Defining whole grain- Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Knowledge Gateway

The term grain applies to plants of the Poaceae grass family and includes cereal grains and pseudocereals. All grains that belong to the Poaceae family are composed of the starchy endosperm, the germ and the outer bran layer ( HEALTHGRAIN Consortium 2013 ).

Pseudocereals such as buckwheat and quinoa have a similar macronutrient composition to cereals, and they are often included in the bread cereal group. They are of great significance for persons suffering from intolerance to gluten (e.g. coeliac disease), contained in most cereals, and at the same time they allow for a wider consumer choice ( HEALTHGRAIN Consortium 2013 ).

There is no legally endorsed definition of whole grain and whole grain products and foods at the European level. In European Union agricultural legislation, whole grains are referred as 'grains from which only the part of the end has been removed, irrespective of characteristics produced at each stage of milling ( EU Regulation 1308/2013 ) EU Regulation No 1308/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 establishing a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products and repealing Council Regulations (EEC) No 922/72, (EEC) No 234/79, (EC) No 1037/2001 and (EC) No 1234/2007 . The European Food Safety Authority ( EFSA 2010 ), in a whole-grain related health claim opinion, provides the definition of the American Association of Cereal Chemists (AACC), which states that whole grain 'consist of the intact, ground, cracked or flaked caryopsis, whose principal anatomical components - the starchy endosperm, germ and bran - are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact caryopsis' ( AACC 2000 ). Table 1 provides an overview of the available definitions and the grains that are included in each of them.

Taking into consideration that whole grain products from all cereal grains have higher levels of dietary fibre and bioactive compounds than their refined equivalents, and in line with the suggestion that a whole grain definition should be suitable for both dietary recommendation and labelling purposes, the definitions of AACC and HEALTHGRAIN ( HEALTHGRAIN Consortium 2013 ) allow for both cereals and pseudocereals to be characterised as whole grain. Some examples of whole grains included in the aforementioned definitions are whole wheat, oatmeal, whole-grain cornmeal, brown rice, whole-grain barley, whole rye, and buckwheat ( AACC 2012b ).

Whole grains can be eaten in cooked form (after boiling) as a food on their own, for instance brown rice (wild, red, black), oatmeal, and corn (maize). However, in most cases, whole grains are further processed and thus deliver a variety of edible and safe products for human consumption (e.g. whole grain flour). This processing results in an alteration of the grain's physical form and may also affect the nutritional value of the grain.

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