The American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC), which has nearly 4,000 international members who are specialists in the use of cereal grains in foods, has assembled a committee to draft a new, consumer-friendly definition of whole grain.
The AACC definition could be influential as a growing number of governments establish health claims for wholegrains. The US Food and Drug Administration approved a health claim for wholegrains and their impact on reduction of heart disease risk last December, following an application from Kraft Foods.
A voluntary health claims code set up in Sweden has also recently approved a health claim for wholegrains, which notes: 'A healthy lifestyle and a well balanced diet rich in wholegrain products reduces the risk for cardiac infarction/heart disease.'
Such moves will have an influence on future EU legislation on health claims, currently stalled through lack of consensus on its scope and terms, but expected to be taken up once again under the new parliament to be elected in June.
There is a large body of evidence to suggest that diets rich in plant foods, including wholegrain cereals, are not only associated with a lower occurrence of coronary heart disease but also reduce risk of cancers of the lung, colon, oesophagus and stomach.
They also appear to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
But according to Julie Jones, chair of the AACC's Grains in Health Task Force, the organisation's original whole grain definition was designed for use by industry and regulatory agencies and includes words that are neither easily understood by consumers nor helps them to select whole grain foods.
"Consumers need to have a guideline that will them make healthy choices," she said.
The task force has proposed that 'Whole cereal grains and foods made from them consist of the entire grain seed usually referred to as the kernel.
'The kernel is made of three components - the bran, the germ and the endosperm. If the kernel has been cracked, crushed or flaked, then in order to be called whole grain, it must retain nearly the same relative proportions of bran, germ and endosperm as the original grain.'
'Whole grain ingredients may be used whole, cooked, milled into flour and used to make breads and other products, or extruded or flaked to make cereal products.'
AACC is seeking views on its proposed definition and has set up a special online discussion forum on its website.