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Cereal grains are an essential component of daily diet and a major source of dietary fibre, which is important for gut health and provides protection against colon cancer. Recent studies have shown that bioactive compounds in whole grains also provide significant protection against several 'Western' diseases, including a rapidly expanding epidemic of type 2 diabetes. European diets generally do not include adequate quantities of cereal grains, and cereal grain in European foods is usually in a refined form that greatly diminishes its nutritional qualities. As part of its overall plan to improve food safety and quality, the European Union wants the food industry to develop new healthy foods based on European cereal grains. The Integrated Project HEALTHGRAIN joins 43 partners from 15 countries working to increase availability of high-quality, health-promoting cereal-based foods, with the goal of increasing the average European citizen's intake of protective whole grains.


Wheat makes up most of Europe's cereal consumption, but usually only in the form of refined white wheat flour in such foods as baked goods, pasta, and breakfast cereals. Wheat milling focuses on flour extraction and, for durum wheat, on semolina, from the endosperm, discarding about 25% of the kernel for use as animal feed. These discarded outer kernel layers (bran and aleuron) and the germ contain dietary fibre and a range of bioactive nutrients such as vitamins, phytochemicals (folate, choline, sterols, tocols, alkylresorcinols and phenolics) and oligosaccharides. Rye grain in whole meal or whole-grain bread has high nutritional value but its taste does not appeal to most Europeans.

The 60-month HEALTHGRAIN project aims to produce new wheat varieties with optimal bioactive content, used in foods that are appetising to Europeans. It will start by conducting studies of consumer expectations in four European countries. The project's interdisciplinary research team will then employ plant biotechnology, including 'omics' technologies, and nutrition science, to reveal the physiological mechanisms behind whole grain's benefits. They will determine the bioavailability of bioactive compounds, for example, establishing how cereal foods' glycemic properties reduce risk factors for diabetes. The project will create a toolkit of molecular markers, as well as kits and calibrations for use by plant breeders. New fractionation and bioprocessing (enzyme and fermentation) technologies will help concoct grain foods combining good taste and nutritional benefits.


HEALTHGRAIN will provide health professionals with new nutritional tools to combat such diseases as obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as certain cancers. This will help reduce healthcare expenditures linked to Western lifestyles and ageing populations. Europe produces about 36% of the world's wheat and 94% 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, and for the processing industry, including a large number of small and medium-sized 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.

List of Partners

  • VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (Finland)
  • AgroBioInstitute (Bulgaria)
  • Tate & Lyle (Belgium)
  • ANET - New Media Solutions (Austria)
  • Barilla SpA (Italy)
  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Belgium)
  • Lunds Universitet (Sweden)
  • Université de Droit, d'Economie et des Sciences d'Aix-Marseille III (France)
  • Agricultural Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (Hungary)
  • Federal Research Centre for Nutrition and Food (Germany)
  • BOKU University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (Austria)
  • Branscan Limited (UK)
  • Budapest University of Technology and Economics (Hungary)
  • BÜHLER AG (Switzerland)
  • Cereal Chemistry Equipment CVBA (Belgium)
  • University of Aarhus (Denmark)
  • The Technical University of Denmark (Denmark)
  • International Association for Cereal Science and Technology (Austria)
  • Institute of Food Research (UK)
  • IGV Institut für Getreideverarbeitung GmbH (Germany)
  • Institute of Plant Breeding and Acclimatization (Poland)
  • Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (France)
  • Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca per gli Alimenti e la Nutrizione (Italy)
  • University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • Puracor NV (Belgium)
  • Raisio Nutrition (Finland)
  • Rothamsted Research (UK)
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sweden)
  • SNF Swedish Nutrition Foundation (Sweden)
  • Tecnoalimenti S.C.p.A. (Italy)
  • Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) (The Netherlands)
  • University College Cork-National University of Ireland (Ireland)
  • University of Helsinki (Finland)
  • University of Kuopio (Finland)
  • Maastricht University (The Netherlands)
  • Federico II, University of Naples (Italy)
  • University of Surrey (UK)
  • Università degli Studi della Tuscia (Italy)
  • University of Ulster (UK)
  • Wageningen University (The Netherlands)
  • Öresund Diabetes Team AB (Sweden)
  • Productschap Granen, Zaden en Peulvruchten (The Netherlands)
Full title:
Exploiting bioactivity of European cereal grains for improved nutrition and health benefits
Contract n°:
Project co-ordinator:
Kaisa Poutanen, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland,
EC Scientific Officer:
Danièle Tissot,
EU contribution:
€ 10.8M
Integrated Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top