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    Topic review

    Betaine in Cereal Grains

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    Submitted by: Bojana Filipčev

    Definition

    Betaine is a non-essential nutrient which performs several important physiological functions in organisms. Abundant data exist to suggest that betaine has a potential for prevention of chronic diseases and that its dietary intake may contribute to overall health enhancement. 

    1. Introduction

    Betaine (N,N,N-trimethylglycine, glycine betaine) is an organic nitrogenous compound, found for the first time in sugar beet juice (Beta vulgaris).
    Betaine is a zwitterion of quaternary ammonium which is still named trimethylglycine and glycine betaine (Figure 1). It is a methyl derivative of the amino acid glycine ((CH3)3N+CH2COO and molecular weight 117.2). It is characterized as methylamine due to its three free methyl groups [1].
    Figure 1. Betaine chemical structure.
    Various analogues of glycine betaine exist in plants: proline betaine (stachydrine), trigonelline, arsenobetaine, betonicine, butirobetaine, ergothionine, propionobetaine, and sulfur analogues. The sulfur analogues are several in type: β-alaninebetaine, dimethylsulfonioacetate, and dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP). The food survey study by de Zwart et al. [2] showed that only some betaine analogues were present in food at appreciable levels (>10 µg/g)—glycine betaine, proline betaine, trigonelline, and DMSP. Slow et al. [3] indicated glycine betaine as dominant in grain products, proline betaine in citruses, and trigonelline in coffee. Most recently, some rare forms of betaine were identified in the grains of most common cereals: pipercolic acid betaine in rye flour and valine betaine and glutamine betaine in flours of barley, rye, oat, durum, and winter wheat [4]. The content of betaine analogues was found to be vastly variable in grains; higher betaine levels seem to be induced by plant growth under stress conditions (drought, salt stress, cold, freezing, hypoxia, etc.) [2][3]. Since the potential health effects of betaine analogues, particularly trigonelline and proline, have not yet been fully resolved, currently only glycine betaine has dietary relevance.
    Betaine represents a bioactive compound that has significant physiological functions in the human organism as an osmolite and donor of methyl groups for many biochemical processes. As such, it is indispensable to preserve the health of kidneys, liver, and heart [5]. This compound has an important role in preventing and treating many chronic diseases, among which lowering of plasma homocysteine levels has gained the most attention [5][6][7]. High serum homocysteine levels have been associated with increased risk for cardiovascular diseases (stroke, heart attack, atherosclerosis), cancer, peripheral neuropathy, etc. Moreover, betaine has been shown to improve athletic performance by enhancing muscle endurance [7][8].

    2. Cereal Grains as a Source of Betaine

    Data on the distribution of betaine in various cereals and pseudocereals are scarce and there is definitely a lack of detailed study. Most data come from various studies that were focused on estimation of betaine dietary intake. Nevertheless, available studies report on wide variations in betaine content in cereals. Different types of cereals may have different amounts of betaine [9]. The following ranges were found by de Zwart et al. [2]: 270–1110 µg/g (dry solids) in wheat flour, and 200–1000 µg/g in oats. More detailed overview of betaine levels in various cereals and pseudocereals from different studies is displayed in Table 1. The displayed data showed that betaine content spanned in wide ranges within the studied grains. According to Corol et al. [9], betaine content in cereals varies depending on multiple factors including genotype and environmental differences such as geographical and/or year-to-year variations and their interactions with genotype. This study revealed a three-fold difference in glycine betaine content within bread wheat genotypes and a 3.8-fold difference across six environments. The highest glycine betaine levels were found in Hungarian wheat grains whereas the lowest in those grown in the UK [9]. Slow et al. [3] and de Zwart et al. [2] indicated that the level of betaine depends on the level of stress under which the crop grows. This is due to osmoprotectant and cryoprotectant function of betaine. For example, growth under drought can cause higher levels of betaine compared to well-watered crops.
    Table 1. Betaine content in different samples of cereals and pseudocereals.

    Cereals and Pseudocereals

    Betaine

    References

    (µg/g Dry Weight)

    Wheat (Triticum aestivum)

       

    raw grain

    1150–1320

    [10]

     

    490–574

    [11]

    bran

    5047–5383

    [11]

     

    2717

    [12]

     

    2300–7200

    [3]

    aleurone

    4538–6242

    [13]

    germ

    3414

    [13]

    wholegrain flour

    792

    [13]

     

    730 *

    [14]

     

    604

    [15]

     

    540

    [11]

    refined flour

    718 *

    [16]

     

    700 *

    [14]

     

    415–593

    [12][11]

     

    398

    [13]

     

    180 *

    [4]

     

    141.2

    [15]

    flour (not specified by origin)

    270–1110

    [2]

    Wheat Emmer (T. dicoccum)

       

    raw grain

    830–940

    [10]

    refined flour

    195 *

    [4]

    Wheat Einkorn (T. monococcum)

       

    refined flour

    367.3 *

    [4]

    Durum wheat (T. durum)

       

    semolina

    1227

    [11]

     

    483

    [12]

     

    683

    [13]

    refined flour

    253–303

    [11]

     

    310

    [12]

    wholegrain flour

    713

    [13]

     

    245 *

    [4]

    Spelt wheat (T. aestivum ssp. spelta)

       

    raw grain

    973–2723

    [11]

     

    565–714

    [12]

    wholegrain flour

    1296–1442

    [11]

     

    1370–1430

    [10]

    refined flour

    978

    [13]

     

    522–593

    [11]

    410

    [12]

    Kamut wheat, Khorasan (T. turgidum ssp. turanicum)

       

    raw grains

    1100

    [14]

    Triticale (xTriticosecale)

       

    raw grain

    986–1030

    [11]

    Rye

       

    raw grain

    2213

    [11]

     

    1530–1760

    [10]

     

    444

    [12]

    bran

    1651

    [15]

    refined flour

    310 *

    [4]

    wholegrain flour

    1500 *

    [14]

     

    1182

    [11]

     

    986

    [12]

    Barley

       

    raw grain

    460

    [10]

    raw grain from naked var.

    980

    [10]

    wholegrain flour

    776–1023

    [11]

     

    779

    [12]

    refined flour

    250 *

    [4]

    flour from naked var

    424

    [12]

     

    574

    [11]

    pearled grain

    274

    [12]

    Oats

       

    raw grain

    280

    [10]

     

    388

    [12]

    raw grain from naked var.

    440

    [10]

    wholegrain flour

    310 *

    [14]

    flour

    404–688

    [11]

     

    53 *

    [4]

    bran

    200 *

    [14]

     

    190

    [13]

    Maize

       

    raw grain

    107–304

    [11]

     

    175

    [12]

    wholegrain meal

    120 *

    [14]

    degermed meal

    4 *

    [14]

    semolina

    3–22

    [13]

    refined corn grits

    37

    [13]

    flour, enriched

    20 *

    [14]

    refined flour

    2.1 *

    [4]

    bran

    184

    [12]

     

    104

    [11]

     

    46 *

    [14]

    flakes

    103–120

    [11]

     

    7–9

    [13]

     

    n.d.

    [12]

    starch

    n.d.

    [12]

    popped

    19

    [13]

     

    n.d.

    [12]

    Rice

       

    grain

    1–5

    [13]

     

    n.d.

    [12]

    refined flour

    8.4 *

    [4]

    expanded

    n.d.

    [12]

    starch

    n.d.

    [12]

    Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus)

       

    raw grain

    7420

    [11]

     

    680 *

    [14]

     

    646

    [13]

    expanded grain

    669

    [11]

     

    607

    [12]

    flour

    895–1225

    [11]

     

    871

    [12]

    Proso millet

       

    sample type not specified

    95–112

    [13]

    dehulled grain

    281

    [11]

    refined flour

    1320 *

    [4]

    Buckwheat

       

    wholegrain flour

    108

    [11]

     

    7–20

    [13]

    refined flour

    n.d.

    [12]

    groats, roasted

    10 *

    [4]

     

    26 *

    [14]

    Sorghum

       

    refined flour

    425 *

    [4]

    Quinoa

       

    grains

    6300 *

    [14]

    3042–4428

    [13]

    610.8 *

    [4]

    n.d. not detected; * result expressed on wet weight.

    3. Betaine Content in Cereal-Based Products

    The betaine content in cereal products depends on the processing method. Two to four times lower betaine content were found in refined grain products compared to equivalent whole grain products [13]. Betaine content is notably dependent on the loss of bran fraction during processing. The higher the abrasion of aleurone layer, the lower the betaine content in the product. Outstanding betaine levels were determined in wheat bran, up to 7200 µg/g (Table 1). Likes et al. [16] analyzed the betaine contents in different milling streams and reported the lowest betaine level in the cleanest milling fractions. In the study of de Zwart et al. [2], a wide range of different foods was analyzed for betaine content and flour was denoted as an item high in betaine (730 µg/g), however it was not specified the type of flour, except that it was available from retail markets. Betaine ranges in bread, pasta, breakfast cereals and snacks are given in Table 2. As it can be seen, the variation within each product category is high due to versatility of ingredients in product formulations. In each product category, the highest betaine content was reported for wholegrain products or products containing bran or germ. Among breads, rye, spelt, and wholemeal breads were abundant in betaine. Moderate to high betaine contents were reported for pasta products, but it must be noted that mainly uncooked samples were analyzed (Table 2). Breakfast cereals are a mixture of cereal and non-cereal ingredients and the betaine content will depend on the contribution of each ingredient. In the study of Filipčev et al. [11], two samples of commercially available breakfast cereals were analyzed, one of which contained no detectable levels of betaine whereas the other had 471 µg/g (on dry solids). A similar concluded was made by Ross et al. [13] for muesli and muesli bars which were found to contain only low-to-moderate betaine levels. These products were mainly based on oats and contained other low-betaine ingredients such as dried fruits. In contrast to Ross et al. [13], the USDA data [14] report on much wider span of betaine in breakfast cereals, from 7 µg/greaching to as much as 3600 µg/g (on wet weight) betaine.
    Table 2. Betaine content in various grain-based products.

    Product

    Betaine Content

    References

    (µg/g Dry Weight)

    Bread

       

    rye bread

    855–1377

    [13]

    wholegrain spelt

    913

    [13]

    wholemeal

    670–790

    [3]

    wholegrain

    499–781

    [13]

     

    560–620

    [3]

    multigrain

    247–678

    [13]

    white (refined)

    360–520

    [3]

     

    174–287

    [13]

    various (white, sourdough)

    310–590 *

    [14]

     

    380 *

    [14]

     

    579

    [15]

    wheat tortilla

    311

    [13]

    Pasta

       

    wholegrain wheat pasta

    710–1286

    [13]

     

    375

    [15]

    pasta, not specified

    480–1350

    [2]

    refined wheat pasta

    628–706

    [13]

    refined wheat (T. aestivum) pasta, uncooked

    253

    [12]

    durum wheat pasta, uncooked

    188

    [12]

    one–egg spelt pasta

    243–516

    [13]

    barley pasta

    211

    [13]

    noodles with egg, enriched, uncooked

    1300 *

    [14]

    noodles with egg, enriched, cooked

    190 *

    [14]

    refined couscous

    691

    [13]

    bulghur

    1311

    [13]

    cooked bulghur

    830 *

    [14]

    Breakfast cereals

       

    ready-to-eat wheat germ, toasted, plain

    4100 *

    [14]

    ready-to-eat wheat bran, toasted

    3200 *

    [14]

    wholegrain rye flakes

    1640

    [13]

    wholegrain wheat-based cereals

    732–915

    [13]

    wholegrain oat and wheat-based muesli

    310

    [13]

    wholegrain oat-based muesli

    117–226

    [13]

    breakfast cereals, not specified

    180–300

    [12]

    muesli bar

    171

    [13]

    wholegrain porridge oats

    128–167

    [13]

    extruded whole grain oat cereals

    73–91

    [13]

    cereal bar

    74–75

    [13]

    various ready-to-eat cereals

    7–3600 *

    [14]

    Snacks, cookies, crackers, crispbread, cakes, pastry

       

    wholegrain rye crispbread

    1428–1527

    [13]

    frozen, read-to-eat pancakes

    690–720 *

    [14]

    wholegrain wheat crackers

    293–649

    [13]

    crackers, classic, saltines, cheese

    340–580 *

    [14]

    wholegrain wheat rusks

    556–564

    [13]

    wholegrain wheat muffin

    437–501

    [13]

    various commercial cakes

    190–480 *

    [14]

    wholegrain wheat biscuit

    425

    [12]

    Graham cookies

    390 *

    [14]

    doughnuts

    270–380 *

    [14]

    English muffins

    220–360 *

    [14]

    extruded spelt

    308

    [12]

    refined wheat crackers

    258–332

    [13]

    digestive biscuit

    271–309

    [13]

    apple pie, commercial

    160 *

    [14]

    biscuit

    4–144

    [13]

    Danish pastry, fruit enriched

    140 *

    [14]

    plain Danish pastry

    81 *

    [14]

    * Result expressed on wet weight.

    4. Betaine Content in Gluten-Free Cereal Products

    Gluten-free products have been generally recognized to be low in betaine content [13][15]. In the majority of commercially available gluten-free products, a very low level of betaine (<50 μg/g) was observed [13]. Table 3 lists the betaine levels reported for commercial gluten-free products from several studies. In the bread and biscuits category, betaine levels ranged from non-detectable to 107 µg/g. Similar findings were reported by Kojić et al. [12], who also found that gluten-free samples (starch, corn extrudates, pasta, cornflakes, and rice) contained no detectable levels of betaine. Gluten-free cereals contained much lower amounts of betaine in comparison to glutenous cereals: corn had 107–304 µg/g betaine [11]; teff and millet between 50–150 µg/g [13], proso millet 280 µg/g [11]. Buckwheat is a frequent ingredient in gluten-free products. According to Ross et al. [13], buckwheat was among those ingredients low in betaine (<20 µg/g) although as high as 390 µg/g betaine was found in buckwheat uncooked pasta (Table 3).
    Table 3. Betaine content in gluten-free products.

    Product

    Betaine Content

    (µg/g Dry Weight)

    References

    Bread and biscuits

       

    gluten-free crispbread

    9–107

    [13]

    savory biscuits

    n.d.–104

    [11]

    wholegrain gluten-free bread

    12–68

    [13]

    oatmeal biscuits

    3

    [13]

    gluten-free flour enriched with fibers

    1

    [13]

    sweet biscuits

    n.d.

    [12]

    flour mixture for gluten-free bread

    n.d.

    [12]

    gluten-free cookies with almonds, crackers, salty sticks

    n.d.

    [12]

    expanded maize

    n.d.

    [12]

    Pasta

       

    buckwheat pasta, uncooked

    390

    [11]

     

    382

    [13]

     

    175

    [12]

    maize-based pasta

    2–20

    [13]

    maize and rice-based pasta, uncooked

    n.d.

    [12]

    rice-based pasta, uncooked

    n.d.

    [12]

    Breakfast cereals and related products

       

    soy bran

    182

    [12]

    unseasoned popcorn

    19

    [13]

    cornflakes

    14

    [13]

    buckwheat flakes

    10

    [13]

    rice-based breakfast cereals

    4–5

    [13]

    expanded rice

    n.d.

    [12]

    n.d. not detected.

    5. Stability of Betaine in Grain-Based Products

    Betaine is known to be a thermostable compound that survives the severe treatment during sugar beet processing (extracting with water, treatment with CaOH2 and CO2, concentration, crystallization) and almost quantitatively accumulates in molasses [17]. Pure anhydrous betaine decomposes at > 245 °C. Since food processing practices do not employ such high temperatures, betaine losses caused by food thermal treatments were initially not expected [18]. However, some data suggest that certain cooking and baking losses of betaine may exist in spite of its thermostability in the pure form. Being a water-soluble compound with a small molecule, it is not unlikely that some betaine losses will occur, depending on the type of food processing and cooking. Available data suggest that losses are very high if processing involves water removal after cooking or boiling due to its solubility in water. Very high losses were observed during the baking of betaine-enriched bread, implying that fermentation by baker’s yeast may be one of the causes but future research is needed to understand the possible mechanisms.

    The entry is from 10.3390/foods7040049

    References

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    3. Slow, S.; Donaggio, M.; Cressey, P.J.; Lever, M.; George, P.M.; Chambers, S.T. The betaine content of New Zealand foods and estimated intake in the New Zealand diet. J. Food Compos. Anal. 2005, 18, 473–485.
    4. Servillo, L.; D’Onofrio, N.; Giovane, A.; Casale, R.; Cautela, D.; Ferrari, G.; Castaldo, D.; Balestrieri, M.L. The betaine profile of cereal flours unveils new and uncommon betaines. Food Chem. 2018, 239, 234–241.
    5. Craig, S.A. Betaine in human nutrition. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2004, 80, 539–548.
    6. Olthof, M.R.; Van Vliet, T.; Boelsma, E.; Verhoef, P. Low dose betaine supplementation leads to immediate and long term lowering of plasma homocysteine in health men and women. J. Nutr. 2003, 133, 4135–4138.
    7. Steenge, G.R.; Verhoef, P.; Katan, M.B. Betaine supplementation lowers plasma homocysteine in healthy men and women. J. Nutr. 2003, 133, 1291–1295.
    8. Hoffman, J.R.; Ratamess, N.A.; Kang, J.; Rashti, S.L.; Faigenbaum, A.D. Effect of betaine supplementation on power performance and fatigue. J. Int. Soc. Sports Nutr. 2009, 6, 7–17.
    9. Corol, D.I.; Ravel, C.; Raksegi, M.; Bedo, Z.; Charmet, G.; Beale, M.H.; Ward, J.L. Effects of genotype and environment on the contents of betaine, choline, and trigonelline in cereal grains. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2012, 60, 5471–5481.
    10. Hefni, E.M.; Schaller, F.; Witthöft, M.C. Betaine, choline and folate content in different cereal genotypes. J. Cereal Sci. 2018, 80, 72–79.
    11. Filipčev, B.V.; Brkljača, J.S.; Krulj, J.A.; Bodroža-Solarov, M.I. The betaine content in common cereal-based and gluten-free food from local origin. Food Feed Res. 2015, 42, 129–137.
    12. Kojić, J.; Krulj, J.; Ilić, N.; Lončar, E.; Pezo, L.; Mandić, A.; Bodroža-Solarov, M. Analysis of betaine levels in cereals, pseudocereals and their products. J. Funct. Foods 2017, 37, 157–163.
    13. Ross, A.B.; Zangger, A.; Guiraud, S.P. Cereal foods are the major source of betaine in the Western diet—Analysis of betaine and free choline in cereal foods and updated assessments of betaine intake. Food Chem. 2014, 145, 859–865.
    14. Patterson, K.Y.; Bhagwat, S.A.; Williams, J.R.; Howe, J.C.; Holden, J.M. USDA Database for the Choline Content of Common Foods—Release 2. Available online: (accessed on 5 January 2018).
    15. Bruce, S.J.; Guy, P.A.; Rezzi, S.; Ross, A.B. Quantitative measurement of betaine and free choline in plasma, cereals and cereal products by isotope dilution LC-MS/MS. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2010, 58, 2055–2061.
    16. Likes, R.; Madl, R.L.; Zeisel, S.H.; Craig, S.A.S. The betaine and choline content of a whole wheat flour compared to other mill streams. J. Cereal Sci. 2007, 46, 93–95.
    17. Šušić, S.; Sinobad, V. Ispitivanja u cilju unapređenja industrije šećeraJugoslavije. Hem. Ind. 1989, 43 (Suppl. 1–2), 10–21.
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