Know Your Grains (KYG): Wheat, “our daily bread”
Welcome to the KYG series!
Ever wondered which is the most widely consumed grain in the world? Well, depends in which part of the world you are and the answer could oscillate between wheat and rice.
However, if you re-phrase the question as, ‘which is the most widely cultivated grain?’ Wheat is the clear winner. The crop covers more of the earth than any other crop today and is staple to roughly 35% of the world’s population. First cultivated some 9000 years ago (Emmer or Farro varieties), wheat has been the staple food for numerous civilizations of Europe, West Asia and North Africa.
The large area under cultivation is not just because of historical reasons - wheat is special in several ways. It is the best of the cereal foods and provides more balanced nourishment for humans than any other food source. Wheat is a major diet component because of the wheat plant’s agronomic adaptability, ease of grain storage and versatility of the grain to make edible, interesting and satisfying foods. Nutrient content of the wheat per 100 grams is 13.7g protein, 2.47g fat, 71g carbohydrates, and 10.7g of fibre.
Unfortunately, much of the wheat we eat today is normally picked off the shelf, which is reﬁned (missing its nutritious bran and germ) or enriched (reﬁned grain with just ﬁve of the dozens of missing or reduced nutrients added back in). This form of grain is less nutritious and perhaps even harmful since it converts into a high Glycemic Index (GI) food. So it’s important to include whole grain wheat in our diets to get the complete nutrition. Its benefits are well established and include,
- Stroke risk reduction up to 30%
- Type 2 diabetes risk reduced (a natural low GI food)
- Better weight maintenance
- Reduced risk of asthma
- Healthier blood pressure levels
- Reduction of inﬂammatory disease risk
Interestingly, in an age of “Facebook Facts” and “Twitter Truths”, rumor and myths about wheat are widespread. Sample this, ‘gluten free diet is better for overall health’ or ‘wheat is the reason we are overweight/ obese’; the list goes on and on.
Scientists have debunked most of these myths repeatedly with unmistakable facts. Gluten is a protein in certain grains including wheat, barley and rye that make it possible for dough to stretch and rise in the oven. Not more than 2-3% of the world population is gluten sensitive and small fraction of these have celiac disease (an autoimmune form of gluten intolerance). For the rest of us, there is absolutely no reason to go gluten free.
While eating too much of anything can make you fat, wheat plays no special role in putting on the extra kilos. Wheat like any other grain, when consumed intact or in a traditional minimally processed form is highly nutritious. But remember, a wheat flour cookie (even the whole grain one) is still a cookie.