The most comprehensive definition of whole grain termed to date has been published this week in the journal Food and Nutrition Research. The effort to create the definition, which is intended to assist in the production and labeling of foods rich in whole grains, was born of the HEALTHGRAIN EU project, the largest project ever focusing on cereals and health; and was led by a multi-disciplinary team from some of Europe’s leading universities and food research institutes.
Historically, there’s been no complete, legally endorsed definition of whole grain flour and products,” explains Jan-Willem van der Kamp, corresponding author of the paper and Senior Officer of International Projects at TNO Food and Nutrition. “Most supermarkets today are stocked with foods that originate from many different countries. When you read ‘25% whole grain flour’ on one product label; the same claim on a different label could mean something quite different nutritionally. If use of this definition is adopted broadly, this inconsistency eventually would cease.”
The HEALTHGRAIN definition is the next step in reaching a precise, common understanding of what constitutes whole grain in food products – from breads to pasta to breakfast cereals – regardless of where they originate, adds van der Kamp.
Almost universally, the term whole grain indicates inclusion of all three components of the cereal grain kernel – endosperm (this is the largest part of the grain and provides mostly starch), germ (comprises only a small part of the grain; this is where sprouting begins) and bran (the grain’s protective outer layer; it is rich in dietary fibre). Variances, however, arise around the particular grains considered “whole”, precise combination of the three components once processed, and processing practices which can affect the resulting flour’s nutritional value. The HEALTHGRAIN definition addresses all three of these issues detailing a permitted list of grains and “pseudo grains” (such as quinoa and amaranth) and processing guidelines that take into account current milling practices.
The need for developing a more comprehensive, detailed whole grain definition was identified during the course of the HEALTHGRAIN EU project, an initiative intended to increase the use of whole grains and their health protecting constituents in food products for improved nutrition and health benefits. The expansive project has involved everything from research to better understand specific health benefits of whole grains to exploration of new ways to get products high in their healthy compounds onto the market.
The HEALTHGRAIN definition was developed by a committee led by van der Kamp, representatives of the Swedish Nutrition Foundation; DPR Nutrition Ltd., UK; and VTT and University of Eastern Finland; in cooperation with a multidisciplinary group of nutrition scientists, cereal scientists and technologists, plant breeders, flour milling specialists and experts in regulatory affairs from throughout Europe.
The article with the complete HEALTHGRAIN definition, including the permitted grains, can be accessed in the current volume of Food and Nutrition Research (http://www.foodandnutritionresearch.net/index.php/fnr/article/view/22100).
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals the not so surprising result that whole grains in the diet reduce disease risk factors. One wonders why our food policies and agricultural subsidies promote disease over good health.
Background: Studies of whole grain and chronic disease have often included bran-enriched foods and other ingredients that do not meet the current definition of whole grains. Therefore, we assessed the literature to test whether whole grains alone had benefits on these diseases.
Objective: The objective was to assess the contribution of bran or cereal fiber on the impact of whole grains on the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D), obesity and body weight measures, and cardiovascular disease (CVD) in human studies as the basis for establishing an American Society for Nutrition (ASN) position on this subject.
Design: We performed a comprehensive PubMed search of human studies published from 1965 to December 2010.
Results: Most whole-grain studies included mixtures of whole grains and foods with ≥25% bran. Prospective studies consistently showed a reduced risk of T2D with high intakes of cereal fiber or mixtures of whole grains and bran. For body weight, a limited number of prospective studies on cereal fiber and whole grains reported small but significant reductions in weight gain. For CVD, studies found reduced risk with high intakes of cereal fiber or mixtures of whole grains and bran.
Conclusions: The ASN position, based on the current state of the science, is that consumption of foods rich in cereal fiber or mixtures of whole grains and bran is modestly associated with a reduced risk of obesity, T2D, and CVD. The data for whole grains alone are limited primarily because of varying definitions among epidemiologic studies of what, and how much, was included in that food category.