Sometimes the stars align. I recently visited Portland, Ore., and besides taking some time to see family, hike a mountain and visit some truly amazing bakeries (you can read about one on page 19), the reason for my visit was to attend the Whole Grain Council’s conference: Whole Grains–The New Norm.
But how did the stars align? The first day of the conference happened to be the same day the 2010 dietary guidelines were released, and one of the presenters that day was Eve Essery, Ph.D., a nutritionist for the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. So all of us at the conference got the information straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Before the guidelines were released, speculation abounded about what would be included or not included. Would grains still form the base of the pyramid? Would the pyramid even still exist?
Never fear, the government says grains still are very important to the American diet. However, for the first time, the guidelines are calling out whole grains and stipulating that half of all grain consumption should be made up of whole grain foods.
Dr. Essery explained that two overarching concepts formed the new guidelines. The first, to maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and sustain a healthy weight, is an attempt to address the growing obesity problem in the country. The second is to focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages. Nutrient dense was defined by Dr. Essery as food or beverages that provide vitamins, minerals and other substances that may have positive health effects, with relatively few calories. Whole grains, unsalted nuts and seeds and all fruits and vegetables are identified as nutrient-dense foods. The guidelines also suggest consumers limit the amount of refined grains they consume and should replace refined grains with whole grains at least half the time.
What does this mean for bakers? For bakers using whole grain flour and making products that contain more than 50 percent whole grains, the new guidelines are a boon. As expected, the guidelines also suggest limiting the consumption of sweetgoods that are high in sugar and low in nutrient-dense ingredients. But if you choose to incorporate fruits that are high in antioxidants or other currently buzz-worthy claims, you can emphasize what your product does contain, rather than what it doesn’t. Emphasizing the positive, rather than promoting “free from” is gaining traction throughout the food industry.
So the fears that the government would move away from a grain-based diet never materialized. But as Dr. Essery said, all elements of society, including individuals and families, communities, business and industry and various levels of government, have a positive and productive role to play in the movement to make America healthy.