|Food||Percentage of DRI per 100 grams|
Wheat, bulgar, cooked1.00 cup(182.00 grams) Calories: 151GI: low
This chart graphically details the %DV that a serving of Whole wheat provides for each of the nutrients of which it is a good, very good, or excellent source according to our Food Rating System. Additional information about the amount of these nutrients provided by Whole wheat can be found in the Food Rating System Chart. A link that takes you to the In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Whole wheat, featuring information over 80 nutrients, can be found under the Food Rating System Chart.
- Health Benefits
- How to Select and Store
- How to Enjoy
- Individual Concerns
- Nutritional Profile
Wheatâ€”The Whole Truth
The health benefits of wheat depend entirely on the form in which you eat it. These benefits will be few if you select wheat that has been processed into 60% extraction, bleached white flour. 60% extractionâ€”the standard for most wheat products in the United States, including breads, noodles and pastas, baked goods like rolls or biscuits, and cookiesâ€”means that 40% of the original wheat grain was removed, and only 60% is left. Unfortunately, the 40% that gets removed includes the bran and the germ of the wheat grainâ€”its most nutrient-rich parts. In the process of making 60% extraction flour, over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber are lost.
Since 1941, laws in the United States have required "enrichment" of processed wheat flour with vitamins B1, B2, B3 and iron in response to the problems created by 60% extraction. Since not nearly as much of these B vitamins and iron are replaced as are removed from 60% extraction flour, "enriched" seems an odd word to describe this process.
If you select 100% whole wheat products, however, the bran and the germ of the wheat will remain in your meals, and the health benefits will be impressive! Our food ranking qualified whole wheat (in its original non-enriched form) as a very good source of dietary fiber and manganese, and as a good source of magnesium.
The many benefits of whole wheat products are being recognized more and more by consumers. Even though many health-conscious individuals have been cutting back on their intake of total carbs and refined wheat products (by about 10% between 1997-2007), the demand for whole wheat products has actually increased during that same time period. This trend fits in well with a Mediterranean diet approach to health, which looks to lower overall carbs but higher whole grains, including whole wheat.
Women Who Eat Whole Grains Weigh Less
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition underscores the importance of choosing whole rather than refined wheat to maintain a healthy body weight. In this Harvard Medical School / Brigham and Women's Hospital study, which collected data on over 74,000 female nurses aged 38-63 years over a 12 year period, weight gain was inversely associated with the intake of high-fiber, whole-grain foods, such as whole wheat, but positively related to the intake of refined-grain foods, such as products made from refined wheat. Not only did women who consumed more whole grains consistently weigh less than those who ate less of these fiber-rich foods, but those consuming the most dietary fiber from whole grains were 49% less likely to gain weight compared to those eating foods made from refined grains.
Whole Grains Reduce Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
First we were told, "Don't eat fat, and you'll stay trim." After following this advice only to see obesity expand to never before seen proportions, we're told by the food gurus, "Eating fat is fine. Shun carbohydrates to stay slim."
In our opinion, neither piece of dietary advice is complete, accurate or likely to help us stay slim or healthy. Just as different kinds of fats have different effects in our bodies (e.g., saturated and trans fats are linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease while omega-3 fats decrease cardiovascular disease risk), some carbohydrates, such as whole grains, are healthful while others, such as refined grains and the foods made from them, are not.
The latest research is clearly supporting this vital distinction. Refined grains and the foods made from them (e.g., white breads, cookies, pastries, pasta and rice) are now being linked not only to weight gain but to increased risk of insulin resistance (the precursor of type 2 diabetes) and the metabolic syndrome (a strong predictor of both type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease), while eating more wholegrain foods is being shown to protect against all these ills. Common features of the metabolic syndrome include visceral obesity (the "apple shaped" body), low levels of protective HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, and high blood pressure.
In one of the most recent studies, which appeared in Diabetes Care, researchers who analyzed data on over 2,800 participants in the Framingham Offspring Study, found that the prevalence of both insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome was significantly lower among those eating the most cereal fiber from whole grains compared to those eating the least.
Prevalence of the metabolic syndrome was 38% lower among those with the highest intake of fiber from whole grains. Conversely, study subjects whose diets had the highest glycemic index and glycemic load, both of which are typically low in whole foods and high in processed refined foods, were 141% more likely to have the metabolic syndrome compared to those whose diets had the lowest glycemic index and glycemic load. In other words, compared to those whose diets were primarily composed of whole high fiber foods: whole grains, legumes, vegetables and fruits.
The researchers concluded, "Given that both a high cereal fiber content and lower glycemic index are attributes of wholegrain foods, recommendation to increase wholegrain intake may reduce the risk of developing the metabolic syndrome." Our perspective at the World's Healthiest Foods is that a way of eating that relies on the healthiest foods from all the food groupsâ€”the whole foods that contain the healthiest fats, carbohydrates and proteinsâ€”is the most effective, intelligent, and most enjoyable way to not only lower your risk of developing the metabolic syndrome, but to stay slim, vital and attractive throughout a long and healthy life.
Whole Grains Substantially Lower Type 2 Diabetes Risk
Whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body's use of glucose and insulin secretion.
The FDA permits foods that contain at least 51% whole grains by weight (and are also low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol) to display a health claim stating consumption is linked to lower risk of heart disease and certain cancers. Now, research suggests regular consumption of whole grains also reduces risk of type 2 diabetes. (van Dam RM, Hu FB, Diabetes Care).
In this 8-year trial, involving 41,186 particpants of the Black Women's Health Study, research data confirmed inverse associations between magnesium, calcium and major food sources in relation to type 2 diabetes that had already been reported in predominantly white populations.
Risk of type 2 diabetes was 31% lower in black women who frequently ate whole grains compared to those eating the least of these magnesium-rich foods. When the women's dietary intake of magnesium intake was considered by itself, a beneficial, but lesser-19%-reduction in risk of type 2 diabetes was found, indicating that whole grains offer special benefits in promoting healthy blood sugar control. Daily consumption of low-fat dairy foods was also helpful, lowering risk of type 2 diabetes by 13%.
Whole Wheat's Betaine Lessens Chronic Inflammation
People whose diets supplied the highest average intake of choline (found in egg yolk and soybeans), and its metabolite betaine (found naturally in beets, spinach and whole wheat), have levels of inflammatory markers at least 20% lower than subjects with the lowest average intakes, report Greek researchers in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Detopoulou P, Panagiotakos DB, et al.)
Compared to those whose diets contained <250 mg/day of choline, subjects whose diets supplied >310 mg of choline daily had, on average:
- 22% lower concentrations of C-reactive protein
- 26% lower concentrations of interleukin-6
- 6% lower concentrations of tumor necrosis factor alpha
Compared to those consuming <260 mg/day of betaine, subjects whose diets provided >360 mg per day of betaine had, on average:
- 10% lower concentrations of homocysteine
- 19% lower concentrations of C-reactive protein
- 12% lower concentrations of tumor necrosis factor alpha
Each of these markers of chronic inflammation has been linked to a wide range of conditions including heart disease, osteoporosis, cognitive decline and Alzheimer's, and type-2 diabetes.
In an accompanying editorial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition entitled, "Is there a new component of the Mediterranean diet that reduces inflammation?," Steven Zeisel from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill noted that choline and betaine work together in the cellular process of methylation, which is not only responsible for the removal of homocysteine, but is involved in turning off the promoter regions of genes involved in inflammation.
"Exposure to oxidative stress is a potent trigger for inflammation. Betaine is formed from choline within the mitochondria , and this oxidation contributes to mitochondrial redox status ," Zeisel continued.
"If the association between choline and betaine and inflammation can be confirmed in studies of other populations, an interesting new dietary approach may be available for reducing chronic diseases associated with inflammation," he concluded.
Recommended daily intakes of choline were set in 1998 at 550 milligrams per day for men and 425 milligrams a day for women. No RDI has been set for betaine, which, since it is a metabolite of choline, is not considered an essential nutrient.
Practical Tip: Egg yolks are the richest source of choline, followed by soybeans. Spinach, beets and whole wheat products are primary sources of betaine. (Olthof MR, van Vliet T, et al. J Nutr)
Whole Grains Help Prevent Gallstones
Eating foods high in insoluble fiber, such as cereals and breads made from whole wheat, can help women avoid gallstones, shows a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
Studying the overall fiber intake and types of fiber consumed over a 16 year period by over 69,000 women in the Nurses Health Study, researchers found that those consuming the most fiber overall (both soluble and insoluble) had a 13% lower risk of developing gallstones compared to women consuming the fewest fiber-rich foods.
Those eating the most foods rich in insoluble fiber gained even more protection against gallstones: a 17% lower risk compared to women eating the least. And the protection was dose-related; a 5-gram increase in insoluble fiber intake dropped risk dropped 10%.
How do foods rich in insoluble fiber help prevent gallstones? Researchers think insoluble fiber not only speeds intestinal transit time (how quickly food moves through the intestines), but reduces the secretion of bile acids (excessive amounts contribute to gallstone formation), increases insulin sensitivity and lowers triglycerides (blood fats). Abundant in all whole grains, insoluble fiber is also found in nuts and the edible skin of fruits and vegetables including tomatoes, cucumbers, many squash, apples, berries, and pears. In addition, beans provide insoluble as well as soluble fiber.
Whole Wheat Gets You Going
Wheat bran is a popular bulk laxative. A third of a cup per day is all that is needed. Research studies support this popular practice. A fiber-rich diet, primarily composed of whole wheat breads, cereals high in bran and supplemental "millers bran" was shown to alleviate the symptoms of diverticular disease (pain, nausea, flatulence, distension, constipation, etc.) in 89 percent of patients enrolled in a study which examined the effects of fiber on bowel regularity. Diverticular disease, a condition often marked by inflammation and lower abdominal pains in which chronic constipation and excessive straining results in a sac or pouch in the wall of the colon, is typically treated with dietary roughage such as cereal fiber (i.e., wheat bran), fruit and vegetable fiber, and plenty of fluids.
Whole Wheat Promotes Women's Health and Gastrointestinal Health
The benefits of wheat's bran portion don't stop here; it has also been shown to function as an anti-cancer agent. Wheat bran is thought to accelerate the metabolism of estrogen that is a known promoter of breast cancer. In one study, pre-menopausal women, ages twenty to fifty, who ate three to four high fiber muffins per day made with wheat bran, decreased their blood estrogen levels by 17 percent after two months. The women eating corn bran or oat bran did not show the same benefits.
Interestingly, whole grains such as wheat also contain lignans, which are phytonutrients that act as weak hormone-like substances. Lignans occupy the hormone receptors in the body, thus actively protecting the breast against high circulating levels of hormones such as estrogen. By accelerating the metabolism of estrogen and occupying estrogen receptors in the body, the components of wheat appear to have a dual function in protecting women against one of the leading causes of cancer death.
The fact that only wheat bran, and not corn or oat bran, is beneficial in preventing cancer-promoting changes in the colon, provides additional clues that wheat bran contains something special that makes it a true cancer fighter. Only the bran from wheat has been shown to reduce the concentration of bile acids and bacterial enzymes in the stool that are believed to promote colon cancer.
The protective dose for colon cancer may be more than 28 grams a day, since men who ate this amount had only one-third the rate of colon polyps (precancerous tumors) compared to those who ate only 17 grams/day. The amount of wheat bran needed for protection from other cancers is still unknown, but based on the health benefits of this food, it may be wise, if you are not sensitive to wheat or gluten, to include several servings of whole wheat grain foods such as bread, pasta, and bran cereals every day in your diet.
Fiber from Whole Grains and Fruit Protective against Breast Cancer
When researchers looked at how much fiber 35,972 participants in the UK Women's Cohort Study ate, they found a diet rich in fiber from whole grains, such as whole wheat, and fruit offered significant protection against breast cancer for pre-menopausal women. (Cade JE, Burley VJ, et al., International Journal of Epidemiology).
Pre-menopausal women eating the most fiber (>30 grams daily) more than halved their risk of developing breast cancer, enjoying a 52% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women whose diets supplied the least fiber (<20 grams/day).
Fiber supplied by whole grains offered the most protection. Pre-menopausal women eating the most whole grain fiber (at least 13 g/day) had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest whole grain fiber intake (4 g or less per day).
Fiber from fruit was also protective. Pre-menopausal women whose diets supplied the most fiber from fruit (at least 6 g/day) had a 29% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest fruit fiber intake (2 g or less per day).
Practical Tip: As the following table shows, it's surprisingly easy to enjoy a healthy way of eating that delivers at least 13 grams of whole grain fiber and 6 grams of fiber from fruit each day.FoodFiber Content in GramsOatmeal, 1 cup3.98Whole wheat bread, 1 slice2Whole wheat spaghetti, 1 cup6.3Brown rice, 1 cup3.5Barley, 1 cup13.6Buckwheat, 1 cup4.54Rye, 1/3 cup8.22Corn, 1 cup4.6Apple, 1 medium with skin5.0Banana, 1 medium4.0Blueberries, 1 cup3.92Orange, 1 large4.42Pear, 1 large5.02Prunes, 1/4 cup3.02Strawberries, 1 cup3.82Raspberries, 1 cup8.36
*Fiber content can vary between brands. Source: esha Research, Food Processor for Windows, Version 7.8
Cereal and Fruit Fiber Protective against Postmenopausal Breast Cancer
Results of a prospective study involving 51,823 postmenopausal women for an average of 8.3 years showed a 34% reduction in breast cancer risk for those consuming the most fruit fiber compared to those consuming the least. In addition, in the subgroup of women who had ever used hormone replacement, those consuming the most fiber, especially cereal fiber, had a 50% reduction in their risk of breast cancer compared to those consuming the least.
Fruits richest in fiber include apples, dates, figs, pears and prunes. When choosing a high fiber cereal, look for whole grain cereals as they supply the most bran (a mere 1/3rd cup of bran contains about 14 grams of fiber). Enjoy a cup of bulgur wheat as part of your lunch or dinner, and, for just 151 calories, you'll have consumed more than a third of your RDI for fiber.
Whole Grains and Fish Highly Protective against Childhood Asthma
According to the American Lung Association, almost 20 million Americans suffer from asthma, which is reported to be responsible for over 14 million lost school days in children, and an annual economic cost of more than $16.1 billion.
Increasing consumption of whole grains and fish could reduce the risk of childhood asthma by about 50%, suggests the International Study on Allergy and Asthma in Childhood (Tabak C, Wijga AH, Thorax).
The researchers, from the Dutch National Institute of Public Health and the Environment, Utrecht University, University Medical Center Groningen, used food frequency questionnaires completed by the parents of 598 Dutch children aged 8-13 years. They assessed the children's consumption of a range of foods including fish, fruits, vegetables, dairy and whole grain products. Data on asthma and wheezing were also assessed using medical tests as well as questionnaires.
While no association between asthma and intake of fruits, vegetables, and dairy products was found (a result at odds with other studies that have supported a link between antioxidant intake, particularly vitamins C and E, and asthma), the children's intake of both whole grains and fish was significantly linked to incidence of wheezing and current asthma.
In children with a low intake of fish and whole grains, the prevalence of wheezing was almost 20%, but was only 4.2% in children with a high intake of both foods. Low intake of fish and whole grains also correlated with a much higher incidence of current asthma (16.7%). compared to only a 2.8% incidence of current asthma among children with a high intake of both foods.
After adjusting results for possible confounding factors, such as the educational level of the mother, and total energy intake, high intakes of whole grains and fish were found to be associated with a 54 and 66% reduction in the probability of being asthmatic, respectively.
The probability of having asthma with bronchial hyperresponsiveness (BHR), defined as having an increased sensitivity to factors that cause narrowing of the airways, was reduced by 72 and 88% when children had a high-intake of whole grains and fish, respectively. Lead researcher, CoraTabak commented, "The rise in the prevalence of asthma in western societies may be related to changed dietary habits." We agree. The Standard American Diet is sorely deficient in the numerous anti-inflammatory compounds found in fish and whole grains, notably, the omega-3 fats supplied by cold water fish and the magnesium and vitamin E provided by whole grains. One caution: wheat may need to be avoided as it is a common food allergen associated with asthma.
Phytochemicals with Health-Promoting Activity Equal to or Even Higher than that of Vegetables and Fruits
Research reported at the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) International Conference on Food, Nutrition and Cancer, by Rui Hai Liu, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleagues at Cornell University shows that whole grains, such as whole wheat, contain many powerful phytonutrients whose activity has gone unrecognized because research methods have overlooked them.
Despite the fact that for years researchers have been measuring the antioxidant power of a wide array of phytonutrients, they have typically measured only the "free" forms of these substances, which dissolve quickly and are immediately absorbed into the bloodstream. They have not looked at the "bound" forms, which are attached to the walls of plant cells and must be released by intestinal bacteria during digestion before they can be absorbed.
Phenolics, powerful antioxidants that work in multiple ways to prevent disease, are one major class of phytonutrients that have been widely studied. Included in this broad category are such compounds as quercetin, curcumin, ellagic acid, catechins, and many others that appear frequently in the health news.
When Dr. Liu and his colleagues measured the relative amounts of phenolics, and whether they were present in bound or free form, in common fruits and vegetables like apples, red grapes, broccoli and spinach, they found that phenolics in the "free" form averaged 76% of the total number of phenolics in these foods. In whole grains, however, "free" phenolics accounted for less than 1% of the total, while the remaining 99% were in "bound" form.
In his presentation, Dr. Liu explained that because researchers have examined whole grains with the same process used to measure antioxidants in vegetables and fruitsâ€”looking for their content of "free" phenolics"â€”the amount and activity of antioxidants in whole grains has been vastly underestimated.
Despite the differences in fruits', vegetables' and whole grains' content of "free" and "bound" phenolics, the total antioxidant activity in all three types of whole foods is similar, according to Dr. Liu's research. His team measured the antioxidant activity of various foods, assigning each a rating based on a formula (micromoles of vitamin C equivalent per gram). Broccoli and spinach measured 80 and 81, respectively; apple and banana measured 98 and 65; and of the whole grains tested, corn measured 181, whole wheat 77, oats 75, and brown rice 56.
Dr. Liu's findings may help explain why studies have shown that populations eating diets high in fiber-rich whole grains consistently have lower risk for colon cancer, yet short-term clinical trials that have focused on fiber alone in lowering colon cancer risk, often to the point of giving subjects isolated fiber supplements, yield inconsistent results. The explanation is most likely that these studies have not taken into account the interactive effects of all the nutrients in whole grainsâ€”not just their fiber, but also their many phytonutrients. As far as whole grains are concerned, Dr. Liu believes that the key to their powerful cancer-fighting potential is precisely their wholeness. A grain of whole wheat consists of three partsâ€”its endosperm (starch), bran and germ. When wheatâ€”or any whole grainâ€”is refined, its bran and germ are removed. Although these two parts make up only 15-17% of the grain's weight, they contain 83% of its phenolics. Dr. Liu says his recent findings on the antioxidant content of whole grains reinforce the message that a variety of foods should be eaten good health. "Different plant foods have different phytochemicals," he said. "These substances go to different organs, tissues and cells, where they perform different functions. What your body needs to ward off disease is this synergistic effectâ€”this teamworkâ€”that is produced by eating a wide variety of plant foods, including whole grains."
Lignans Protect against Heart Disease
One type of phytonutrient especially abundant in whole grains including whole wheat are plant lignans, which are converted by friendly flora in our intestines into mammalian lignans, including one called enterolactone that is thought to protect against breast and other hormone-dependent cancers as well as heart disease. In addition to whole grains, nuts, seeds and berries are rich sources of plant lignans, and vegetables, fruits, and beverages such as coffee, tea and wine also contain some. When blood levels of enterolactone were measured in over 800 postmenopausal women in a Danish study published in the Journal of Nutrition, women eating the most whole grains were found to have significantly higher blood levels of this protective lignan. Women who ate more cabbage and leafy vegetables also had higher enterolactone levels.
Significant Cardiovascular Benefits for Postmenopausal Women
Eating a serving of whole grains, such as whole wheat, at least 6 times each week is an especially good idea for postmenopausal women with high cholesterol, high blood pressure or other signs of cardiovascular disease (CVD).
A 3-year prospective study of 229 postmenopausal women with CVD, published in the American Heart Journal, shows that those eating at least 6 servings of whole grains each week experienced both:
- Slowed progression of atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque that narrows the vessels through which blood flows, and
- Less progression in stenosis, the narrowing of the diameter of arterial passageways.
Prevent Heart Failure with a Whole Grains Breakfast
Heart failure is the leading cause of hospitalization among the elderly in the United States. Success of drug treatment is only partial (ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers are typically used; no evidence has found statins safe or effective for heart failure), and its prognosis remains poor. Follow up of 2445 discharged hospital patients with heart failure revealed that 37.3% died during the first year, and 78.5% died within 5 years.
Since consumption of whole grain products and dietary fiber has been shown to reduce the risk of high blood pressure and heart attack, Harvard researchers decided to look at the effects of cereal consumption on heart failure risk and followed 21,376 participants in the Physicians Health Study over a period of 19.6 years.
After adjusting for confounding factors (age, smoking, alcohol consumption, vegetable consumption, use of vitamins, exercise, and history of heart disease), they found that men who simply enjoyed a daily morning bowl of whole grain (but not refined) cereal had a 29% lower risk of heart failure. Isn't your heart worth protecting, especially when the prescriptionâ€”a morning bowl of hearty whole grainsâ€”is so delicious? For quick, easy, heart-healthy, whole grain recipes, click The World's Healthiest Foods, and look at the "How to Enjoy" section in any of our grain profiles.
A "Germ" that Promotes Health
Wheat bran is not the only star when it comes to the health benefits of wheat; wheat germ definitely deserves its "health food" reputation. The germ is the vitamin and mineral rich embryo of the wheat kernel that is removed during the refining of whole wheat grains to white flour. Packed with important B vitamins, such as folate, thiamin, and vitamin B6, and the minerals zinc, magnesium, and manganese, wheat germ is a top-notch food that can be easily incorporated into casseroles, muffins, and pancakes or sprinkled over cereal or yogurt.
The wheat germ also has a high oil content, and subsequently a high amount of vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps protect the oil in the wheat germ from quickly becoming rancid. Vitamin E functions in a similar manner as a fat-soluble antioxidant in the human body where it helps protect fat-containing substances including cell membranes, brain cells, and fatty molecules such as cholesterol from damge by free radicals. Fats and cholesterol are very susceptible to free radical damage, a process that occurs when they are exposed to oxygen. When damaged, fats and cholesterol form toxic derivatives that, if left unchecked, can damage the structures of which they are a part and, in the case of cholesterol, contribute to the formation of atherosclerosis, a form of coronary artery disease. Vitamin E, when present in sufficient quantities, readily blocks these toxic derivatives.
Vitamin E not only protects fats, cholesterol and all cell membranes from damage, it is also important for immune system function, cancer prevention and blood glucose control in both healthy and diabetic individuals.
Meta-analysis Explains Whole Grains' Health Benefits
In many studies, eating whole grains, such as whole wheat, has been linked to protection against atherosclerosis, ischemic stroke, diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and premature death. A new study and accompanying editorial, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains the likely reasons behind these findings and recommends at least 3 servings of whole grains should be eaten daily.
Whole grains are concentrated sources of fiber. In this meta-analysis of 7 studies including more than 150,000 persons, those whose diets provided the highest dietary fiber intake had a 29% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to those with the lowest fiber intake.
But it's not just fiber's ability to serve as a bulking agent that is responsible for its beneficial effects as a component of whole grains. Wheat bran, for example, which constitutes 15% of most whole-grain wheat kernels but is virtually non-existent in refined wheat flour, is rich in minerals, antioxidants, lignans, and other phytonutrientsâ€”as well as in fiber.
In addition to the matrix of nutrients in their dietary fibers, the whole-grain arsenal includes a wide variety of additional nutrients and phytonutrients that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Compounds in whole grains that have cholesterol-lowering effects include polyunsaturated fatty acids, oligosaccharides, plant sterols and stanols, and saponins.
Whole grains are also important dietary sources of water-soluble, fat-soluble, and insoluble antioxidants. The long list of cereal antioxidants includes vitamin E, tocotrieonols, selenium, phenolic acids, and phytic acid. These multifunctional antioxidants come in immediate-release to slow-release forms and thus are available throughout the gastrointestinal tract over a long period after being consumed.
The high antioxidant capacity of wheat bran is 20-fold that of refined wheat flour (endosperm). Although the role of antioxidant supplements in protecting against cardiovascular disease has been questioned, prospective population studies consistently suggest that when consumed in whole foods, antioxidants are associated with significant protection against cardiovascular disease. Because free radical damage to cholesterol appears to contribute significantly to the development of atherosclerosis, the broad range of antioxidant activities from the phytonutrients abundant in whole-grains is thought to play a strong role in their cardio-protective effects.
Like soybeans, whole grains are important sources of phytoestrogens, plant compounds that may affect blood cholesterol levels, blood vessel elasticity, bone metabolism, and many other cellular metabolic processes.
Whole grains are rich sources of lignans that are converted by the human gut to enterolactone and enterodiole. In studies of Finnish men, blood levels of enterolactone have been found to have an inverse relation not just to cardiovascular-related death, but to all causes of death, which suggests that the plant lignans in whole grains may play an important role in their protective effects.
Lower insulin levels may also contribute to the protective effects of whole grains. In many persons, the risks of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity are linked to insulin resistance. Higher intakes of whole grains are associated with increased sensitivity to insulin in population studies and clinical trials. Why? Because whole grains improve insulin sensitivity by lowering the glycemic index of the diet while increasing its content of fiber, magnesium, and vitamin E.
The whole kernel of truth: as part of your healthy way of eating, whole grains can significantly lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Enjoy at least 3 servings a day. No idea how to cook whole grains? Just look at the "How to Enjoy" section in our profiles of the whole grains, or for quick, easy, delicious recipes, click on this link to our Recipe Assistant and select whichever whole grain you would like to prepare.
Sourdough breadâ€”a Better Source of Minerals and Potentially Better Tolerated by Persons with Wheat-Related Health Problems
Choose sourdough for the best nutrition among commercially baked breads, suggests a study published in the journal Nutrition.
This animal study compared mineral absorption from different breads: reconstituted whole wheat flour (white flour plus bran, a typical formulation), yeast bread and sourdough bread. Of all three breads, not only was the content of phytate, which prevents absorption of calcium, lower in sourdough, but the absorption of iron, zinc, and copper was enhanced. Another study, published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology showed that sourdough bread fermented with the help of selected Lactobacilli, nontoxic flours, and a long fermentation time was fairly well tolerated by a group of 17 persons previously diagnosed with celiac disease. Although the purpose of this study was to help develop a prototype wheat bread product that might be tolerated by persons with wheat sensitivity, the results of this study seem promising for future attempts to prepare wheat in a natural way that may improve its tolerability.
Wheat is ubiquitious in our culture in the food culture of North America as well as other regions around the world. Bread, pasta, bagels, crackers, cakes, and muffins just begin to describe the list of foods made with this grain.
Wheat is generally classified as being either spring or winter wheat. Within these two groups, the wheat can be further defined as being either hard or soft, depending upon the grain's texture. The colors of the grains of wheat are white or red with reflections of amber.
Wheat, in its natural unrefined state, features a host of important nutrients. Therefore, to receive benefit from the wholesomeness of wheat you need to choose wheat products made from whole wheat flour rather than those that are refined and stripped of their natural goodness.
The genus name for wheat, from which all wheat species are derived, is Triticum.
Wheat is an ancient grain. Thought to have originated in southwestern Asia, it has been consumed as a food for more than 12,000 years. As it was looked upon as the Staff of Life, it played an important role of religious significance and was part of the sacred rituals of many cultures. Greek, Roman, Sumerian and Finnish mythology had gods and goddesses of wheat. This exceptionally nutritious grain is still considered to be sacred in some areas of China.
Wheat was not native to the Western Hemisphere and was only introduced here in the late 15th century when Columbus came to the New World. While wheat was grown in the United States during the early colonial years, it was not until the late 19th century that wheat cultivation flourished, owing to the importation of an especially hardy strain of wheat known as Turkey red wheat, which was brought over by Russian immigrants who settled in Kansas.
As rice has been the dietary staple of Asia, wheat has served this role for many of other regions of the world. It is estimated that approximately one-third of the world's people depend upon wheat for their nourishment.
Today, the largest commercial producers of wheat include the Russian Federation, the United States, China, India, France and Canada.
How to Select and Store
Wheat flour, berries and bulgur are generally available prepackaged as well as in bulk containers. Just as with any other food that you may purchase in the bulk section, make sure that the bins containing these wheat products are covered and that the store has a good product turnover so as to ensure their maximal freshness. Whether purchasing these products in bulk or in a packaged container, make sure that there is no evidence of moisture present.
Look for wheat germ that is packaged in sealed containers (especially those that are vacuum packaged) as they will be more protected from potential oxidation and rancidity.
Wheat berries should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry and dark place. The optimal way to store wheat products such as flour, bulgur, bran and germ is in an airtight container in the refrigerator as the cooler temperature will help to prevent them from becoming rancid.
How to Enjoy
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
Use whole wheat bread when you make sandwiches.
Wheat flakes look similar to rolled oats and can be prepared as a hot breakfast cereal.
Use sprouted wheat berries in vegetable and grain salads.
Make individual pizzas using whole wheat pita breads as the crust.
Whole wheat pasta has become very popular and is available in many different types (e.g., spaghetti, spirals, penne, etc.) to suit your recipe needs.
For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.
Allergic Reactions to Wheat
Although allergic reactions can occur to virtually any food, research studies on food allergy consistently report more problems with some foods than with others. It's important to realize that the frequency of problems varies from country to country and can change significantly along with changes in the food supply or with other manufacturing practices. For example, in several part of the world, including Canada, Japan, and Israel, sesame seed allergy has risen to a level of major concern over the past 10 years.
In the United States, beginning in 2004 with the passage of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA), food labels have been required to identify the presence of any major food allergens. Since 90% of food allergies in the U.S. have been associated with 8 food types as reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, it is these 8 food types that are considered to be major food allergens in the U.S. and require identification on food labels. The 8 food types classified as major allergens are as follows: (1) wheat, (2) cow's milk, (3) hen's eggs, (4) fish, (5) crustacean shellfish (including shrimp, prawns, lobster and crab); (6) tree nuts (including cashews, almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and chestnuts); (7) peanuts; and (8) soy foods.
These foods do not need to be eaten in their pure, isolated form in order to trigger an adverse reaction. For example, yogurt made from cow's milk is also a common allergenic food, even though the cow's milk has been processed and fermented in order to make the yogurt. Ice cream made from cow's milk would be an equally good example.
Food allergy symptoms may sometimes be immediate and specific, and can include skin rash, hives, itching, and eczema; swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat; tingling in the mouth; wheezing or nasal congestion; trouble breathing; and dizziness or lightheadedness. But food allergy symptoms may also be much more general and delayed, and can include fatigue, depression, chronic headache, chronic bowel problems (such as diarrhea or constipation), and insomnia. Because most food allergy symptoms can be caused by a variety of other health problems, it is good practice to seek the help of a healthcare provider when evaluating the role of food allergies in your health.
Wheat and Oxalates
Whole wheat (because of its concentration of the bran and germ) is among a small number of foods that contain measurable amounts of oxalates, naturally-occurring substances found in plants, animals, and human beings. When oxalates become too concentrated in body fluids, they can crystallize and cause health problems. For this reason, individuals with already existing and untreated kidney or gallbladder problems may want to avoid eating whole wheat. For more on this subject, please see "Can you tell me what oxalates are and in which foods they can be found?"
Baked and Toasted Wheat-Containing Foods and Acrylamides
Whole wheat is not a concern when it comes to acrylamide, a potentially toxic and potentially cancer-causing substance. Yet, baked snack foods containing wheat and sugarâ€”including cookies and crackersâ€”and processed foods involving toasted grainsâ€”including toasted wheat cerealsâ€”are considered among the highest risk of foods when it comes to acrylamide exposure. This is yet another reason to avoid or minimize your intake of these foods. For more on acrylamides, see our detailed write-up on the subject.
Whole wheat is a very good source of manganese and dietary fiber. It is also a good source of copper, magnesium, and pantothenic acid.
For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Wheat, Bulgar, Cooked.
In-Depth Nutritional Profile
In addition to the nutrients highlighted in our ratings chart, an in-depth nutritional profile for Whole wheat is also available. This profile includes information on a full array of nutrients, including carbohydrates, sugar, soluble and insoluble fiber, sodium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids and more.
Introduction to Food Rating System Chart
In order to better help you identify foods that feature a high concentration of nutrients for the calories they contain, we created a Food Rating System. This system allows us to highlight the foods that are especially rich in particular nutrients. The following chart shows the nutrients for which this food is either an excellent, very good, or good source (below the chart you will find a table that explains these qualifications). If a nutrient is not listed in the chart, it does not necessarily mean that the food doesn't contain it. It simply means that the nutrient is not provided in a sufficient amount or concentration to meet our rating criteria. (To view this food's in-depth nutritional profile that includes values for dozens of nutrients - not just the ones rated as excellent, very good, or good - please use the link below the chart.) To read this chart accurately, you'll need to glance up in the top left corner where you will find the name of the food and the serving size we used to calculate the food's nutrient composition. This serving size will tell you how much of the food you need to eat to obtain the amount of nutrients found in the chart. Now, returning to the chart itself, you can look next to the nutrient name in order to find the nutrient amount it offers, the percent Daily Value (DV%) that this amount represents, the nutrient density that we calculated for this food and nutrient, and the rating we established in our rating system. For most of our nutrient ratings, we adopted the government standards for food labeling that are found in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's "Reference Values for Nutrition Labeling." Read more background information and details of our rating system.
Foods Ratingmanganese1.11 mg566.6very goodfiber8.19 g333.9very goodcopper0.14 mg161.9goodmagnesium58.24 mg151.7goodpantothenic acid0.63 mg131.5goodWorld's Healthiest
Foods RatingRuleexcellentDRI/DV>=75% OR
Density>=7.6Â ANDÂ DRI/DV>=10%very goodDRI/DV>=50% OR
Density>=3.4Â ANDÂ DRI/DV>=5%goodDRI/DV>=25% OR
Density>=1.5Â ANDÂ DRI/DV>=2.5%
In-Depth Nutritional Profile for Whole wheat
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