Following the successful inaugural 2007 Montpellier Spring Congress, Cereals & Europe (C&E), the European branch of AACC International, and the Whole Grain Summit held their first combined meeting March 24-29 at Newcastle University in England.
This joining of forces with the AACC International Whole Grain Task Force brought together representative professionals from 21 countries in food research and development, nutrition, consumer science and industry.
Whole grains and their use in food manufacturing for nutrition and health could hardly be more topical. Regulatory bodies, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States are currently debating ways to promote their use, legislate on associated health claims and establish workable definitions of "whole grains" and "whole grain foods."
At the same time, industry must meet the challenges of developing tasty, safe and affordable whole grain foods that consumers will purchase. Complementing the concept of whole grain, the five-year pan-European HEALTHGRAIN project funded by the European Commission, approaches maturity with several goals including "to enable the production of foods containing health-promoting grain constituents."
As the world moves further into economic recession, it is even more important to guide consumers toward a healthy, affordable diet in which cereal grains form a large part.
A stimulating educational program was arranged under the chairmanships of Professor Chris Seal of Newcastle University and Peter Weegels, chairman of C&E. The principal aim of the conference was "to contribute to the discussion and inform these policy makers by a program presented by leading experts from industry and the academic world."
Preceding the main program was the GRAINITY Symposium, where Scandinavian and Finnish delegates discussed the development of healthy rye- and oat-based foods in a project sponsored by the Nordic Innovation Centre.
Dr. Len Marquart of the University of Minnesota opened the main program by describing, from a U.S. perspective, how General Mills had initiated a whole grains program in 1993. This was followed by the FDA endorsing health claims by 1999 and then the first international meeting on this subject in Finland in 2001. At the end of 2005, after new dietary guidelines for Americans were published, the Whole Grain Task Force (WGTF) of the AACC began its work. While much of its activities have concentrated on North American aspects up until now, the WGTF has recently felt the need to be complemented by a European discussion forum.
Marquart stressed the need to prioritize grain-related collaborative research to identify grain components that are most beneficial, develop key messages for health professionals and consumers, and to optimize new milling processes and fractionation technologies for extraction of those components. He also initiated a discussion which subsequently ran through the conference regarding the need to establish realistic definitions regarding: When is a food whole grain and how much whole grain is needed to meet the health claim?
There was general agreement that mechanisms will be needed to reward collaborative behavior so that government, industry and non-profit research can cooperate successfully.
Seal set the scene for later discussions by describing the evidence of health benefits, which have resulted from observational and intervention studies. He reminded the audience that health claims are nothing new and cited earlier claims by the eminent 18th century Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus, and the 19th century English entrepreneur, Thomas Allinson, whose Natural Food Company pioneered the benefits of whole meal flour and bread by 1889.
Seal stressed that most of the evidence for health benefits comes from observational studies and explained that although the data are a powerful indicator of the relationship between whole grain intake and improved health, such relationships do not demonstrate causality. To confirm and develop health claims for whole grain foods, further and longer-lasting intervention studies are needed since the results of some studies to date support observational data but others do not.
Michael Gusko of Kampffmeyer Muhlen then gave one of the most stimulating talks of the conference when he explained the obstacles faced in persuading consumers to actually alter their habits even though polls suggest that there is an increasing awareness of the link between diet and health. There is a huge discrepancy between the number claiming to consume whole grain foods and the reality as proved by sales. He gave examples of how his company is having some success through innovative technology to produce bread products that are appealing in appearance and taste to compete with other types of health foods, noting that even varying the sodium content by a small amount in bread has a discernable effect on sales.
Kampffmeyer has developed a socalled "snow wheat" bread using flours milled from new varieties of white wheats in which the co-products bran and germ are stabilized and reincorporated into the white flour before baking. He cited interest in new milling processes and electrostatic separators to concentrate aleurone components which can be processed separately and added back into the flour.
Filip Arnaut of Puratos developed the themes of consumer and market drivers in the context of a western recession. Health foods are still generally premium foods which appeal to more selective buyers, and consumption is remaining generally level. However, whole grain or specific fractions of grains will have to bring benefits which are scientifically proven to comply with legislation and bring a clear message to the health conscious consumer.
In one of the concluding sessions, Professor David Richardson of DPR Nutrition described the likely impact of new laws and guidelines for substantiation and authorization of health claims to meet the requirements of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). He said it will have a profound effect on labeling, R&D strategies and academic research, particularly when the Healthgrain project, involving 44 partners and 59 industrial bodies, comes to maturity.
Dr. Julie Miller Jones, chairman of the WGTF, then explained how the AACC is seeking to establish a set of realistic definitions of whole grains and whole grain foods, and which grains are included as cereals, pseudocereals, etc. It also needs to be defined how much whole grain content is required in a food to qualify for this description. She said account needs to be taken of the effects of processing and proportions of the grain kernel deemed necessary. These definitions are in a context where so much confusion exists in the minds of consumers and in which the agencies themselves are not consistent. The labeling requirements then need to be structured to help consumers with informed food choices, she said.
GRAIN PROPERTIES AND TECHNOLOGIES
The "parallel session" regarding grain properties and technologies offered some particularly interesting food for thought.
Professor Peter Shewry of Rothampstead Research described a large Healthgrain project to improve the content and composition of European wheat. This project started with 150 bread wheats and 50 other cereals on a single site from which 26 wheat and five rye lines were grown on four widely differing sites across Europe to identify their individual characteristics and merits. One of the encouraging results was that they identified several modern cultivars which, although they had been bred for yield and disease resistance, still showed good levels of healthy components.
Xavier Rouau of INRA in Montpellier reviewed the new milling processes, which can supercede conventional grain fractionation and assist in the extraction of beneficial components. Their study recognizes that the breadmaking functionality of whole grain flours makes it difficult to manufacture appealing products for consumers.
Debranning systems provide the dual advantage of enabling removal of surface contaminants such as mycotoxins, and making the potentially beneficial bioactive components available for extraction and then reincorporation into the flour.
Rouau also described the experiments they have carried out using cryogenic grinding of those aleurone and other components. The work at INRA as well as that reported by Martijn Noort of TNO confirmed that while some of these components are undoubtedly beneficial for health, other bran fractions, when ground to a fine particle size, have a deleterious effect on breadmaking quality due to their negative effect on gluten network formation.
Raija-Liisa Heinio of VTT in Finland confirmed the need for the sensory characteristics of health grain products to have consumer appeal and the work they are carrying out to identify how these can be improved by means of enzymes and other ways.
Later, Inge Lise Povlsen of Danisco explained the great strides that have been made in the use of such enzymes to turn some of the whole grain fractions into functional ingredients and how the experience obtained by improving the whole grain type of bread, through wheat fiber modification, can be implemented into a range of bread applications.
Equipment manufacturer Chopin Technologies, which also had a display booth, gave a series of poster presentations which described their new Mixolab instrument and its ability to characterize flour by means of its rheological l and gelatinization properties in a single test.
Trish Griffiths of Go Grains Health and Nutrition gave an Australian perspective of how, in the absence of formal government regulation in cooperation with industrial partners, they have taken an impressive lead role in developing an industry standard for whole grain claims on consumer packs. Manufacturers are responding with new products which have shown a significant shift toward whole grain, though it is not permitted to make specific health claims on packs.
The "Go Grains 4+ servings a day" campaign has struck a chord with the public and has been a great success.
Although wheat is by far the most important cereal grain being studied, there are also significant dietary and nutritional qualities to be exploited from other grains in varying degrees of wholeness such as rice, barley, rye, triticale, oats and even legumes, all of which were discussed during the proceedings.
In a summing up session, Toine Hulshof of Kellogg’s concluded that:
• each scientific study has strengths and weaknesses;
• re-examining scientific data could be useful;
• agreed definitions are now needed;
• investment should concentrate on areas with the largest impact on public health;
• harmful aspects can be avoided by good manufacturing practice;
• there is sufficient evidence that health is improved by replacing at least some of the more refined foods in the diet by whole grain choices.
Bryan McGee, an independent milling consultant, can be reached at