The Healthgrain Integrated Project, a European Union initiative coordinated by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, plans to identify new sources of nutritionally enhanced grain, as well as develop methods to make cereal products more appealing to consumers.
The project will be building on results from recent studies that have revealed how wholegrain foods can have a protective effect against heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It is part of a strategy by the European Union to improve food safety and quality, with the aim of increasing the average European citizen's intake of protective wholegrains.
The €16m project will examine the variation, process-induced changes and human metabolism of bioactive compounds in wheat and rye, the two major European bread grains. It aims to reveal the physiological mechanisms underlying the significance of bioactive compounds in the prevention of metabolic syndrome and related diseases.
The target bioactive compounds are vitamins (including folate, tocols and choline), phytochemicals (lignans, sterols, alkylresorcinols and phenolic acids) and indigestible carbohydrates.
The study will also establish how cereal foods' glycemic properties reduce risk factors for diabetes.
The project aims to produce new nutritionally enhanced wheat varieties with optimal bioactive content.
"We will be working on gaining a better understanding of the various compound levels in grains and their localization. This will allow us to develop milling techniques which remove only certain layers from the grain in order to maintain the parts which carry the most health benefits," said project coordinator Professor Kaisa Poutanen.
"We will also develop processing technologies using enzymes and starter cultures in order to combat the coarser texture and hardness of wholegrain bread in an attempt to make it more consumer-friendly," she told NutraIngredients.com.
Europe produces about 36 per cent of the world's wheat and 94 per cent of its rye, but at a higher cost than many of its competitors.
"The project will give European grain producers new technologies to develop globally competitive, healthier grain traits," said the coordinators in a statement.
It will also allow the processing industry, including a large number of small-and-medium-size enterprises, "to develop new, competitive, grain foods that are good for health. These will include foods for individuals sensitive to particular cereal constituents, for example, gluten-free products."
The project has established an Industrial Platform, already consisting of 25 companies, in order to "ensure effective communication between the Healthgrain project and actors in the cereal food chain."