The nutrition impact of clean label

by Dan Malovany
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The increasing popularity of cleaner labels has prompted bakers to wonder if the trend is such a good thing in the long run.
The increasing popularity of cleaner labels has prompted bakers to wonder if the trend is such a good thing in the long run.

The increasing popularity of clearer and cleaner labels has prompted some people to wonder if the trend is such a good thing in the long run. For bakers, the elimination of key processing ingredients has left them with fewer tools to make consistent, quality products with an appropriate shelf life.

But what about the nutrition perspective?

Baking & Snack’s contributing editor Theresa Cogswell in her December column cautioned bakers who are choosing to forego enriched flour because they want to simplify the ingredient statement on the package label.

“It’s my opinion — shared by many in the nutrition community — that the clean-label trend goes awry when it affects the health and nutrition of the American public,” she noted. “I personally worry about the consequences of decisions that are not based in fact or sound science. I worry about the effect on public health and undoing years of nutrition enhancement that has been accomplished with enrichment. What are the consequences of eliminating the line on the ingredient legend that reads, ‘ferrous sulfate, niacin, thiamine mononitrate (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2) and folic acid?’”

Folic acid is the most recent success story. In the years after 1996 when this nutrient became part of enriched grain-based foods, the U.S. saw a 26% decline in neural-tube birth defects. Getting folic acid into the diets of women before they become pregnant was the key. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved addition of folic acid to corn masa, the base ingredient of tortillas.

Ms. Cogswell asked some very important questions: What if these enrichment ingredients are eliminated from our food supply? Could your child or grandchild be born with spina bifida? Those are good questions to ask in January, which is National Birth Defects Prevention month. 

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