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Surprise! Grain trade groups don't like the idea of cutting recommended grain servings

June 7, 2010 |  9:47 pm

Bread During the lengthy deliberations for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, one  possibility discussed by the advisory group was to substitute some of the grains we eat with starchy vegetables like potatoes. The reasoning? First, we eat way too many spuds and they're currently counted as vegetables. (Loading up on fries is not what nutrition experts have in mind when they tell us to ramp up on produce.)

Second, as the  Nutrient Adequacy Subcommittee of the dietary guidelines advisory committee noted, the "macronutrient profile" of starchy vegetables is more similar to grains than, say, broccoli or kale, i.e., they have a lot of starch in them.

Such a shift would entail recommending fewer servings of grains so that we wouldn't ramp up our calorie intake. (There's a concern, you may have heard, that Americans are getting more calories than they need already.) To ensure that such a substitution could be done without robbing Americans of the nutrients they need for optimal health -- an interesting exercise, given how far we are from anything approaching such virtue -- the scientists ran models and found that the nutrition consequences were minimal.

The North American Millers' Association, American Bakers Assn,, American Institute of Baking, Grain Foods Foundation, Grains for Health Foundation, Independent Bakers Association, National Assn. of Wheat Growers, National Pasta Association, USA Rice Federation and Wheat Foods Council feel this is wrongheaded and wrote to the committee to state as much.

Here's the trade groups' recent letter and here is the Dietary Guidelines Web page where you can access all the discussions of the advisory committee as they plod through each point -- fish, selenium, fiber, added sugar, more -- and, back in April, the potato-placement issue. You can also read the public comments -- but if you didn't already inform the government of your favorite nutrition theories (and most of us seem to have plenty of them) you'll now have to wait for the advisory committee's final report.

That report is due any day now, with the final guidelines to follow later this year.

The committee's archived discussions are very educational! (If stultifying.) I just took in a few hours to listen to the fifth and sixth public meetings. Just one fun fact of many that await you, should you do likewise: Among starchy vegetables, 80% of what we eat is spuds. And the fuller breakdown is:

Boiled potatoes:        26.5%

baked potatoes:    13.2%

French fries:    18.2%

Potato chips:    19.1%

Hash browns:     6.5 %

Yellow corn:      8.3%

Hominy, grits, white corn: 1.7%

Green peas :            4.1%

lima beans : 0.6%

cow peas, black-eyed peas pigeon peas etc.: 0.5%

--Rosie Mestel

P.S. Some scientists have long argued that potatoes have no place in the vegetables group and that Americans eat way too many of them. One long-time spud foe is nutrition scientist Walter Willett of Harvard University.

Photo Credit: Brian Vander Brug // Los Angeles Times