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Whole grains beyond fibre: what can metabolomics tell us about mechanisms?

  • Alastair B. Ross (a1)


Dietary fibre alone does not fully explain the frequent association between greater intake of whole grains and reduced risk of disease in observational studies, and other phytochemicals or food structure may also play an important role. For all the observational evidence for the benefits of a whole-grain-rich diet, we have only limited knowledge of the mechanisms behind this reduction in disease risk, aside from the action of specific cereal fibres on reduction of blood cholesterol and the post-prandial glucose peak. Nutritional metabolomics, the global measurement and interpretation of metabolic profiles, assesses the interaction of food with the endogenous gene–protein cascade and the gut microbiome. This approach allows the generation of new hypotheses which account for systemic effects, rather than just focusing on one or two mechanisms or metabolic pathways. To date, animal and human trials using metabolomics to investigate mechanistic changes to metabolism on eating whole grains and cereal fractions have led to new hypotheses around mechanistic effects of whole grains. These include the role of cereals as a major source of dietary glycine betaine, a possible effect on phospholipid synthesis or metabolism, the role of branched-chain amino acids and improvements in insulin sensitivity, and the possibility that whole grains may have an effect on protein metabolism. These hypotheses help explain some of the observed effects of whole grains, although mechanistic studies using stable isotopes and fully quantitative measures are required to confirm these potential mechanisms.

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Corresponding author

Corresponding author: A. B. Ross, email


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