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Wheat is one of the world’s most commonly consumed cereal grains.
It comes from a type of grass (Triticum) that is grown in countless varieties worldwide.
Bread wheat, or common wheat, is the primary species. Several other closely related species include durum, spelt, emmer, einkorn, and Khorasan wheat.
White and whole-wheat flour are key ingredients in baked goods, such as bread. Other wheat-based foods include pasta, noodles, semolina, bulgur, and couscous.
Wheat is highly controversial because it contains a protein called gluten, which can trigger a harmful immune response in predisposed individuals.
However, for people who tolerate it, whole-grain wheat can be a rich source of various antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Wheat is mainly composed of carbs but also has moderate amounts of protein.
Here are the nutrition facts for 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of whole-grain wheat flour:
Like all cereal grains, wheat is mainly composed of carbs.
Starch is the predominant carb in the plant kingdom, accounting for over 90% of the total carb content in wheat.
The health effects of starch mainly depend on its digestibility, which determines its effect on blood sugar levels.
High digestibility may cause an unhealthy spike in blood sugar after a meal and have harmful effects on health, especially for people with diabetes.
Similar to white rice and potatoes, both white and whole wheat rank high on the glycemic index (GI), making them unsuitable for people with diabetes.
On the other hand, some processed wheat products — such as pasta — are digested less efficiently and thus don’t raise blood sugar levels to the same extent.
Whole wheat is high in fiber — but refined wheat contains almost none.
The fiber content of whole-grain wheat is 12–15% of the dry weight.
As they’re concentrated in the bran, fibers are removed during the milling process and largely absent from refined flour.
The main fiber in wheat bran is arabinoxylan (70%), which is a type of hemicellulose. The rest is mostly made up of cellulose.
Most wheat fiber is insoluble, passing through your digestive system almost intact and adding bulk to stool. Some fibers also feed your gut bacteria.
What’s more, wheat contains small amounts of soluble fibers, or fructans, that may cause digestive symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
By and large, though, wheat bran may have beneficial effects on gut health.
Proteins make up 7–22% of wheat’s dry weight.
Gluten a large family of proteins, accounts for up to 80% of the total protein content. It’s responsible for the unique elasticity and stickiness of wheat dough, the properties that make it so useful in breadmaking.
Wheat gluten can have adverse health effects in people with gluten intolerance.
Whole wheat is a good source of several vitamins and minerals.
As with most cereal grains, the amount of minerals depends on the soil in which it’s grown.
Some of the most nutritious parts of the grain — the bran and germ — are absent from white wheat because they’re removed during the milling and refining process.
Therefore, white wheat is relatively poor in many vitamins and minerals compared to whole-grain wheat.
Because wheat accounts for a large portion of people’s food intake, flour is regularly enriched with vitamins and minerals.
In fact, enrichment of wheat flour is mandatory in many countries.
Enriched wheat flour may be a good source of iron, thiamine, niacin, calcium, and vitamin B6, in addition to the above nutrients.
Most of the plant compounds in wheat are concentrated in the bran and germ, which are absent from refined white wheat.
The highest levels of antioxidants are found in the aleurone layer, a component of the bran.
Wheat aleurone is also sold as a dietary supplement.
Common plant compounds in wheat include:
While white wheat may not be particularly beneficial to health, whole-grain wheat may offer several positive effects — especially when it replaces white flour.
Whole-grain wheat is rich in insoluble fiber, which is concentrated in the bran.
Studies indicate that components of wheat bran may function as prebiotics, feeding some of the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
However, most of the bran passes almost unchanged through your digestive system, adding bulk to stool.
Wheat bran may also shorten the time it takes undigested material to travel through your digestive tract.
One study found that bran can reduce constipation risk in children.
Yet, depending on the underlying cause of the constipation, eating bran may not always be effective.
Colon cancer is the most prevalent type of digestive system cancer.
Observational studies link the consumption of whole grains — including whole wheat — to a reduced risk of colon cancer.
One observational study estimated that people on low-fiber diets could cut their risk of colon cancer by 40% by eating more fiber.
This is supported by randomized controlled trials, though not all studies have found a significant protective effect.
All in all, whole wheat is rich in fiber and boasts a number of antioxidants and phytonutrients that potentially reduce your risk of colon cancer.
Celiac disease is characterized by a harmful immune reaction to gluten.
An estimated 0.5–1% of people in the United States and Europe have this condition.
Celiac disease damages your small intestine, resulting in impaired absorption of nutrients.
Associated symptoms include weight loss, bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, and fatigue.
It has also been suggested that gluten may contribute to brain disorders in people with celiac disease, such as schizophrenia and epilepsy.
Einkorn, an ancient wheat variety, causes weaker reactions than other varieties — but is still unsuitable for people with gluten intolerance.
Adhering to a gluten-free diet is the only known treatment for celiac disease. Although wheat is the main dietary source of gluten, this protein can also be found in rye, barley, and many processed foods.