SEATTLE — Reasons to increase whole grain intake — and to steer clear of grain-free diets — were covered Nov. 5 at the Whole Grains Council Conference in Seattle.

Marissa McCormick, a nutrition scientist for Minneapolis-based General Mills, Inc., spoke on how future research may show whole grains aid in weight loss, even though other weight-loss diets like paleo and keto tend to fit into the low-carbohydrate category or the high-fat category.

“There’s a $60 billion weight loss industry out there, and unfortunately carbohydrates are getting demonized,” she said. “Even more unfortunately, whole grains get lumped into that (low-carbohydrate) category. So people are avoiding all sorts of grains, even grains that are really good for them.”

Plenty of research has demonstrated whole grain health benefits in the areas of cardiovascular, digestion and weight regulation, she said.

“When I say weight regulation, I don’t mean weight loss,” Ms. McCormick said. “I mean more of that weight maintenance, weight management.”

She added, “Whole grains are good for us. We know that. It’s that weight loss piece that‘s still a little tricky to pinpoint.”

The Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition, which is part of General Mills, and MB Clinical Research are working on a metanalysis review that covers potential health benefits of whole grain. Data found on PubMed show that since 2003, more than 600 studies were published on protein and body weight but only about 30 were published on whole grains and body weight, Ms. McCormick said.

“I would say there’s a pretty strong reason to believe that having a continuous stream of published science fuels the media, fuels journalists and bloggers,” Ms. McCormick said.

Proving links between weight loss could be crucial for marketing.

“Weight loss is that hook to get (consumers) in, to buy your program, buy your product,” Ms. McCormick said. “They have to see weight loss early on in any sort of diet program to stick with it or believe it.”

Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for WebMD

Some diets, including the paleo diet, urge people to avoid grains. Kathleen Zelman, director of nutrition for WebMD, said she wonders how people could think humans are not supposed to eat grains when they have eaten them for 10,000 years.

“It’s absurd what kinds of claims are being made,” she said.

Reducing inflammation and lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes are two positives of whole grain intake, she said, and science continues to emerge on the health effects of sprouting grains.

“There are hundreds of studies that substantiate the health benefits of whole grains,” Ms. Zelman said. “Some scientists would call this solved science.”

She admitted about 1% of the population is estimated to have celiac disease, which means they must avoid gluten-containing grains like wheat. Another 0.2% to 0.4% are allergic to wheat, and about 5% to 6% of the population experience non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

“There are no biomarkers for it,” Ms. Zelman said of non-celiac gluten sensitivity. “There are no lab tests that can prove that you have it or you don’t. Essentially, you take gluten out of your diet, see if you feel better. Add it back into your diet, see if you feel worse, and then maybe you fit into this category. So it’s very subjective. It’s really hard to have conditions without any real hard biomarkers.”

She said she considers non-celiac gluten sensitivity a gray area.

“Not to say that it doesn’t exist,” Ms. Zelman said.

She pointed to a study published 2017 in the BMJ of more than 100,000 people who did not have celiac disease. It found gluten consumption was not associated with heart disease risk. Eliminating gluten from the diet also might restrict the amount of fiber people eat, Ms. Zelman said.

Kevin Miller, Ph.D., principal scientist for General Mills

Kevin Miller, Ph.D., principal scientist for General Mills, spoke about keeping as many nutrients in whole grains as possible during processing. Industry will continue to process grains as it makes whole grains more digestible and palatable, extends their shelf life, and removes food safety issues, he said.

Stability varies by nutrient. Vitamin K and vitamin A are more sensitive to heat, he said, and vitamin B2 and vitamin E are more stable. When applications require a lot of heat and oxygen, the more stable nutrients may be added into the dough, Dr. Miller said. Other less stable nutrients could be applied by spray later.

Baking may degrade 5% to 30% of a nutrient, depending on the nutrient, which might keep products from reaching packaging claims. If packaging says a product provides 20% of the Daily Value, the 20% must still be in the product at the end of shelf life. Bakers, to meet the stated Daily Value, may want to turn to overages, or initially putting in more than 20% of the Daily Value for example, Dr. Miller said.