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Are There Health Benefits of Durum Wheat?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 25, 2021

You might already be eating durum wheat. Many foods use durum wheat, including pasta, couscous, bulgur, noodles, and bread. But what you might not know is whether there are any health benefits to eating this popular wheat, especially in comparison to other species of wheat. 

What is Durum Wheat?

The two most popular species of wheat are bread wheat (also known as common wheat or Triticum aestivum vulgare) and durum wheat (Triticum turgidum durum).

Durum wheat is high in protein and gluten. This makes it ideal for making bread and pasta.

Semolina is the flour that’s ground from the endosperm of durum wheat. It’s a pale-yellow, coarse flour.  

Durum Wheat and Nutrition

A 100-gram (slightly more than ½ cup) serving of durum wheat contains:

  • 339 calories
  • 13.7 grams of protein
  • 2.5 grams of fat
  • 34 milligrams of calcium
  • 3.5 grams of iron
  • 144 milligrams of magnesium
  • 508 grams of phosphorus

Health Benefits of Durum Wheat

High in folate. Durum wheat is high in folate. Folate is a B vitamin that’s important during pregnancy. Folate is also known as folic acid when taken as a supplement or added to food. 

Folic acid is important for the healthy development of your baby. It helps to ward off neural tube defects like spina bifida. One cup of uncooked enriched durum wheat semolina has 306 micrograms of folate.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women take 400 micrograms of folic acid a day, as well as eat food that’s rich in folate. 

Low glycemic index. The glycemic index is a number that shows you how quickly your body can digest a type of food and turn it into blood sugar. Some research has shown that eating foods that are lower on the glycemic index may be beneficial for people with diabetes.

The glycemic index of pasta made from durum wheat is significantly lower than pasta made from regular wheat. The glycemic index of durum wheat pasta is 47, while the glycemic index of pasta made from common wheat is 68.

Rich in protein. Every cell in your body contains protein. Protein is made up of amino acids, many of which your body makes. But nine amino acids must come from the food you eat.

Durum wheat Semolina is high in protein but without the saturated fat you'll find in meat. 

Higher in lutein. Durum wheat contains about twice the amount of lutein as bread wheat.

Lutein is a carotenoid or nutrient that occurs in many foods, especially fruits and vegetables.  They may have many benefits for your health, especially eye health. Some experts say lutein may improve or even prevent age-related macular degeneration, which can cause blindness.

High in fiber. Durum wheat flour has more dietary fiber than flour made from bread wheat.

A diet that’s high in fiber has many benefits. These benefits include:

  • Helps control your blood sugar levels
  • Lowers cholesterol
  • Lowers your risk of colorectal cancer
  • Helps your bowel movements
  • Makes you feel full for longer. 

Experts recommend that you get 25 to 38 grams of fiber a day. It’s better to get your fiber from the food you eat instead of supplements.

An iron-rich food. If you’ve been feeling exhausted lately, it may be because you’re lacking iron. Iron deficiency is one of the causes of anemia, which is when you have a low number of red blood cells. Iron is an essential component of your blood. 

About 9% to 11% of teen girls and women in the US are iron deficient.

Your body gets iron from the foods you eat. The Recommended Daily Allowance for adult men is 8 milligrams of iron a day and 18 milligrams a day for adult women. For pregnant women, it’s recommended you get 27 milligrams a day.

As it’s plant-based, durum wheat semolina contains nonheme iron. This form of iron is not absorbed by your body as well as heme iron, which is found in meat, poultry, and seafood. But you can increase the amount of nonheme iron that your body absorbs by serving your semolina dishes with foods that are rich in Vitamin C. The ascorbic acid in Vitamin C boosts iron levels. 

Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of Vitamin C. Some good sources include:

  • Red and green peppers
  • Citrus fruits like orange and grapefruit
  • Kiwifruit
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts

How to Use Durum Wheat Semolina

You can find durum wheat semolina in many grocery stores and specialty food stores. 

Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. To make it last longer, you can store it in your fridge or freezer. 

Here are some ways you can use durum wheat:

  • You can use durum wheat to make fresh pasta such as spaghetti, ravioli, and linguini.
  • Durum wheat semolina is also used to make desserts such as semolina cake, cookies, and puddings. Some people make it into a type of sweet breakfast porridge, similar to cream of wheat. 
  • Add some semolina to thicken a stew or a sauce.
  • Semolina gives your fried foods a crispier texture. Use it to coat vegetables like zucchini and eggplant before frying. It will stop the vegetables from getting soggy.
  • There are also many recipes for durum wheat breads and flatbreads. But as durum wheat semolina has a high gluten content, you need to handle the dough gently or it might end up being too tough.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Folic Acid.”

CEREAL CHEMISTRY: “Improvement of Durum Wheat Pastamaking and Breadmaking Qualities.”

European Journal of Business and Management: “Wheat Flour Marketing in Bangladesh: a case study on packaged Atta, Maida and Semolina in two major City Corporations of Bangladesh.”

Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council: “Wheat.”

Harvard Health Publishing: "Healthy diet: Is glycemic index the key?.”

HARVARD T.H. CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: “Protein.”

JAMA: “Prevalence of iron deficiency in the United States.”

MAYO CLINIC: “Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet,” “Iron deficiency anemia.”

Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism: “Glycemic indices of three commonly consumed foods: a clinical trial in Iranian healthy adults.”

nutrients: “The Effect of Lutein on Eye and Extra-Eye Health,” “Potential Health Claims of Durum and Bread Wheat Flours as Functional Ingredients.”

NIH: “Iron,” “Vitamin C.”

USDA: “Durum Wheat,” “Semolina, enriched,”  “Wheat, durum.”

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