The Wheat Foods Council is defending the health attributes of enriched grains and white flour.
The council recently drafted a letter supporting enriched grains following a Nov. 12 article in the Washington Post about “healthful alternatives” to baking with white flour. Author Casey Seidenberg said refined white flour is called “the white devil” by many in the nutrition community and claims most of the essential minerals are lost during the enrichment process.
Enriched white flour is the finely ground endosperm of the wheat kernel. Many of the nutrients that are milled out are replaced through enrichment or fortification, according to the council.
“It’s an easy target to talk about enriched grains, because when you take the bran and the germ out, you do lose a lot of nutrients,” said council president Judi Adams. “But they always forget, and we keep trying to tell them, three main B vitamins are added back in equal or in one case, double amount. There’s twice as much folic acid in there.”
In the letter, the council says enriched flour is the primary source of folic acid. The Centers for Disease Prevention and Prevention (CDC) say enriched grains, primarily wheat, are responsible for dramatically lowering the rate of neural tube birth defects by approximately one-third in the United States. The CDC named folic acid fortification of enriched grains as one of the top 10 public health achievements of the last decade.
“White flour may be enriched with ‘synthetic’ vitamins – i.e., vitamins that have been made in a laboratory rather than by a plant – but clearly they are well-absorbed as illustrated by the effect they have had on the health of infants,” the letter states.
The letter says it’s a stretch to blame white flour for weight gain in the United States, noting that U.S. wheat consumption has decreased 13 pounds per capita since 1997 as obesity has skyrocketed.
Weight gain is a matter of calories from all sources, not one particular food or group, according to the council. The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans call for the average American to consume six one-ounce servings of grain foods daily, half from whole grain sources and the other half from enriched sources. When followed correctly at an appropriate calorie level, the guidelines have been shown to be nutritionally balanced, aid in weight management and reduce risk of disease.
“Unfortunately, less than 5 percent of Americans actually follow the guidelines,” the letter states.
Adams estimates she writes six response letters a year to instances of enriched grain “bashing.”
“Whole grains are the darling, and they should be – they’re great, they’re nutritious, they’re important, but enriched grains are important too, for women of a childbearing age,” she said.
Adams said the council is working to get correct information about enriched grains to dieticians.
About 95 percent of white flour in the United States is enriched. Adams doesn’t expect federal regulations regarding whole or enriched grains to change. The council will continue to promote current dietary guideline recommendations, she said.