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Health Benefits of Wheat

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 08, 2021

In the last few years, people have become increasingly concerned about eating wheat. It’s been linked to wheat allergies, celiac disease, and more. Yet you may have also heard that wheat has many nutritional benefits. So is wheat really good for you?

What is Wheat?

There are two main types of wheat. The most common type is bread or common wheat, also known as Triticum aestivum vulgare. Durum wheat, or Triticum turgidum durum, is the other type. Most pasta is made from durum wheat.

Wheat flour is a key ingredient in many foods. These include pasta, noodles, bread, couscous, and baked goods like cakes and biscuits. 

When Wheat Is a Problem

Wheat can be problematic because of the gluten found in it. Gluten is a protein that can cause side effects in some people. But most people can eat gluten without any issues.

Some conditions associated with wheat include: 

Celiac disease. This is an autoimmune condition. If you have celiac disease, your body launches an immune response in your small intestine when you eat gluten. This reaction eventually damages the lining of your small intestine, causing it to absorb fewer nutrients. 

Wheat allergy. This is an allergy to wheat and wheat products. It’s more common in children than in adults.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Recently, more people have reported symptoms after eating wheat. These symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, and muscle pains, are not allergy- or autoimmune-related. 

Wheat and Nutrition

A 3.5 ounce serving of unenriched whole wheat flour contains:

  • 15 grams of protein
  • 10.6 grams of dietary fiber
  • 71.2 grams of carbohydrates
  • 38 milligrams of calcium
  • 136 milligrams of magnesium
  • 352 milligrams of phosphorus
  • 376 milligrams of potassium
  • 39 micrograms of folate
  • 5.5 milligrams of niacin
  • 0.5 milligrams of thiamin

Why Are Whole Grains Better?

You’ve probably heard that whole grains are better for you. But what are whole grains?

Wheat kernels have three parts: 

  • Bran: the outer layer
  • Germ: the core of the kernel
  • Endosperm: the starchy middle layer

To make white flour, the wheat kernel is stripped of its bran and germ and left with just the endosperm. The layers that are removed are rich in fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and minerals like iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium. 

The endosperm contains only protein, carbohydrates, and a small number of B vitamins and minerals. 

The 2015 to 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating 6 ounces of grains in a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. At least half of that should be from 100% whole grains. 

Health Benefits of Wheat

Wheat is a good source of carbohydrates and some vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat, in particular, has many benefits for your health. 

High in carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are important to your health. Your body needs carbs to work properly. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that 45% to 65% of your total daily calories should be carbohydrates.

Carbs have several functions in your diet. They:

  • Provide energy: Your body breaks down the starches and sugars into glucose (blood sugar). It uses this glucose for energy.
  • Help control your weight: The fiber found in many carbohydrates helps you feel full.
  • Protect against some diseases: Whole grains can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. You also need fiber for digestion

Contains protein. Every cell in your body contains protein. Protein is made up of amino acids. Your body makes most of the amino acids it needs, but nine of them must come from the food you eat. 

‌Experts recommend that protein make up 10% to 35% of your total calories. You should try to get your protein from plants, such as legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. 

Protein content differs among wheat types. Harder wheat like durum, which is used for pasta, contains more proteins. Protein can make up between 8.5% to 15% of wheat’s dry weight.

An important source of minerals. Wheat contains many minerals. The concentration of minerals in wheat is determined by the type, soil, climate, and agricultural practices, such as organic farming. Whole wheat flour is richer in minerals and vitamins than white flour.

Your body needs minerals for:

  • Regulating enzyme systems
  • Building bones and teeth
  • Helping with muscle contractions
  • Releasing energy from food 
  • Maintaining your body’s pH balance 

Researchers say that eating certain types of whole-grain flour can provide you with more than 70% of your daily recommended intake of the following minerals:

Antioxidants. Whole grains contain antioxidants. These are substances that may delay or prevent some forms of cell damage. The best way to get antioxidants is to eat foods that are rich in them. Researchers say that antioxidant supplements aren’t as effective for disease prevention.

Whole grain flours contain many antioxidants, including:

Lutein and zeaxanthin are carotenoids, pigments responsible for the color of wheat. They’re said to be good for eye health, especially with lowering the risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.

These antioxidants are mostly found in the germ layer of the wheat kernel. So you find them in whole-wheat flour, but not in white flour.

High in fiber. Whole grains are high in fiber. You need 25 to 38 grams of fiber a day. Dietary fiber can help you:

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council: “Wheat.”

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Protein,” “Whole Grains.”

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: “Mineral Composition of Organically Grown Wheat Genotypes: Contribution to Daily Minerals Intake.”

Journal of Cereal Science: “Whole grain phytochemicals and health.”

MAYO CLINIC: “Carbohydrates: How carbs fit into a healthy diet,” “Dietary fiber: Essential for a healthy diet.”

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NIH): “Antioxidants: In Depth.”

North Dakota State University: “Wheat Quality & Carbohydrate Research.”

nutrients: Dietary sources of lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids and their role in eye health.”

Nutrition Bulletin: “Do we need to worry about eating wheat?.”

USDA: “Flour, whole wheat, unenriched.”

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