Higher nutrient intake among children and adolescents, including intake of shortfall nutrients, is associated with consumption of grain-based foods, including products made with enriched grains, according to a newly published scientific study.

The conclusions suggesting both whole grains and enriched grains have an important role in the diets of young people were published Feb. 20 in Nutrition Journal. The study is titled, “Several grain dietary patterns are associated with better diet quality and improved shortfall nutrient intakes in U.S. children and adolescents: a study focusing on the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.”

Authors of the study were Yanni Papanikolaou, Nutritional Strategies, Inc., Paris, Ont.; Julie Miller Jones, distinguished scholar and professor emerita of food and nutrition, Department of Food and Nutrition, St. Catherine University, Arden Hills, Minn.; and Victor Fulgoni III, Nutrition Impact L.L.C., Battle Creek, Mich.  The research was funded by the Grain Foods Foundation.

Publication of the study comes seven months after Mr. Papanikolaou and Mr. Fulgoni published research indicating adults who regularly consume grains-based foods have a “better nutrient intake profile” than those who avoid grains.

In the latest study, based on NHANES 2005-2010 data (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), the researchers looked at the nutrient intake profile of children and adolescents, divided into numerous groups based on the kinds of grain-based foods they tended to eat. The cluster analysis looked at eight groups:

  1. No grains (4% of the population)
  2. Cakes, cookies and pies (5.1% of population with 92% of grains coming from this group of products)
  3. Yeast breads and rolls (34% of population, with more than 68% of grains coming from this grains group)
  4. Cereals (4%, 95% of grains from this group)
  5. Pasta, cooked cereals and rice (4.9%, 67% of grains from this group)
  6. Crackers and salty snacks (26%, 53% of grains from this group)
  7. Pancakes, waffles, french toast, other grains (9%, with 51% of grains coming from this group of products and 23% of grains coming from bread and rolls)
  8. Quick breads (13%, with 57% of grains coming from this group.

The objective of the analysis, the researchers said, was to “isolate the most commonly consumed grain food patterns in U.S. children and adolescents” and compare nutrient intakes and diet quality of those consuming each grain food pattern to individuals who do not consume grain foods. The dietary intake data were obtained in in-person interviews using 24-hour dietary recall. The cluster analysis was chosen as a statistical approach in order to create several distinct patterns while also trying to maximize differences among the patterns.

“Several grain food dietary patterns in U.S. children and adolescents are associated with greater nutrient intakes, including greater consumption of shortfall nutrients and nutrients of public health concern as identified by the 2015–2020 DGA,” the researchers said. “Improved diet quality, as measured by U.S.D.A.’s HEI-2010 (Healthy Eating Index) was also linked to consumption of specific grain food patterns, including pasta, cooked cereals and rice; cereals; yeast breads and rolls; and crackers and salty snacks when compared to those children and adolescents not consuming a grain food dietary pattern.”

Energy intake was higher for the grain cluster patterns than the no grains cluster (by 416 to 524 more calories per day), with the exception of cereals. Children and adolescents in the yeast bread, cereal, pasta and cracker groups, accounting for 77% of the grains-consuming population, “had a higher diet quality relative to no grains,” the researchers.

With the exception of the cakes, cookies and pies groups, all of the grains groups had higher folate intake than the no grains group. Total fat intake was lower for the cereals; pasta, cooked cereals and rice; and pancakes, waffles etc. groups relative to the no grains group. Iron intake was higher in all the grains patterns than the no grains.

Magnesium intakes were greater in children and adolescents consuming yeast bread and rolls; pasta, cooked cereals and rice; and quick breads.

“Improved diet quality was due not only to the contribution of nutrients inherent in the grain, but also to those added through enrichment and fortification practices and those provided by natural food pairings such as cereal and dairy foods (e.g., milk),” the researchers said. “Overall, while some grain food patterns were associated with elevated sodium and added sugar, the present data also support that several grain food patterns can serve as part of a healthy dietary food pattern in children and adolescents, that accounts for 2015-2020 D.G.A. dietary recommendations to reduce total fat, saturated fat and added sugar consumption, while concurrently increasing intake of shortfall nutrients and/or nutrients of concern, including iron, magnesium, dietary fiber, vitamin D, potassium and folate.”

The researchers cited earlier scientific findings indicating that fortification of grain foods contributes “substantially” to nutrient adequacy of U.S. children and adolescents, 2-18.

While acknowledging that certain grain foods contribute to “nutrients to limit,” including added sugar and fat, the researchers said “grain foods also contribute positive nutrients to the diet, including dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, and B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folate).”

They noted that 3 of the top 10 sources of calories in the diet were grain-based foods, but 6 of the top 10 food sources of dietary fiber were grain-based foods products.

The findings were aligned with data the researchers published last July, they said. As was the case in the earlier research, the authors said the data suggest breaking grain foods into to broad groups — whole grains and refined — was too simplistic.

“Indeed, the current research in children and adolescents provides a sound rationale to support more specific dietary guidance for American children  and adolescents about grain consumption rather than simply having two broad categories of recommended intakes that revolve around refined/enriched and whole grains” the researchers said. “The current data illustrates how various enriched grain products contribute to daily nutrient intakes and overall diet quality.”

Citing research indicating nearly a third of children and youth are overweight or obese, the researchers noted total fat intake was lower than the no grains group in the cereals and pasta, cooked cereals and rice.

“Daily saturated fat intake was lower in many of the grain patterns examined, in comparison to the no grains food pattern,” they said. “The range of saturated fat lowering per day translates to meaningful reductions when considering the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Daily Value for saturated fat.”

“Taken collectively, some grain food patterns, comprised of both whole and enriched grains, can be beneficial in children and adolescents when considering dietary guidance and health outcomes,” the researchers said.