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Partnership for a Healthier (Whole Grain) America

March 17, 2014

You’ve no doubt seen headlines in which food companies pledge to cut calories, or eliminate trans fats, or reduce sodium. The initial pledge gets a big PR push – but then what happens? Do these promised changes come to pass, or not?

Before 2010, many of these well-intended pledges may have sunk without a trace. But now, a nonprofit called the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is recording these commitments, and verifying whether companies have met their goals.

PHA is an offshoot of the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign. You can think of Let’s Move as the feel-good, bully-pulpit side of the operation – the part that shows Mrs. Obama weeding the White House garden, or doing jumping jacks with third graders (and, by the way, giving inspiring keynote addresses at the annual PHA conference, as pictured here). PHA is the no-excuses, get-it-done side of things. It presses companies to set specific, measurable goals, which are tracked by third-party certification organizations to check compliance.

I spent two days last week with 1,000 other people at the 2014 PHA Summit, and came away inspired by the way American companies have stepped up to the (dinner) plate to promote better health. You can see the PHA partners’ commitments here.

Even though whole grains are only specifically mentioned in one online commitment (check out Hyatt Hotels), it was clear at the Summit that many PHA partners are acting as strong advocates for whole grains.

YMCA. My first stop at the Expo associated with the Summit was at the YMCA’s booth, where Lauren Marciszyn, RD, LDN, Technical Advisor for Early Learning and Afterschool Programs, told me that the Y has very high standards for food and activity for her programs. Get this: “When providing grains, all grain foods are whole grains, determined by the first word listed in the ingredient list…” Here’s Lauren, showing off the kinds of foods that YMCAs promote to kids:

Walmart. Not far away, Walmart’s booth also displayed grocery-type shelves well-stocked with whole grain choices, including oatmeal and pasta, as Mallory Zuckerman demonstrated to us. Walmart has made whole grains a key part of its efforts to make healthier foods affordable, as we reported in a January 2011 blog, when Walmart first made its PHA pledge. 

Morrison. Making the biggest whole grain splash at the PHA expo was Morrison Management, a division of foodservice behemoth Compass, that serves up food at many leading hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Under the leadership of Cary Neff, VP of Culinary for Morrison– and a WGC culinary advisor – the foodservice company rocked the socks off of attendees with its imaginative whole grain options.

Who wouldn’t get better fast, when Cary’s offering dishes like mini-parfaits made with Kamut® granola, Gala apples and kumquat marmalade … or Barley Kale Salad with cured salmon? Cary himself was handing out little bags of Kamut® granola (so yummy!).

Cary’s colleague, RJ Harvey, who’s both an RD and a talented chef, was handing out healthier-than-you-can-imagine desserts nearby. Okay, they didn’t contain whole grains, but I have to give these desserts a shout-out anyway. These were little two-bite cupcakes made almost totally with beans – chickpeas were the main ingredient in the lemony ones, and black beans in the chocolate ones. A little swirl of Greek yogurt mixed with low-fat cream cheese substituted for frosting. Such a better choice – a little dollop of sweet taste at the end of a meal, instead of the enormous cupcakes you see most places, with about a cup of icing on them! 

What you can’t see in this photo were the turtle candies Morrison was also sampling. The usual recipe for turtles is nuts (healthy), dark chocolate (also good stuff, in moderation) and caramel (uh-oh. Can’t put a health spin on caramel). Morrison mixed a little agave into almond butter and substituted it for the caramel – and I swear I would never have known if someone hadn’t told me. Mmmmmm.

Sodexo. Across the aisle another foodservice giant, Sodexo, was serving up Hawaiian pizzetta, on a lovely whole grain crust.  Desmond Fannin, Director of Culinary Services, told me they make the pizzetta with chicken, pineapple, veggies and BBQ sauce; it’s part of Sodexo’s Mindful Eating and Living program.

KwikTrip. For me, one of the highlights of the PHA summit was the chance to hear how a Whole Grains Council member, KwikTrip, has become one of the newest PHA partners. KwikTrip is a family-owned chain of hundreds of convenience stores throughout Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa. While most people don’t think “healthy” when they hear the words convenience store, KwikTrip’s stores break the mold. 

Jim Bressi, Director of Food Research and Development, tells me they sell 42 million pounds of bananas a year, along with other hand-held fruit, salads – and plenty of sandwiches on whole grain bread, made at their own bakery plant. In fact, as part of their PHA commitment, KwikTrip is pledging to offer four categories of fruit, four categories of vegetables, six whole grain products and four non-fat or low-fat dairy products, in all stores every day. Imagine: a c-store where beef jerky and chips aren’t the only choices! (The bottom photo, from the Lacrosse WI Tribune, shows you how inviting a KwikStop can be!)

We left Washington inspired by the realization of what can get done when hospitals, supermarkets, food manufacturers – and even convenience stores – all commit to “making the healthy choice the easy choice,” as PHA’s slogan so aptly puts it. Kudos to the Partnership for a Healthier America for creating such great momentum. (Cynthia)

Comments

whole grains

Can labeled 100% whole grain products qualify if they have been post assembled from the identified components in the correct proportions?

"post-assembled" whole grains

Thanks for your question, Mark. "Reconstitution" is generally the term that is used when companies buy bran, germ, and endosperm separately and combine it in their factory in the correct proportions. While in theory that should be okay if it's done right, it's hard to define what "right" is (since different grains grown in different times and places have different original proportions. Another issue is that FDA requires companies to list each ingredient they buy separately, on the ingredient list -- so they couldn't just say "whole wheat flour" if they reconstituted it themselves. We don't approve products for the Whole Grain Stamp unless they have actual whole grains in their ingredient list -- so something with "bran, germ, endosperm" in the list wouldn't be approved by us.


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