Snack Industry Responds to Call for More Whole Grains
By Ann Przybyla Wilkes
SFA V.P. of Communications
Increased whole-grain consumption could reduce Americans’ risk to a number of diseases; yet, consumption is much lower than recommended levels. Whole grains were specifically recommended in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans for the first time in 2000. The proposed 2005 Dietary Guidelines, released August 27 in the Federal Register, recommends three 1-oz. servings a day of whole grains.
The Dietary Guidelines revisions, along with the critical mass of science accumulated over the last 10 years, are behind an increased emphasis encouraging consumers to eat more whole grains. The Whole Grains Council, formed in 2003, summarizes the benefits of consuming whole grains on its Web site, www.wholegrainscouncil.org:
“People who eat whole grains regularly have a lower risk of obesity, as measured by their body mass index and waist-to-hip ratios. They also have lower cholesterol levels. Because of the phytochemicals and antioxidants, people who eat three daily servings of whole grains have been shown to reduce their risk of heart disease by 25-36%, stroke by 37%, Type II diabetes by 21-27%, digestive-system cancers by 21-43%, and hormone-related cancers by 10-40%.”
Despite the benefits from whole-grain consumption, currently, average consumption is less than one serving per day. Twenty percent of adults on any given day never knowingly consume any whole-grain products, Dr. Julie Miller Jones, Professor of Nutrition and Food Science, College of St. Catherine, reported at “Whole Grains Go Mainstream,” a scientific and culinary conference, held Nov. 14-16 in New Orleans. Forty percent of teenagers never knowingly consume any whole-grain products on any given day, she said.
Jones suggested that the best way to increase whole-grain consumption is for companies to increase the whole-grain content of food products such as tortilla chips, bread and cereals. This particularly would help the segment of the population who never choose whole grains, she added, explaining that the lowest socioeconomic groups are the least likely to consume whole grains, yet, could especially benefit from increased whole-grain consumption.
A particular challenge exists in convincing those who eat only refined grains, such as white bread and cereal, to incorporate whole grains in their diets, according to Dr. Ken Marquart, University of Minnesota and chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Whole Grains Council. He told SFA that one of the reasons we are not consuming the recommended level of whole grains is a lack of availability of consumer-friendly products that appeal to children, and noted a need for food manufacturers to conduct more research in this area.
Efforts are being made in the snack food industry to help Americans increase their intake of whole grains by incorporating them into more snack products. At present, popcorn and some varieties of pretzels, corn snacks, tortilla chips and snack bars include whole grains. Although bread is the main source of whole grains in the diet, whole-grain snacks provided 21% of the whole grain in Americans’ diets in 2000. Speaking at the “Whole Grain Go Mainstream” conference, Robert Brown, Ph.D., Frito-Lay, Inc., suggested that snack food manufacturers could develop corn/tortilla chips, crispbreads (whole-grain wheat or rye), whole-wheat crackers and pretzels, popcorn, rice cakes and whole-grain cereals to increase the availability of whole-grain snacks.
In the whole-grain market, Frito-Lay offers SunChips. More than 60 million lbs. of SunChips are sold per year, providing roughly 2.8 million whole-grain servings per day. SunChips are made with whole corn, whole wheat and whole oat flour and are fried in NuSun (sunflower) oil that is rich in mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Sales of PepsiCo.’s healthier choice products — or Smart Spot products, marked with a green circle — are up 8% this year over the same period a year ago, compared with 5% growth in its overall U.S. business, as reported in The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 6, 2004.
Miles Willard Technology has developed prototypes of whole-grain snacks for clients. Veldon Hix, research manager at Miles Willard Technology, explains that for whole grains to be used in snacks, they need to be pre-cooked and pre-gelatinized. The amount of grains that can be added is limited by the need for cohesive dough. He explained that the formulation has to result in a dough matrix that can be sheeted or formed into shapes, such as flat chips, curved chips or rings through extrusion. The cohesiveness of the dough can be affected by including ingredients such as specialty starches or potato flakes, Hix added.
When a company approaches Miles Willard Technology about developing a new snack product that incorporates whole grains, the first step is to define the parameters, said Hix. The client needs to determine if the finished product will be extruded or sheeted; baked or fried; and what flavors the product should have. In the case of baked-grain snacks, care has to be taken not to over-toast it or a scorched-like flavor could result.
Flavors for whole-grain snacks can range from wheat to multi-grain or added flavor, like cheese.
The flavors need to be heat resistant, Hix cautioned. Research in this area has focused on encapsulation methods that will protect flavors during the heat process.
Barley is high in fiber, beta-glucan, phenolic antioxidants, vitamins E and B-complex vitamins. To take advantage of these qualities, Dr. Nancy Ames and others at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada have been conducting research aimed at incorporating barley in food products. Barley chips and nut-like snacks, produced by popping and spicing the barley to produce a nutty flavor, are two of the snacks produced by the group.
The barley chips were made by first milling barley into fractions, blending it and then processing it into 100% barley chips at a commercial facility. Corn chips were made for a comparison taste test. In the test, 222 consumers rated the barley chips higher in flavor and lower in appearance. The participants were not told about the health benefits of barley. Sixty-four percent of the participants indicated they liked the barley chips by selecting six or higher on a 9-point hedonic scale (9 = liked extremely).
A new ingredient from ConAgra Food Ingredients may help snack food manufacturers develop whole-grain snacks with widespread appeal. Ultragrain — an all-natural, unenriched whole-grain flour — was created using a patent-pending milling technique. The process eliminates visible bran specks, resulting in a flour that has a taste and texture similar to white flour products. Yet, Ultragrain provides whole-grain nutrition, with increased phytonutrients and four to five times the levels of potassium, magnesium, zinc, copper, B vitamins (Niacin and thiamine) and fiber found in unenriched, refined flour.
Ultragrain is being tested for use in a wide variety of products, including cookies and crackers. This whole-grain flour is designed to make whole-grain foods more consumer-friendly, especially for children. Ultragrain flours are available in a variety of specially selected wheat including: white wheat, durum, hard wheat, soft wheat and spring wheat.
Small increases in the whole-grain content of foods, such as snacks and other processed foods, will have significant public-health importance in the prevention of chronic disease, notes Joanne Slavin, Professor of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota.
She encourages the food industry to think creatively about how to include whole grains in food products and how to clearly label whole-grain ingredients to make them easy for consumers to identify.