'Whole Grain', like 'Natural' and 'Organic', has a lot of definitions. Fortunately for marketing departments, people often read their own positive definitions into those terms.

But people invariably pay more for all of those things, so if they pay for organic, they deserve to know if it has any of dozens of synthetic ingredients (it probably does) or the levels of pesticides on it. And the same for other food terms. Toward that end, writers in Food and Nutrition Research have set out to create the most comprehensive definition of "whole grain" to-date, in order to assist in the production and labeling of foods 'rich in whole grains' as part of the HEALTHGRAIN EU project, which focuses on cereals and health.

Historically, there’s been no complete, legally endorsed definition of whole grain flour and products,” explains Jan-Willem van der Kamp, corresponding author of the paper and Senior Officer of International Projects at TNO Food and Nutrition. “Most supermarkets today are stocked with foods that originate from many different countries. When you read ‘25% 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.”

The term whole grain indicates inclusion of all three components of the cereal grain kernel – endosperm (the largest part of the grain, provides mostly starch), germ (a small part of the grain, where sprouting begins) and bran (the grain’s protective outer layer, rich in dietary fiber). 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 definition seeks to address 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.

The HEALTHGRAIN definition was developed by a committee led by van der Kamp, representatives of the Swedish Nutrition Foundation; DPR Nutrition Ltd., UK; and VTT and University of Eastern Finland; in cooperation with a multidisciplinary group of nutrition scientists, cereal scientists and technologists, plant breeders, flour milling specialists and experts in regulatory affairs from throughout Europe.

See all of the grains included in the citation below.

Citation: Jan Willem van der Kamp, Kaisa Poutanen, Chris J. Seal, David P. Richardson, 'The HEALTHGRAIN definition of ‘whole grain’', 4 February 2014 Food&Nutrition Research 2014, 58: 22100, DOI: 10.3402/fnr.v58.22100