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New Dietary Guidelines Address Fiber, Whole Grains

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans policy document is the federal government guide for improving health through science-based nutritional advice. Two general concepts dominate this release:      

  • “Maintain calorie balance over time to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.”
  • “Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages.”

The nutrients singled out as deficient in the American diet are potassium, calcium, vitamin D, and dietary fiber. Women of childbearing age are also at risk for not consuming enough iron and folate, and older adults may need to increase consumption of vitamin B12 through foods or supplements. Women who are pregnant should take an iron supplement as directed by their healthcare provider, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding are advised to eat 8–12 oz of seafood weekly (limiting those species known to have high methyl mercury levels). Americans are advised to cut their consumption of foods made with refined grains, particularly those with added sugars, sodium, and solid fats. Consumers are given options to consume foods that are at least 51% whole grains in order to reach the three whole grains servings per day recommendation. The FDA currently allows foods that contain at least 51% by weight of whole grain to bear the whole grain health claim.

Many Americans only consume 15 g of fiber daily, well below the recommended levels of 25 g for women aged 19–50 years and 38 g for men in the same age group. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans stress great consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to increase dietary fiber in the diet, but the Committee realizes that these foods may be too expensive for many Americans to consume in adequate amounts. Another potential problem is consumer confusion about whole grains and fiber. Whole grains provide a variety of nutrients and phytochemicals that are important for health, but not all whole grains are a good source of fiber. For example, a cup of white rice contributes less than a gram of fiber, while brown rice has 3.5 g, which is less than 10% of the daily value for men.

The Guidelines focus heavily on naturally fiber-rich foods. The new Guidelines contain a contentious statement: “Fiber is sometimes added to foods and it is unclear if added fiber provides the same health benefits as naturally occurring sources.” Will this statement mean that the food industry, particularly those companies that manufacture fibers and those that produce fiber-fortified products, may have to document the health benefits of added fibers? The Dietary Guidelines for Americans can provide authoritative statements as outlined in the Food Saftey Modernization Act.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans concludes with several strategies to provide healthy foods to U.S. citizens, including government partnerships with the food industry “to promote the development and availability of appropriate portions of affordable, nutritious foods in food retail and foodservice establishments.” Walmart recently announced a plan to provide its customers with healthier and more reasonably priced foods. More companies are likely to announce similar strategies. These are interesting times.

Mary Ellen Camire
Fellow, Institute of Food Technologists
Professor, Dept. of Food Science & Human Nutrition
University of Maine

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