Europe announces comprehensive ‘whole grain’ definition, Australian reaction

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 24th February 2014
Europe has announced a comprehensive 'whole grain' definition

The most comprehensive definition of ‘whole grain’ termed to date has been agreed on by the European cereal product research group, the HealthGrain Forum.

The  European definition, published in the journal Food and Nutrition Research on 4 February 2014, was the result of a multi-disciplinary team from some of Europe’s leading universities and food research institutes.

The Australian-based Grain and Legumes Nutrition Council has welcomed this new development.

“Historically, there’s been no complete, legally endorsed definition of whole grain flour and products,” said Jan-Willem van der Kamp, corresponding author of the paper and Senior Officer of International Projects at European food research organisation TNO Food and Nutrition.

“Most supermarkets today are stocked with foods that originate from many different countries,” Mr van der Kemp said. “When you read ‘25 per cent 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,” he said.

The researchers said the HealthGrain Forum definition was “the next step in reaching a precise, common understanding what constitutes whole grain in food products” — from breads to pastas to breakfast cereals — regardless of where they originate.

What makes a ‘whole grain’

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, which 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 Forum researchers said their 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.

Definition part of a broader project

The need for developing a more comprehensive, detailed ‘whole grain’ definition was identified during the course of the HealthGrain EU project, and 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 research to better understand specific health benefits of whole brains as well as new ways to get products high in the whole grain compounds onto the market.

The new definition of ‘whole grain’ was developed by a committee led by Mr van der Kamp, representatives of the Swedish Nutrition Foundation, DPR Nutrition Ltd UK, and VTT and University of Eastern Finland, in co-operation 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, which is freely available at the journal’s website. The open access journal is published by Co-Action Publishing on behalf of the Swedish Nutrition Foundation.

New definition welcomed by Australian Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council

The new ‘whole grain’ definition has been welcomed in Australia by the Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC), saying it was consistent with the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Food Standards Code definition and guidance in other international jurisdictions such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“We’re delighted to see that the HealthGrain Forum Association has delivered on a key objective,” said Georgie Aley, GLNC Managing Director. “The European definition also includes additional clarification on permitted grains and pseudo grains, which goes a long way to creating international harmonisation on the definition of a whole grain and is a welcome addition by the industry,” she said.

“Another fact to consider is that while a clear definition of what constitutes a whole grain ingredient is very much welcomed, the next important piece of clarification required for the industry is a detailed definition for what constitutes a whole grain food,” Ms Aley said.

GLNC has been working in the area in Australia and New Zealand. Australian Food News reported in July 2013, that GLNC had launched the Whole Grain Ingredient Code Content Claims. In November 2013, Australian Food News reported that three of Australia’s largest core grain food manufacturers — Goodman Fielder, Sanitarium and Bakers Delight — were among the first registered users of the voluntary industry Code of Practice.

“The GLNC Code of Practice for Whole Grain Ingredient Content Claims provides a clear definition of what constitutes a whole grain food,” Ms Aley said. “The Code sets a minimum of 8 grams of whole grain per serve to allow a food to be labelled as ‘contains whole grain’,” she said.

“This new minimum level provides a consistent message to consumers on which products are whole grain, giving clarity on current labelling of whole grain foods in Australia and New Zealand,” Ms Aley said.