PRESS RELEASE: The future of research on bioactive compounds in cereals and foods

Some 110 participants from over 30 countries from 5 continents discussed the current knowledge and the research needs at the latest ICC International Symposium "Bioactive Compounds in Cereal Grains and Foods", which was held in Vienna, Austria, 24-25 April 2014. An initial discussion at the Science Café expressed how multi-faceted the impact and the research of bioactive compounds of cereals and foods are. It was generally agreed that the consumer needs to be better informed and that any claims of foods concerning health promotion or fighting life style diseases need to be substantiated by science. In various technical sessions the scientist had often referred to the difficulty to precisely pinpoint to one compound for a certain health beneficial impact, because synergistic effects and dose dependent efficacies of various bioactive components are usually found in the same food. In more than 20 oral presentations given by renown speakers from around the globe, such as Trust Beta from the University of Manitoba (Canada), or Joseph Awika from Texas A&M University (USA), Fred Brouns from Maastrich University (the Netherlands) or Regine Schönlechner from BOKU (Austria) - to name a few - and over 40 posters, this symposium gave new and multi-actor insight in the identity of bioactive compounds in cereals, their functions and health promoting effects, as well as their fate in food processing. At the end of the symposium Alastair Ross (from Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden, and Chair of the meeting) and John Taylor (from the University of Pretoria, South Africa) summarized the outcomes as follows:

  • There is a need for comprehensive characterisation of materials (e.g. individual phenolics and specific proteins, not total phenolics/antioxidants or total protein)
  • Enzymatic treatments and fermentation seem to be more effective for releasing bioactives than physical processes alone
  • New application of milling and fractionation technologies are popular, but questions remain about unused fractions
  • Costs of complex processing – are these new processes for liberating bioactives cost effective?
  • There is greater need for bringing the knowledge and methods on "minor" grains and pseudocereals up to the level of the "major" grains
  • We need to investigate bioactives in combination with dietary fibre – the two are essentially inseparable in the diet, and should be inseparable in our research!
  • Sensory aspects and consumer acceptance/education are critical, if we are to bring our concepts and new processes to market
  • We need to be well informed about controversies related to cereal intake, and how we can play a role in helping people make the best choices for them, and not based on fear
  • Our knowledge on bioactives in cereals is still really in its infancy, and although we can see the potential, we need to work together to take the new process ideas and newly identified compounds to proven health benefits in humans.

Some additional statements and take home messages from the symposium:

  • "Bioactives are an array of compounds acting in concert; gradually we are building the puzzle to reveal their significance in cereal foods. We start to learn more about distribution of bioactives in different grains and parts of grain. More data is needed about their changes in processing of edible foods." (Kaisa Poutanen, VTT, Finland)
  • "It is time that we move beyond describing bioactive compounds in cereals as antioxidants, and measuring antioxidant activity. We need instead to focus on the real mechanistic effects of the individual and combined compounds which will help our overall understanding of how bioactives really work alone and in concert." (Alastair Ross, Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden)
  • "Synergy among whole grain bioactives (flavonoids) significantly enhance (potential) benefits on cancer prevention." (Joseph Awika, Texas A&M University, USA)
  • "Whole grain is a good source of vitamins, minerals and trace-elements as well as plant components that have beneficial effects on health maintenance. Individuals who consume whole grain foods as part of a varied daily diet have a significant reduction for risks of heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancer. Weight management appears to be more favorable in whole grain consumers. The current internet-social media driven hype that gluten free is a healthy lifestyle for ALL, is not confirmed by science. Careful estimates indicate about 1 - max 1.5% celiac disease patients and 6 - 8% wheat sensitive individuals adding up to max 10% of the population that may benefit from gluten avoidance. There is at present no evidence that so called ancient grains provide significant health benefits over modern grain types." (Fred Brouns, Maastrich University, the Netherlands)
  • "This conference revealed that cereal dietary fibre and other bioactive compounds are closely linked, by chemical bonding or intimate association; to a much higher degree than fibres in fruits and vegetables. Cereal fibre goes beyond just fibre!" (Jan Willem van der Kamp, TNO, the Netherlands)

This symposium was organised by ICC - International Association for Cereal Science and Technology and hosted by BOKU - the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences Vienna. The event attracted food and cereal scientists from around the globe, breeders, dieticians and nutritionists, consumer representatives, food businesses, food manufacturers, policy makers from the agricultural and health sectors, providers of food ingredients and plant food supplements. The tenor of the participants was that this meeting needs a follow up and may become a series of symposia following the positive examples of Dietary Fibre or Gluten-Free Conferences. Various researchers encouraged collaboration with related initiatives and research consortia, such as the HealthGrain Forum or the recently launched MyNewGut project funded by the EU's FP7. ICC recently submitted a COST proposal for better alignment of currently often fragmented research and to better exploit knowledge and available technology to develop healthy and tasty whole grain foods. Participants of the symposium and ICC members have access to the presentations of this event and will receive further information on any additional developments on collaborative research in the area of bioactives. If you are interested to get involved, please contact the ICC Headquarters at officeaticc [dot] or [dot] at.

ICC would like to thank also the sponsors of this event, above all CPW (Cereal Partners Worldwide), and also Nestle, the Vienna Public Transportation System, and Austrian Airlines.

You may want to continue relevant discussions and collaborations at various upcoming related events:

  • International PlantLibra Conference, 12-14 May 2014, Vienna, Austria
  • ICC Whole Grain Symposium, 5-6 June 2014, Wuhan, China
  • 8th Food Science International Symposium and 4th International Symposium of the Academic Society for Functional Foods and Bioactives, 26-27 July 2014, Chengdu, China
  • Rice International Conference 2014, 24-27 November 2014, Pingtung, Taiwan
  • DF15 - 6th Dietary Fibre Conference 2015, 1-3 June 2015, Paris, France
  • Grains for feeding the world - ICC/AISTEC Conference at the World Expo Milan 2015, 1-3 July 2015, Milan, Italy

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