Wheat – Nutritional Profile

Wheat contains many vital nutrients but it is frequently refined and through such processes looses much of its nutritional value.

Ironically the process of refining flour became widespread in the Middle Ages in response to the problem of diseases carried in wheat. The milling and refining processes removed the parts of the grain that contained fungal infections, solving the problem of illness but at the time they did not understand that they were throwing away more than 50% of the nutritional value of the wheat.

Current refining techniques result in the removal of vitamin B1,B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorous, zinc, copper iron and fibre. Many western countries responded to this with regulation that requires the enrichment of flour by adding back the vitamin contents lost during refining.

The true nutritional benefit from wheat is only realised when consuming the whole wheat versions of the grain that are complete with dietary fibre and the nutritious wheat germ.

Current thinking in dietary nutrition considers Glycemic Index (GI) which is the rate at which carbohydrate is released into the bloodstream. Low GI foods are regarded as more beneficial. Highly refined white flour products are designated as High GI, and therefore less desirable whilst whole grain products fair somewhat better with a Medium GI designation.

Wheat – Health Benefits

The relative health benefits of wheat in its many various forms have been the centre of much lively debate with a consensus that consumption of whole grain products gives access to all the benefits from this ubiquitous grain.

Type 2 diabetes is currently considered the number one threat to health in western societies. Research is now showing that consumption of some food stuffs, including whole grains is linked to lower rates of type 2 diabetes. Risk of type 2 diabetes was reduced by as much as 31% in some population groups reported in an 8 year trial carried out by R van Dam and F Hu in America.

Whole wheat is a good source of betaine which assists in the production of intestinal digestive acids and also plays a significant role in reducing chronic inflammation. Markers such as this are important in prevention of some cancers but it should be noted that the level of betaine in whole wheat will vary significantly based upon where the wheat is originally grow. Wheat grown in Australia has a generally higher content than any wheat grown elsewhere.

Prevention of gallstones, particularly in women, has been demonstrated in a study by the American Journal of Gastroenterology which showed that over a women who consumed fibre regularly over a 16year p[period were 13% less likely to develop gall stones. Where that fibre was insoluble, as is the fibre found in wheat, the risk decreased by a further 4% to 14%. It is thought that insoluble fibre increases the time foods takes to travel through the intestine, leading to a lower secretion of bile acids which, when over produced, lead to gall stones.

Fibre is a natural laxative that, when present in the diet ensures that the digestive tract performs at an optimum level as food passes through the digestive tract at the correct rate. Dietary fibre, as is found in whole wheat, is often used to treat bowel conditions that have been caused, in some way, by the impacted passage of food stuffs though the body.

Studies in the UK have demonstrated that fibre protects against breast cancer in both pre and post menopausal women. In the UK Women’s Cohort Study published by Cade, Burley et Al in International Journal of Epidemiology in 1999 it was reported that women eating more than 30g fibre daily halved their risk of developing breast cancer compared to those consuming less than 20g day. Similar studies in post menopausal women have shown that their risk of developing breast cancer reduced by 34%

Asthma is a late 20th century condition affecting many people. A research project in Holland questioned 598 children about eating habits and examined their breathing patters and found better lung function in those children with diets that included whole grain products and fish. The prevalence of wheezing in the group eating whole grain products was reduced to 4.3% as opposed to 20% for those not. After statistical correction the probability of being asthmatic was reduced by 66%.

The role of phytonutrients such as lignans has been well understood by science but recently it has become clear that more quantities of these nutrients are present in whole grains than was originally thought. These in bound form are not released until the food passes through the digestive tract. Antioxidants like this play a significant role in preventing cancer, in the case of Lignans, breast cancer and in delaying the ageing process.

The heart of the whole grain is wheat germ. The kernel of the grain is vitamin rich, particularly in the all important B types. It is also high in vitamin E that protects other les robust nutrients in the kernel and which has great importance in maintaining human well being.

Wheat – Product History

Wheat is the import food crop in the world particularly in Canada and America. Staples such as bread, pasta, and many other flour based foodstuffs are made with wheat. Western environments did not naturally support wheat culture, iIt was introduced in the late 15th century when Columbus came conquering. Wheat was the natural staple for the newly colonised Americas as there wasn’t the volume of free flowing water required to support the other grain staple of the time, rice.

Allergic reactions to wheat products are documented. Ceoliac disease is results from the bodies immune system being triggered by the presence of gluten in the wheat. The condition results in damage to the inside lining of the intestine and it is frequently confused with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Untreated, with dietary programme, it can lead to muscle wastage, bloating and irritability.