By MATTHEW WEAVER
A rule requiring school meals to include mostly whole grain foods could shed a bad light on foods containing enriched grains, an industry leader says.
Judi Adams, president and CEO of the Wheat Foods Council, said schools are working to increase the amount of whole grains in meals. The reasoning is that some students may never see those products at home, compared to enriched grain products like white bread, white flour and white rice.
The bran and fiber are removed in refined grain, but B vitamins like folic acid are added back into enriched grains, according to the USDA.
USDA is requiring that all school foods must be whole-grain rich by July 2014. Adams says that goes against dietary guidelines recommending only half of grains must be whole.
"It really puts a bad light on enriched grains," she said, noting it sends a message that the products are unhealthful.
Cynthia Harriman, director of food and nutrition strategies for the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Whole Foods Council, said the USDA dietary guidelines recommend at least half of all grains consumed be whole grains. The mandate to be whole grain rich will follow suit, she said.
"Enriched grains are not going to be forbidden," she said. "They will still likely make up around ... one-third of the grains eaten in school lunches."
Harriman said the new rule is supposed to convey that enriched grains are less healthful than whole grains.
"We do not make it a practice to remove half or more of the nutrients from our fruits and vegetables before we eat them, but somehow we routinely do this with our grains," she said.
USDA's rule change allows schools to run the gamut of available grain products, Adams said.
"Schools are so restricted in the amount of money they can spend," she said. "It's incredible they do such a good job meeting dietary guidelines with the money they have to work with."
School administrators found they didn't have the flexibility to include grains in lunches while following the maximum, said Lee Sanders, senior vice president for government relations and public affairs of the American Bakers Association.
The bakers association led the grain industry -- including growers and millers -- and partnered with the U.S. Rice Federation and the National Pasta Association to voice concerns about the school meal program.
There are six different government definitions of "whole grain," Sanders said.
"We suggested there really needs to be one uniform definition of whole grain," she said, noting the changes required bakers to reformulate their products in the school meal programs.
Sanders hopes to see additional grain products on school menus to help administrators find creative menu options.
"They get fiber, vitamins and minerals that little growing bodies need and carbohydrates are a wonderful resource of energy," Sanders said. "Certainly children need that energy to get through their school day and their physical education classes."