In a recent letter to the USDA, the grain science body called for a number of changes to the revised Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program, in order to make it easier for participants to reach the goal of increased whole grain consumption.
These focused on three main issues: the types of qualifying whole grain foods and the method used to identify these; the range of products allowed; and the amounts included in the WIC packages.
WIC food packages were designed to provide supplemental foods to address the nutritional needs of low-income pregnant or breastfeeding women as well as infants and children up to five years of age. But the nutritional guidelines have not been updated in over 25 years.
This prompted the USDA to request the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to independently review the food packages, and based on the institute's recommendations, the first comprehensive revisions to the program since 1980 were drawn up.
Last week marked the USDA's deadline for receiving comments for its proposed revisions, which suggested the addition of fruit, vegetables and whole grains to the WIC packages for the fist time.
"We applaud USDA / FNS for recognizing the importance of increasing whole grain consumption for better health and making these changes in the WIC proposal. These changes will help Americans meet the recommendations of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and Healthy People 2010 'to make half your grains whole. (…) The inclusion of whole grains along with increased emphasis on fruits and vegetables and reduction in fat can be are important measures for improving public health," said the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC) International in its letter to the USDA.
However, it also urged for the implementation of certain recommendations that would enable more people to include healthy whole grains in their diet.
In its comments to the USDA, the AACC International said the current WIC definition of whole grain foods is too restrictive, and may not help consumers increase their whole grains consumption. The program's current definitions classify whole grain foods as those containing at least 51 percent whole grain by weight and 1.7g dietary fiber per 30g serving.
Instead, the AACC International proposed that included foods contain a minimum of 8g of whole grain per serving.
The suggestion, which was also backed up by the trade association Grain Foods Foundation in its comments to the USDA, is based on the fact that 8g of whole grains per serving constitutes a "dietarily significant" amount of the grains, and also conforms with the USDA/FSIS established 8g minimum.
In addition, the two groups said that consumers should not be given the message that only 100 percent whole grain products are acceptable, and that "transitional" whole grain goods are important to help people towards accepting more of these foods.
Furthermore, AACC International said it does not support the '51 percent whole grain by weight' proposal as this penalizes higher moisture foods such as bread. And the '1.7g fiber' standard is problematic for grains that naturally have a fiber content substantially lower than wheat, such as brown rice. Additionally, it is important to understand that the benefit of consuming whole grains goes beyond dietary fiber, it said.
A second proposal in the Task Force's letter, again backed up by the Grain Foods Foundation, was that more food choices should be included, to appeal to all ethnic consumer groups. Suggestions included allowing whole grain pasta, whole forms of all grains, and all soft - not fried - whole grain tortillas.
Finally, both organizations advocated that the WIC proposal allow the same amounts of bread for women as for children, rather than offer less bread to adults, as proposed, and to offer this in two 24 oz loaves.
The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service said it received over 20,000 comments on the proposed rule. These will be reviewed, and an interim final rule is expected to be issued no later than September 2007. This will leave the door open for further comments, an FNS spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA.
To access comments received for the proposed WIC revision, click here.