Nutrition Research Reviews

Review Article

New hypotheses for the health-protective mechanisms of whole-grain cereals: what is beyond fibre?

Anthony Fardeta1a2

a1 INRA, UMR 1019 Nutrition Humaine, F-63122 Saint-Genès-Champanelle, France

a2 Clermont Université, UFR Médecine, UMR 1019 Nutrition Humaine, F-63000 Clermont-Ferrand, France


Epidemiological studies have clearly shown that whole-grain cereals can protect against obesity, diabetes, CVD and cancers. The specific effects of food structure (increased satiety, reduced transit time and glycaemic response), fibre (improved faecal bulking and satiety, viscosity and SCFA production, and/or reduced glycaemic response) and Mg (better glycaemic homeostasis through increased insulin secretion), together with the antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic properties of numerous bioactive compounds, especially those in the bran and germ (minerals, trace elements, vitamins, carotenoids, polyphenols and alkylresorcinols), are today well-recognised mechanisms in this protection. Recent findings, the exhaustive listing of bioactive compounds found in whole-grain wheat, their content in whole-grain, bran and germ fractions and their estimated bioavailability, have led to new hypotheses. The involvement of polyphenols in cell signalling and gene regulation, and of sulfur compounds, lignin and phytic acid should be considered in antioxidant protection. Whole-grain wheat is also a rich source of methyl donors and lipotropes (methionine, betaine, choline, inositol and folates) that may be involved in cardiovascular and/or hepatic protection, lipid metabolism and DNA methylation. Potential protective effects of bound phenolic acids within the colon, of the B-complex vitamins on the nervous system and mental health, of oligosaccharides as prebiotics, of compounds associated with skeleton health, and of other compounds such as α-linolenic acid, policosanol, melatonin, phytosterols and para-aminobenzoic acid also deserve to be studied in more depth. Finally, benefits of nutrigenomics to study complex physiological effects of the ‘whole-grain package’, and the most promising ways for improving the nutritional quality of cereal products are discussed.


c1 Corresponding author: Dr Anthony Fardet, fax +33 473624638, email


Abbreviations: AACC, American Association of Cereal Chemists; DW, dry weight; FRAP, ferric-reducing ability of plasma; GI, glycaemic index; GSH, reduced glutathione; GSSG, oxidised glutathione; RS, resistant starch; USDA, US Department of Agriculture