Iron and zinc in grains are difficult to absorb because they are bound to the antinutrient phytic acid.
Reducing meat consumption and eating a more plant-based diet with an increased intake of whole grains and legumes is one of the most important changes for a sustainable food system. The risk of plant-based diets having too little protein is considered low. However, several researchers highlight the risk of deficiency in certain minerals, such as iron and zinc. Today, it is estimated that 25-30 percent of girls and young women in Sweden are at risk of iron-deficiency anemia, and vegetarians in Sweden generally have lower iron levels.
Meat is a significant source of iron, but the grains we consume actually contain more iron than what’s found in the meat, fish, and eggs consumed. The problem is that iron and zinc in grains like wheat, rye, oats, and barley are difficult for us to absorb because they are bound to the antinutrient phytic acid.
We need to eat within the planetary boundaries, which means that as much as one-third of our calorie intake should come from whole grains.
– Veronica Öhrvik, Project Manager, Future Food, Axfoundation
Through hydrothermal processing up to 99 percent of the antinutrient phytic acid can be broken down and more iron, zinc, and calcium becomes available to the body.
In the Mineral Shift project, a wide range of stakeholders collaborate to develop the next generation of flavorful and healthy whole grain products made from barley, rye, and wheat, where a larger share of minerals becomes available for the body to absorb. At the core of the project is an innovative method developed by the researchers behind the company Hidden in Grains, known as hydrothermal processing. In simplified terms, this technique involves soaking grains in carefully monitored processes for a specific duration and temperature.
To optimize production, a pilot plant has been established at Torsåker farm and the next generation of grains products are being developed.
Through hydrothermal processing of whole grains, up to 99 percent of the antinutrient phytic acid can be broken down. This results in more iron, zinc, and calcium becoming available to the body. Instead of only a few percent of iron and zinc being available in the raw ingredient, 7-9 times more can become accessible. For instance, this can significantly enhance the absorption of iron in a plant-based diet.
The process works for most grains and leaves the grain relatively unchanged.
Hidden in Grains’ processing technique draws inspiration from traditional cooking methods used for centuries but has been optimized with modern technology. The process works for most grains and leaves the grain relatively unchanged, allowing it to be ground, crushed, or flaked in a regular mill, for example.
The Mineral Shift project focuses on Swedish-grown barley and rye, as well as wheat from heritage grains. An important goal of the project is to increase demand for these grains, both to improve the profitability of Swedish grain producers and processors and to contribute to the national environmental goal of a rich agricultural landscape.
Did you know…?
- The grain products we consume actually contain more iron than the meat, fish, eggs, and dairy consumed.The problem is that iron and zinc in grains like wheat, rye, oats, and barley are difficult for us to absorb because they are bound to the antinutrient phytic acid.
- Nearly 30 percent of our total food consumption consists of grains. Most commonly, we consume soft bread, pasta, and baked goods.
- 9 out of 10 people in Sweden consume less whole grains than recommended. Whole grains can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and colorectal cancer.
- 25-30 percent of young women in Sweden are estimated to be at risk of iron-deficiency anemia. Zinc deficiency can also become a concern as more people transition from meat to plant-based diets.
At Torsåker Farm, Axfoundation’s center for the sustainable food systems of the future, Hidden in Grains has established a pilot plant for hydrothermal processing of grains. The goal is to scale up and optimize production considering profitability and sustainability parameters such as water and energy consumption.
In the test kitchen, Axfoundation is driving the development of new products made from grains processed hydrothermally. Experiments involving new ingredients and dishes are also underway in the Södertälje Municipality’s test bed, with the aim of bringing more sustainable food products to the market. Simultaneously, the development node MatLust is working to boost demand for the products and identify suitable producers.
Within the project, Hidden in Grains and Warbro Kvarn are also planning a large-scale production facility. In this endeavor, Axfoundation is sharing experiences related to scaling up and business models from previous successful innovations.
We need to look back in time to move forward. We’re collaborating with a wide range of partners to develop the next generation of whole grain products.
– Veronica Öhrvik, Project Manager, Future Food, Axfoundation
- Antinutrients are naturally occurring substances in grains, legumes, and nuts. One such substance is phytic acid, which hinders the body’s absorption of minerals. In grains, antinutrients are primarily found in the bran, which also contains most of the grain’s minerals.
- Bioavailability is the proportion of a nutrient that the body can utilize for essential physiological processes.
- Whole grains mean that all parts of the grain kernel are included – it can be whole kernels, crushed/cut kernels, or ground kernels. Common sources of whole grains include crispbread, rye bread, and oatmeal. People who consume a lot of whole grains have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
- Hydrothermal processing is a technique that enhances the availability of minerals in grains, such as wheat, through soaking and heating under specific conditions. Hydrothermal processing techniques have been developed based on proven methods with millennia-old traditions from various parts of the world. The process has been studied, including as part of a doctoral thesis at Chalmers University of Technology. Hidden in Grains has improved and validated the technique and quality-assured it through analyses of phytic acid.
The Mineral Shift project is led by MatLust development node in collaboration with Axfoundation, Hidden in Grains, and Warbro Kvarn. Also, collaborating with the project is The Division of Food and Nutrition Science (FNS) at Chalmers University of Technology.