What is wheat?
Wheat is a cereal grain and one of the world's most widely cultivated and essential staple crops. It belongs to the Triticum genus and is commonly classified into several species, including common wheat (Triticum aestivum) and durum wheat (Triticum durum).1 Wheat is primarily grown for its edible seeds, which can be ground into flour to make various food products like bread, pasta, pastries, and cereals, and for fermentation to make beer, alcohol, vodka, or biofuel.
Wheat is rich in carbohydrates, proteins, and dietary fibre, making it a valuable energy source and essential nutrient.2 Different wheat varieties have varying levels of gluten, a protein that gives dough its elasticity and is responsible for the bread structure. This variation in gluten content makes some wheat varieties more suitable for baking bread, while others are better for making pasta or pastries. Wheat is a versatile and widely consumed crop vital to global food production and nutrition.
Health benefits of wheat
Wheat offers several health benefits due to its nutrient composition. Potential health benefits include:
Good source of nutrients
Wheat is a rich source of various essential nutrients, including carbohydrates, proteins, dietary fibre, B-vitamins (such as thiamin, niacin, and folate), and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and zinc. Wheat contains antioxidants, such as phenolic compounds, which help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation. Some of these antioxidants have been linked to a decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. These nutrients are essential for overall health, energy production, and the proper functioning of various bodily systems.3
Wheat primarily comprises carbohydrates, the body's primary energy source. The complex carbohydrates in wheat, such as starches and dietary fibre, provide sustained energy release, promote satiety, and help regulate blood sugar levels.
Wheat contains gluten proteins (gliadin and glutenin) that give the dough elasticity. While gluten can cause issues for individuals with coeliac disease or gluten intolerance, it is a valuable source of plant-based protein for those who can tolerate it. Protein is essential for tissue repair, muscle development, immune function, and various metabolic processes.
Wheat is a good source of several B vitamins, including thiamin (B1), niacin (B3), and folate (B9). These vitamins play essential roles in energy metabolism, nervous system function, DNA synthesis, and the production of red blood cells. They are also crucial for maintaining healthy skin, hair, and nails.
Wheat contains various minerals that contribute to overall health. Iron is vital for oxygen transport and preventing iron-deficiency anaemia. Magnesium is involved in hundreds of enzymatic reactions in the body, contributes to bone health, and supports muscle and nerve function. Zinc is essential for immune function, wound healing, and growth. Other minerals found in wheat include phosphorus, potassium, and selenium.
Wheat contains antioxidants, such as phenolic compounds, which help protect against oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. These antioxidants have been associated with a reduced risk of chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.
Provides dietary fibre
Wheat is a significant source of dietary fibre. particularly insoluble fibre.4 Insoluble fibre adds bulk to the stool, promotes regular bowel movements, and helps prevent constipation. Fibre acts like a scrub brush, cleaning the digestive tract. Consuming enough fibre is also associated with a decreased risk of developing non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The soluble fibre found in wheat can help regulate blood sugar levels.5 It makes it take longer for glucose to get into the body, so blood sugar rises more slowly and steadily after a meal. People with diabetes or at risk of developing it may benefit, as it lowers their chance of developing it.
Supports digestive health
The fibre content in wheat can support a healthy digestive system by promoting regularity, preventing constipation, and supporting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Prebiotics in wheat, such as fructans, may also contribute to gut health by nourishing the gut microbiota. Wheat's high fibre content can maintain regularity by increasing stool volume and speeding up the digestive process. Adequate fibre intake, including whole grains like wheat, has been associated with a reduced risk of diverticular disease. The fibre content in wheat and other nutrients support healthy digestion and nutrient absorption.
Potential heart health benefits
When consumed as part of a balanced diet, whole grains like wheat may help reduce the risk of heart disease. Wheat fibre, minerals, and antioxidants can improve cardiovascular health by lowering cholesterol levels, regulating blood pressure, and reducing inflammation. Consuming adequate dietary fibre, including wheat, is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Fibre can help lower LDL (harmful) cholesterol levels by binding to cholesterol in the digestive system, preventing absorption, which contributes to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels and reducing the risk of non-communicable diseases, such as cardiovascular problems.
Sustained energy release
Wheat is a complex carbohydrate that provides a steady release of energy over time. It is a staple in many diets worldwide, offering sustained energy and helping to maintain stable blood sugar levels. Soluble fibre found in wheat forms a gel-like substance in the digestive tract, further slowing down the release of glucose into the bloodstream. Adequate intake of these nutrients, obtained from wheat and other food sources, supports optimal energy production. Consuming wheat as part of a balanced diet can provide a steady energy supply for physical activities and mental tasks throughout the day. The sustained energy release helps fuel the muscles and brain, supporting optimal physical and cognitive performance.
Whole grains like wheat can benefit weight management when consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. The fibre content in wheat promotes satiety, helps to feel fuller for longer, and potentially reduces overall calorie intake. The gradual breakdown of complex carbohydrates in whole wheat results in a steady energy supply over a more extended period which helps maintain energy levels throughout the day and prevent excessive hunger or fatigue, leading to overeating or poor food choices.
N.B: It is important to note that individual responses to wheat consumption may vary, and some people may have specific dietary restrictions or sensitivities to gluten, a protein found in wheat. For those with coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, avoiding wheat or opting for gluten-free alternatives is necessary.
Here are some vital nutritional facts about wheat:
Wheat primarily consists of carbohydrates, with small amounts of protein and little fat. The carbohydrate content in wheat varies depending on the form and processing. Whole wheat typically contains around 70-75% carbohydrates, while refined wheat products may have more.
Wheat is a good source of dietary fibre. Whole wheat contains both soluble and insoluble fibre. The exact fibre content varies depending on the type of wheat and its processing. On average, whole wheat contains about 10-12 grams of fibre per 100 grams.
Wheat contains an average amount of protein. However, the protein content of wheat is lower than that of certain other foods like legumes or animal-based sources. Wheat contains about 10-15 grams of protein per 100 grams.
Wheat contains various B vitamins, including thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), and folate (B9). Additionally, it contains small quantities of vitamins E and K.
Wheat is a source of minerals, including magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and iron. The mineral content may vary depending on soil quality and growing conditions.
Wheat contains phenolic compounds and carotenoids, associated with potential health benefits, such as reducing oxidative stress and inflammation.
It is important to note that the nutritional composition of wheat can be affected by factors such as processing, variety, and growing conditions. Different wheat products, such as whole-wheat flour, bread, or pasta, may vary their nutritional profiles due to additional ingredients or processing methods.
Side effects and other concerns
While wheat is a widely consumed grain and generally safe for most individuals, there are some side effects and concerns associated with wheat that should be considered. Here are the comprehensive side effects and concerns of wheat:
Coeliac disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten ingestion, leading to damage to the small intestine. However, experts estimate that 1% of the global population, or around 2 million Americans, have coeliac disease.6 Symptoms include gastrointestinal issues, nutrient deficiencies, fatigue, and skin rashes. A strict gluten-free diet is necessary for managing coeliac disease.7
Non-Coeliac gluten sensitivity
Some individuals experience symptoms similar to coeliac disease without the autoimmune response. This condition, known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity, may manifest as digestive problems, fatigue, and headaches. Avoiding gluten-containing grains, including wheat, is recommended.8
Wheat allergies are immune-mediated reactions to proteins found in wheat. Symptoms range from mild (e.g., hives, itching) to severe (e.g., difficulty breathing, anaphylaxis). Wheat allergy is more common in children and is often outgrown by adulthood. The avoidance of wheat and wheat-derived products is essential.
FODMAPs and digestive sensitivities
Wheat contains fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAPs), which can trigger digestive problems in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or other digestive sensitivities.9 These symptoms may include bloating, gas, abdominal pain, and altered bowel movements. Limiting FODMAP intake, including wheat, can help manage these symptoms.
Conventionally grown wheat may contain pesticide residues, which can concern some individuals. Pesticide residues in food have been associated with potential health risks. Choosing organic or sustainably grown wheat can help reduce exposure to pesticides.
Processing and additives
Processed wheat products, such as baked goods, may contain additives, preservatives, or other ingredients that can cause allergy or sensitive reactions in susceptible individuals. Reading ingredient labels carefully and being aware of specific sensitivities or allergies is essential.
Wheat is a cereal grain and an essential staple crop globally. It belongs to the Triticum genus and is commonly classified into species like common wheat and durum wheat. Wheat is primarily grown for its edible seeds, ground into flour to make various food products and fermented to produce alcoholic beverages or biofuel. Wheat offers numerous health benefits due to its nutrient-rich composition. It is a good source of carbohydrates, proteins, dietary fibre, B vitamins, and minerals, making it a valuable energy source and essential nutrients. Wheat fibre supports digestive health, regulates blood sugar levels, and aids in weight management. Consuming wheat as part of a balanced diet has potential heart health benefits and provides sustained energy release.
However, some individuals may have concerns or experience side effects related to wheat consumption. Specific individuals have negative responses to gluten because they have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Wheat allergies can trigger immune-mediated reactions, and FODMAPs in wheat may lead to digestive issues in those with sensitivities. Additionally, pesticide residues in conventionally grown wheat and additives in processed wheat products can pose potential health risks.
It is essential to be aware of these concerns and consider individual dietary restrictions or sensitivities when consuming wheat-based products. If one suspects any adverse reactions to wheat, consult a doctor or registered dietitian for medical advice.
- Wikipedia Contributors. Wheat [Internet]. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation; 2023. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat
- Wheat | Production, Types, Nutrition, Uses, & Facts | Britannica. In: Encyclopædia Britannica. 2023. Available from: https://www.britannica.com/plant/wheat
- Shewry PR, Hey SJ. The contribution of wheat to human diet and health. 2015 Aug 14 ;4(3):178–202. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4998136/#:~:text=In%20addition%20to%20being%20a,%2C%20dietary%20fiber%2C%20and%20phytochemicals.
- Nirmala Prasadi V PNutrients. , Joye IJ. Dietary Fibre from Whole Grains and Their Benefits on Metabolic Health. Nutrients. 2020 Oct 5;12(10):3045–5. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7599874/
- CDC. Fiber: The Carb That Helps You Manage Diabetes [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022 . Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/library/features/role-of-fiber.html
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases 2023. Definition & Facts for Celiac Disease. NIDDK - National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2023. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/celiac-disease/definition-facts#:~:text=However%2C%20experts%20estimate%20about%202,the%20world%20have%20celiac%20disease.
- NHS Choices. Overview - Coeliac disease 2023 [cited 2023 Jul 5]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coeliacdisease/#:~:text=This%20damages%20your%20gut%20(small,wheat
- Khan AM, Milena Gould Suarez, Murray JA. Nonceliac Gluten and Wheat Sensitivity. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol . 2020 Aug 1;18(9):1913-1922.e1. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30978535/9. Roberto De Giorgio, Volta U, Gibson PR. Sensitivity to wheat, gluten and FODMAPs in IBS: facts or fiction? BMJ [Internet]. 2015;65(1):169–78. Available from: https://gut.bmj.com/content/65/1/169