Wholegrains have repeatedly been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, an effect that may be due to the beta glucans and arabinoxylans in soluble fibre blocking the re-absorption of cholesterol from the gut. This means more cholesterol is expelled by the body during digestion.
But Professor Geoff Fincher of the University of Adelaide, one of the partners in the project, said that while barley is a good source of soluble fibre, wheat and rice have relatively low levels.
“The many health benefits that grains can bring have been proven, so the next step is to boost the amount of beneficial fibre in these grains,” he said.
Inclusion of fibre in packaged and prepared foods and beverages is of considerable interest to the food industry, especially as fibre intakes in many populations tend to fall short of recommendations. Europe barley beta glucan has received a positive health claim from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for health blood cholesterol.
Speed through collaboration
The project is dubbed the High Fibre Grains Cluster and has a budget of A$7m. The other partners are the CSIRO Food Futures Flagship, The University of Melbourne, The University of Queensland.
The time-frame for the investigations is next three years. It Dr Bruce Lee, director of CSIRO Food Futures Flagship, which is contributing A$3.4m from its Flagship Collaboration Fund, said the collaborative approach is designed to enable fast results.
“By bringing together scientists from CSIRO and leading Australian research institutions, the High Fibre Grains Cluster will produce more significant outcomes far more rapidly than if we each tackled these problems on our own.”
Finch said: “What this CSIRO Food Futures Flagship Collaboration Fund has made possible is to bring together expertise in Australia… and combine that expertise with internal expertise within the CSIRO and create overall a group that is without peer internationally in terms of the expertise in cell wall components, cell wall polysaccharides and human health and nutrition”.
A previous three-year project funded by the Flagship Collaboration Fund that came to an end in March 2010, explored non-starch polysaccharides (NSP) within the cell wall – the biggest source of fibre in grains. The team looked at the functions controlling NSP and their synthesis, and ways of improving the ability to manipulate their levels and composition in grains.