations.
Hydration or pre-cooking to soften some grains prior to use in dough mixers might be needed. Furthermore, standard formulations, mix times and procedures on existing equipment usually must be altered, as they were developed for refined white flour products and to ensure optimal production rates for price competitiveness. Factors to consider include finished product texture, cell structure, flavor, baked crust color, height and volume, as some whole-grain products are more dense and compact. Additional micro studies and ingredients to ensure safety may be required for shelf-stable products.
“Most consumers still want their biscuits, pie crusts and pizza dough to have the visual white appearance, with proper baked brown crust colors and volume,” observed Moore. “Whole grains can create texture changes not accepted by consumers and impart bitter flavor notes. Salt and sugar may be increased or flavor systems added to help mask the bitterness.” She noted the industry has reacted to this with suppliers continuing to find sources of different types of wheat that provide a more “white refined flour color” and less bitterness, with a focus on low cost or driving costs equal to those of white refined flour, and assured supply.
Sales of whole-grain foods have increased, due in no small part to efforts by companies such as General Mills (which converted its Big G cereal line to at least half a serving of whole grains per bowl) and Frito-Lay, which has stated the goal of increasing whole grains throughout its portfolio. Nevertheless, 40% of Americans say locating whole-grain foods at their store is a challenge, according to a WGC/Knorr-Lipton “Made with Whole Grains” survey unveiled at the conference.
K. Dun Gifford, president of Oldways and a lead founder of the WGC, said consumer surveys make clear that consumers want to eat more whole grains, but are bewildered by the clutter of whole-grain claims in advertisements and on packaging.
“For consumption to increase, consumers need a way to identify what is whole grain,” said Harriman.
Instant Whole-grain IdentityAlthough the Dietary Guidelines recommend 50% or more grains as whole grains, only about 10% of the grains in supermarkets are whole grains. Committed to helping manufacturers, retailers and restaurants create delicious whole-grain products so consumers can enjoy more of them and increase consumption for better health, the WGC is a non-profit consortium of industry, scientists and chefs that work with Oldways Preservation Trust. The council's many initiatives include helping consumers find whole-grain foods and understand their health benefits, and helping the media to write accurate, compelling stories about whole grains.
In early 2005, the WGC launched its consumer-friendly Whole Grain Stamp graphic, intended to serve as a “universal packaging symbol for foods delivering a dietarily significant amount of whole grains,” and make it easier to find, identify and buy foods containing a half or a full “guideline's” serving of whole grains per labeled serving. This stamp system clearly indicates whole-grain content to consumers, creating a quick and easy way to recognize products for reaching the daily recommended 48g (three servings) or more.
The WGC also found drawbacks in an existing FDA whole-grain health claim and concluded that 51% whole grain by weight is difficult for moist foods like bread, and the 11% fiber proxy leaves out grains like rice, cornmeal, quinoa and millet. “It's not graphic and eye-catching, and it doesn't work; in the six years since its introduction, there has been no increase in whole-grain consumption,” said Harriman.
Oldways believes its consumer-friendly Whole Grain Stamp helps consumers transition by enabling quick identification of the amount of dietarily significant whole grains in products with different levels of content by highlighting cross-category foods made from all varieties of whole grains.
Any product—from breads to breakfast bars, cereals to side dishes, crackers to cakes, and pizza to pasta—can be evaluated to bear the Whole Grain Stamp. Companies who join the WGC submit qualifying product compliance information for each proposed product to meet one of the levels and receive graphic files and guidance from the council to help them quickly add the Whole Grain Stamp to the packaging of their validated products. There are no additional per-package royalty fees associated with the stamp usage for members.
To use the stamp, companies are increasing grains, the council notes, to reach the next level if they were already close. “The easiest way for people to eat healthier is to add health benefits to foods they already like,” Harriman noted. The stamp appears on over 600 products, the largest share in breads and bagels (33%), hot cereals (20%), side dishes (12%), and cold cereals (10%) and also on baking mixes, flour, pasta, snacks, tortillas/wraps, bars, cookies, cakes and muffins, pizza/crust, soups and veggie burgers. About half are “100% Excellent” products, and another third are the “Excellent” level.
“Products with the stamp are flying off shelves; we can't keep them in stock,” said Andrews. This observation was echoed by Shari Steinbach, MS, RD, corporate dietitian, Meijer's Markets, “Buyers see an increase in whole-grain bread, pasta and cereal.”
The WGC plans to create a kit of graphics and whole-grain references for supermarkets, and to focus on menu plans that are more meal “assembly” than recipe preparation, so consumers can choose from “out of the box,” “heat and eat,” or “quick cooking” to learn about whole-grain foods that match their lifestyle.
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