June 1, 2006
By Lori Dahm
New whole grain products not only offer health benefits, but they taste good, too.
When the federal government revised its Dietary Guidelines and restructured its Food Guide Pyramid last year, the changes helped push whole grains into the limelight, particularly because of the coinciding influence of the South Beach Diet, which identifies whole grains as a healthier source of carbohydrates.
Although the immediacy of those factors has diminished, the popularity of whole grains has not. Products bearing the “whole grains” claim continue to disappear from store shelves as sales soar.
Meanwhile, the variety of whole grain snacks and baked goods available to consumers is improving. Many “made with whole grain” bakery foods now have texture and taste more akin to the sensory attributes of the refined white flour products that many consumers prefer.
The current whole grains market scenario is a win-win for consumers, bakers, snack producers and suppliers. Consumers are trying to eat more grains because they understand the positive impact that doing so has upon their health. Meanwhile, new whole grain ingredients are spurring innovative new products development.
What’s in a Name?
Although “whole grains” label demarcations became widely popular following the release of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines, the Food and Drug Administration only recently set the definition for whole grains, releasing a statement of draft guidelines in February of this year.
The government notes that whole-grain foods should contain the three key ingredients of cereal grains — bran (the fiber-filled outer part of the kernel), endosperm (the inner part and usually all that is left in most processed grains) and the germ (the heart of the grain kernel). These three ingredients need to be present in the same relative proportion as they exist naturally in the intact caryopsis [for a food to carry the whole grain label].
These guidelines align with the definition originally established by the American Association of Cereal Chemists and are a way for the FDA to help ensure that products bearing a “whole grains” label truly include the germ and bran part of the grain, along with the endosperm. Prior to the FDA effort to regulate which type of products could bear a “whole grains” label, products labeled “stone ground” or “7-Grain” were confusing consumers as to whether such products included whole grains.
Now that whole grain products are becoming more consistently defined, the snack food and wholesale baking industry is moving toward a unified “whole grain” label and corresponding logo.
“One of the issues that is really important right now is the labeling issue, because a regulated whole grains food label has yet to catch up with the recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines,” says Marcia Scheideman, president of the Wheat Foods Council, Parker, Colo. “The continuation down this path is critical to eliminate confusion for consumers.”
While labeling issues have been muddied, what has been clear is the health message about whole grain foods. Research with whole grains continues to unveil further health benefits.
“Research has provided solid data in the past five to 10 years on how the three different components of the whole grain kernel are identified as decreasing the risk of a number of different chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and decreasing the risk of certain cancers, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract,” Scheideman says.
In addition, she notes, “studies have shown that whole grains are directly related to being able to manage one’s weight. This hasn’t received a lot of press, but studies show a direct correlation between people who consume whole grains gaining less weight or being able to maintain their weight during their middle-aged years.”
Data from Wheat Foods Council (published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nov. 2004 vol. 80(5):1237-45) demonstrates that middle-aged men who eat three or more servings of whole grains a day typically gain 3.5 lb. less than their non-whole grain-eating counterparts.
The press coverage from the Dietary Guidelines and the restructured Food Guide Pyramid were enough on their own to result in a push for more whole grains from consumers and also from manufacturers.
Consumers Take Small Steps
Because most of the flour used in the food industry is enriched white flour, consumers have become accustomed to the taste of it. As a result, whole-wheat flour often is perceived as more bitter.
In addition, the texture and appearance of products derived from whole-wheat flour historically have been poor, partly because the bran interfered with the gluten in whole-wheat flour, resulting in bread loaves rising less, and therefore, being more dense and crumbly. Shelf life problems, too, have plagued whole-wheat products because the oil in the whole kernel causes whole-wheat products to go rancid much more quickly.
However, the newest ingredients available to the snack food and wholesale baking industry eliminate some of these sensory or functional problems. For example, the market is seeing a wave of breads that are made from a different type of wheat than the more commonly used red wheat. The whole grain products from this newly available wheat include Sara Lee Ultra White Whole Wheat, several varieties of Wonder bread and General Mills’ Country Hearth bread. All of these products are made of all or partial whole-wheat grain.
“The traditional whole grain breads and cereals that we are used to seeing in the marketplace are made from red wheat, which is the most prevalent wheat and is currently grown in much larger quantities,” Scheideman says.
“Although hard white wheat has been available for a while, it is harder to grow and therefore not available in as large a quantity as hard red wheat,” she explains. “We are just seeing it appear on the market. Nutritionally, white wheat is the same as red wheat, which is good news for the breads that use this newly available whole grain because they taste similar to the enriched white flour products that we are used to.”
Other possibilities for creating whole grain products that don’t suffer from sensory challenges include using additional ingredients, such as oats, to help offset certain functional issues. Moreover, these ingredients can enhance the nutritional value of whole grain products.
“As with most cereal processing, OatWell ingredients are dry-milled and separated into component parts — high fiber oat bran and oat flour fractions,” says Scott Dumler, president at Oat Ingredients LLC, Boulder, Colo. “In most cereal grain processing, these ingredients are stabilized and combined to provide a ‘whole grain’ ingredient. Many whole grain ingredients introduced to the market in response to the current whole grain demand are highly refined grains that are re-constituted in order to meet the whole grain definition.”
OatWell Oat Bran and OatWell Oat Flour could be considered whole grains if combined in a formula which complies with the FDA definition — that the three principal anatomical components of a whole grain kernel are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact caryopsis, Dumler notes.
Because of the label claims possible with oats, the OatWell Oat Bran ingredients can be used alongside whole grains in products to yield specific FDA-approved health claims.
However, some products may claim “whole grains” on the label, but they contain other ingredients that would seem to diminish the foods’ overall health benefits. For example, many kids’ cereals list “whole grains” on the cereal box, but on the ingredient legend, they seem laden with sugar.
“Certainly, some products that contain whole grains are healthier than others, and there are some cereals out there that are really more like candy than cereal. But you know, it’s not really a bad thing to add whole grains to those products, either,” Scheideman says. “It still gives kids who are consuming those cereals a source of whole grains.”
According to the International Food Information Council in Washington, D.C., 64% of consumers are trying to increase the amount of whole grains in their diets. And snack and bakery food producers are continuing to push whole grains, as well.
The Wheat Foods Council recommends that consumers attempt to gradually build whole grains into their diet, perhaps initially adding half of the whole grains recommended each day and working up to the recommended daily intake. Scheideman recommends that consumers try eating sandwiches with one slice white wheat and one slice whole wheat if that is the only way they can transition to eating whole grains.
“But really, the whole grain products that are on the market today are so much improved from what was available 10 or 15 years ago,” Scheideman explains. “We have some really good products out there, and sales data show that more whole grain products are selling today than ever before.”
“Consumers are interested in eating healthier overall, and their first decision motivator will always be taste,” she adds. “We are fortunate because we are seeing the technology rapidly improve to meet these taste expectations. It is similar to what happened a decade ago with the low-fat or fat-free products, where initial products were less desirable than the products possible from today’s technology. And the whole grain products are destined to continue improving in the same way.”
Editor’s Note: Lori Dahm is executive editor of Stagnito’s New Products Magazine. This article appeared in the June 2006 issue of the publication.
New Whole Grain Stamp
Although the Food & Drug Administration’s definition of whole grain still is in the draft stage, the Whole Grains Council has moved forward and launched Phase II of its Whole Grain Stamp program, complete with a new design. The new stamp retains the same black-and-gold graphics as the original, but the words have been changed to offer more information and to better define what qualifies as whole-grain product to consumers.
To remind consumers how this amount contributes to their daily needs for whole grain, the text directly below the stamp says, “Eat 48 gm. or More of Whole Grains Daily.” This information replaces the former wording of “Good Source” and “Excellent Source” of whole grains.
Standards for qualifying products remain the same as in Phase I. Products must contain at least 8 gm. (half of a FDA Food Pyramid serving) of whole grain in order to use the stamp. Stamps on products with at least 16 gm. (a full “Pyramid” serving) of whole grain also may add “100%” if all the grain in the product is whole grain. The new graphics became available in June.