'Refined grains' smaller villain in U.S. Dietary Guidelines

by World Grain Staff
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — Even as the basic recommendations regarding grains intake have been left unchanged in the 2015-2020 edition of the Dietary Guidelines, a marked shift in tone is evident from the 2010 edition. “Refined grains,” which held center stage in the earlier recommendations as an ingredient to be avoided with solid fats, added sugars and excessive alcohol, have a far more modest presence in the latest edition.

“Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-20, Eighth Edition,” was posted Jan. 7 on the health.gov website. The Guidelines are published every five years as a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Targeted toward policymakers and health professionals rather than the general public, the Guidelines are used to help shape USDA and HHS food programs, such as the National School Lunch Program. The Guidelines are developed based on recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

As was the case in the 2010 Guidelines, the 2015-20 edition recommends consumption of six ounce-equivalent servings of grains per day (in a 2,000 calorie diet) with at least half consumed as whole grains. It also urges a cutback in consumption of refined grains.

“Healthy eating patterns include whole grains and limit the intake of refined grains and products made with refined grains, especially those high in saturated fats, added sugars, and/or sodium, such as cookies, cakes, and some snack foods,” the new Guidelines state. “The grains food group includes grains as single foods (e.g., rice, oatmeal and popcorn), as well as products that include grains as an ingredient (e.g., breads, cereals, crackers and pasta). Grains are either whole or refined. Whole grains (e.g., brown rice, quinoa and oats) contain the entire kernel, including the endosperm, bran and germ. Refined grains differ from whole grains in that the grains have been processed to remove the bran and germ, which removes dietary fiber, iron and other nutrients.”

The guidance distinguishes whole grains and refined grains but notes that the latter generally are enriched. It continues:

“Considerations: Individuals who eat refined grains should choose enriched grains. Those who consume all of their grains as whole grains should include some grains, such as some whole grain ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, that have been fortified with folic acid. This is particularly important for women who are or are capable of becoming pregnant, as folic acid fortification in the United States has been successful in reducing the incidence of neural tube defects during fetal development. Although grain products that are high in added sugars and saturated fats, such as cookies, cakes and some snack foods, should be limited, as discussed in the Added Sugars and Saturated Fats sections below, grains with some added sugars and saturated fats can fit within healthy eating patterns.”

The recommendations go on to offer suggestions of ways to shift from refined grains to enriched grains, but does not paint refined grains with the broad brush stroke evident in the 2010 Guidelines, instead distinguishing between energy dense and other grain-based foods.

“Another strategy is to cut back on refined grain desserts and sweet snacks such as cakes, cookies and pastries, which are high in added sugars, solid fats, or both, and are a common source of excess calories,” the new Guidelines state. “Choosing both whole and refined grain foods in nutrient-dense forms, such as choosing plain popcorn instead of buttered, bread instead of croissants, and English muffins instead of biscuits also can help in meeting recommendations for a healthy eating pattern.”

In its summary of shifts needed in dietary habits, the 2015-2020 Guidelines again urges reduced intake of refined grains.

“The U.S. population, across almost every age and sex group, consumes eating patterns that are low in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, dairy, seafood, and oil and high in refined grains, added sugars, saturated fats, sodium, and for some age-sex groups, high in the meats, poultry, and eggs subgroup,” the Guidelines said.

Still, the more nuanced approach in the latest edition appears to reflect feedback from the grain-based foods industry. Even early last year, the DGAC recommendations seemed consistent with earlier Guidelines in lumping “enriched grains in the refined grains category,” a characterization criticized by the industry as inaccurate.

The 2010 Guidelines referred to “refined grains” nearly 80 times, generally calling intake excessive. By contrast, refined grains are missing in many such references in the 2015-2020 Guidelines, including the following basic advice:

“Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.”
 

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