More and more people are recognizing the important role whole grains play in a healthy diet.
More and more people are recognizing the important role whole grains play in a healthy diet. The latest scientific research demonstrates that eating more whole grains may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Whole-grain products provide important nutrients, including carbohydrates, B vitamins (e.g., thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and folate), iron, zinc, magnesium, fibre and numerous phytochemicals. The health support associated with whole-grain products cannot be attributed to any one nutrient. It is more likely the nutrients work together with other naturally occurring components to provide an overall health benefit.
Clients ask me whether or not whole-wheat flour is the same as whole-grain flour. In 2007, when the latest edition of Canada’s Food Guide was released, the recommendation “make half your grains whole, each day” was made to encourage the population to consume a variety of grains, including wheat, oats, barley, pasta and rice. Since that release, I’ve been getting the whole wheat versus whole grain question more often.
The consumer confusion continues to stem from the terms whole wheat and whole grain being used interchangeably by marketers, food writers, non-food health professionals, media personalities and other consumers. What makes things even more complicated is that the Canadian food regulations have standardized the composition of whole-wheat flours, which in their wording: “shall contain the natural constituents of the wheat berry (kernel) to the extent not less than 95% of the total weight of the wheat from which it is milled.” However, at this time there is no standard of identity for the term whole-grain flour.
When wheat is milled to make flour in Canada, the parts of the grain are usually separated and then are recombined to make specific types of flour, such as whole wheat, whole grain, pastry and all-purpose white flour. If all parts of the kernel are used in the same relative proportion as they exist in the original kernel, then the flour is “considered” whole grain. Under the Canadian food regulations, up to five per cent of the kernel can be removed to help reduce rancidity and prolong the shelf life of whole-wheat flour. The portion of the kernel that is removed for this purpose contains much of the germ and some of the bran. If this portion of the kernel has been removed, the flour would no longer be considered whole grain. Just when you think the answer to the flour question is becoming clearer – the term “stone ground” refers to milling the entire kernel, including the germ. Therefore, stone-ground bread essentially is whole-grain.
There is not mandatory enrichment or fortification for “whole” wheat flours. However, for population health, white flour requires enrichment to restore the vitamin and mineral lost during the milling process. Enriched white flours must contain added thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and iron at the levels prescribed by the Canadian food regulations. In addition, vitamin B6, d-pantothenic acid, magnesium and calcium may also be added at prescribed levels. Added nutrients must be declared in the Nutrition Facts table.
The Canadian National Millers Association (CNMA) has had a particular interest in health claims since a number of generic health claims for grain-based foods have been approved in the U.S., Canada’s largest trading partner and export market. In addition, despite the mandatory enrichment of wheat flour with folic acid, neither millers nor bakery product companies are permitted to state in product labels or advertising the public health reason for fortification with folic acid. CNMA continues to advocate responsible use of health claims. In 2009, Health Canada declared its intention to proceed to approve a generic claim for whole grains and for folic acid (folate). Health Canada is proposing to approve two additional health claims that relate to cereal grain foods. They are:
- A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables, fruit and whole-grain products and reduced risk of heart disease.
- A diet rich in folate along with a daily folic acid supplement and reduced risk of having a baby with a birth defect of the brain or spinal cord.
Dietitians and sector groups such as the CNMA will continue to educate consumers that whole-wheat bread is made with whole-wheat flour and as sold in Canada, whole-wheat flour may have much of the germ removed. Therefore, 100 per cent whole wheat bread may not be whole grain. And until a definition of whole grain is legislated, consumers are advised to read the ingredient list on the package label, inquiry with manufacturer and/or baker to identify the type of flour and ingredients used.
Jane Dummer, RD, is a leading dietitian for the Canadian food and nutrition industry. Jane offers services specializing in agri-food, functional foods and food safety. For more information, visit www.janedummer.com .
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