The world is literally overflowing with wheat – every year the world produces over 600 million tons though only two thirds are actually eaten. America exports almost half its yearly 50 million tons, while India and China are demanding more and more every year (170 million tons annually in 2007). In fact almost every country in the world is now growing more wheat than ever before.
Why should I be aware of this?
Wheat is a staple grain in most part of the world. It is an essential part of a balanced diet. While on one hand experts tout its health benefits, weight watchers opting for a low carb diet, are staying away from it.
One of the oldest grains in the world, we need to know all about it to make an informed choice.
To gain the maximum benefit from wheat, the form in which it is consumed is very important. Unrefined wheat is rich in nutrients and very beneficial. The more the flour is milled and refined, the more it loses fiber and vital nutrients. In fact, when nutritional scientists in the forties and fifties realized that white flour had been stripped of almost a quarter of its micronutrients they pressurised governments to force the milling industry to add calcium and iron and B vitamins to white flour. In the UK, calcium carbonate – traditionally used to make blackboard chalk – is added to white flour by law. Fortification is now common to most refined flour throughout the Western world and a UN backed initiative aims to fortify 70 per cent of all the world’s flour by 2008.
When wheat is milled to make white flour, more than 30 essential nutrients are removed. During fortification process only four of those nutrients are added to enrich it. White flour is enriched in most cases by adding vitamins B1, B2, B3, and iron. Nutrients that are irrevocably lost include 44% of the vitamin E, 52% of the pantothenic acid, 65% of the folic acid, 76% of the biotin, 84% of the vitamin B6, and half or more of 20 minerals and trace elements, including magnesium, calcium, zinc, chromium, manganese, selenium, vanadium, and copper. Therefore it is important that we have bread, pasta, bagels, crackers, cakes, and muffins and other products made from whole grain wheat flour.
How does this affect me?
Wheat and health
Nutritionists recommend we eat between four and six slices of bread a day(depending on the thickness of the slice). In the UK alone, around eight million loaves of bread are eaten every day. Conventional dietary wisdom teaches us that high-carb diets help us reduce the amount of fat thus helping us fight the global epidemics of heart disease and obesity. In 1994, a UK medical report on heart disease suggested we eat more carbs like bread and pasta for this very reason.
The British Nutrition Foundation explains that complex carbs like wheat provide energy quicker than fats or proteins – in fact government backed nutritionists recommend that we get half our energy from these foods.
- High-fiber whole wheat, and particularly wheat bran, ranks as the world's greatest preventives of constipation.
- The bran is potently anti-cancer. Remarkably, in humans, wheat bran can suppress that which can develop into colon cancer.
- Anti-parasitic - Wheat ranks exceedingly high as a trigger of food intolerances and allergies, resulting in symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and neurological illnesses.
- Wheat is rich in 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. Thus, it substantially lowers the risk of type II Diabetese.
- Since it is rich in insoluble fiber, it also aids in preventing gallstones.
- Some scientists worry that the industrial fortification of flour could make certain vulnerable people more at risk to specific diseases. It has long been known that added folic acid can mask vitamin B deficiencies in the elderly. In the UK, its addition to bread has been hotly debated for years.
- Some, like Professor David Smith of Oxford University, argue that it is unethical to effectively medicate the majority of the population in order to reduce the risk of birth defects in a relatively small number of children. *More and more people are questioning wheat's claim to being a great nutritious food.
- Wheat contains a large amount of glue in the form of gluten. It also contains a large amount of neurotoxins like glutamin. This combination causes a large range of diseases. The glue damages the wall of the intestines and the duodenum, causing maldigestion and malabsorption. Neurotoxins can easily pass through the damaged intestines and then cause rapid firing of the neurons in the brains, causing problems like brain fogs up to epilepsy.
- Because of the presence of bran and germ, wheat is among the 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 gall bladder problems may want to avoid eating whole wheat.
- Some people are allergic to wheat. Wheat allergy is common in almost 40% of the population; however, most people are unaware that they have this allergy. Some instances of wheat allergy are accompanied by a rash while in other instances the reactions are more subtle and appear in the form of postnasal drip, sinus congestion, or joint aches one to three days after eating wheat. Others experience bloating, weight gain and upset stomach. To determine if a person is allergic to wheat, the patient can either eliminate wheat from their diet and track improvements or still better -- get their blood tested for immunoglobulin (IgG) antibodies to wheat.
- Women with candida should avoid wheat bread as it is leavened with yeast.
All about wheat
Types of Wheat
There are 30,000 varieties of wheat identified by scientists. These have been classified according to their planting schedule and nutrient composition--hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, durum, hard white and soft white. While spring wheat is planted in the spring, winter wheat is planted in October.
The protein-to-starch ratio in the endosperm of the wheat leads to a variation in the strength of their kernel --soft, hard, and durum (even harder). So wheat with harder kernels such as durum wheat contain less starch and a stronger protein matrix.
Modern farming has led to a reduction in the total number of varieties that are cultivated with just a few varieties accounting for 90 percent of the world wheat production.
Spelt, a distant cousin to modern wheat and one of the oldest cultivated grains is easier for humans to digest than wheat. Kamut or durum wheat has properties similar to spelt and has been untouched by modern plant-breeding techniques. They are therefore relatively free of chemicals as compared to wheat farmed by modern methods.
Genetically modified wheat -- Genetically modified wheat is not being grown anywhere in the world as yet (December 2007). In 2002, a leading agro-biotech enterprise had submitted an application (in the United States and Canada) tpo grow a herbicide resistant, genetically modified wheat. With questions about market acceptance, farmer liability, segregation, and risks to the environment and human health, far from being answered, the plans were abandoned in 2004. Scientists are however, still exploring ways of introducing genetically modified wheat.
Wheat used for Baking
When deciding which wheat berries to use for baking, the main categories to consider are hard and soft. Hard wheat is higher in protein, particularly gluten, making it more elastic and the best choice for making breads. Gluten traps carbon dioxide during the leavening process, allowing the dough to rise. Durum wheat, used mostly for pasta, is even harder. Soft wheat is lower in protein and is more appropriate for cookies, crackers, soda breads and other baked goods.
The Composition of Wheat
- Wheat is marketed as a great fiber-provider and a good source of manganese and magnesium.
- It is also touted as an excellent source of other vital nutrients like iron, calcium and vitamin B.
- Wheat flour contains a little protein and plenty of carbohydrates. The carbohydrate present in wheat grain is good carbohydrate -- carbohydrates that take the body longer to digest and are therefore better. On consuming whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, etc you feel full and energetic longer.
- Wheat germ, found at the centre of a grain, though in a very small proportion, is rich in nutrients such as niacin, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin E, folate, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and zinc. It also contains protein, fiber and some fat.
- Wheat is the richest source of energy and forms the bulk of the diet across the world.
Surprise sources of Wheat
Most of the below mentioned products might contain wheat. Those allergic to wheat must read the food labels of these products carefully and consume them if the lable indicates the products are wheat free.
- Baked beans in tomato sauce
- Gravy powder and mixes
- Baking powder
- Ice creams
- Batter mixes
- Bedtime drinks
- Modified Starch
- Blancmange powders
- Pie fillings
- Cocoa Salad
- Coffee (instant)
- Sandwich spreads
- Crumble topping mix
- Curry powder
- Soups (tins and packets)
- Custard (powder or ready-made)
- tinned Soy sauce
- Stock cubes
If you are allergic to wheat, you need to avoid these surprise sources of wheat.
Having whole wheat flour and whole wheat product is not enough. The whole wheat product on our table has many harmful substances thanks to modern farming practices.
- Seed -- Seed companies often use a mixture of fungicides and insecticide to control a broad range of seed pests.
- Pesticides and fertlizers --These contain chemicals such as disulfoton (Di-syston), methyl parathion, chlorpyrifos, dimethoate, diamba and glyphosate. Though these are approved chemicals, excess exposure to these chemicals can increase our susceptibility to neurotoxic diseases as well as to certain kinds of cancer.
- Hormones --Farmers use either natural hormones (extracted from other plants) or synthetic hormones such as Cycocel to regulate the growth of their crop i.e. time of germination of wheat and strength of the wheat stalk. Though there are evidences which show that increased exposures to such hormones might have an adverse impact on our health, no studies have yet been done that isolate the health risks of eating hormone-manipulated wheat.
- Chemicals used during storage -- During long storage, wheat grains become vulnerable to critters. Even before the grain is stored for commercial purposes, the collection bins are sprayed with insecticide both on their outer and their inner surface.
- Irradiation -- Wheat and wheat flour were some of the first foods approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for irradiation --exposing wheat berries to radiation to eradicate storage pests. A study conducted to ascertain the impact of irradiation was published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1975, revealed that blood samples of four of the five children fed for four weeks on a diet that included wheat product exposed to radiation, showed abnormal cell formation.
- Artificial drying -- Artificial drying of damp grain at high temperatures results in reducing the nutritional value of the grain and partially cooking its protein. If the grain is dried at temperatures not higher than 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit, then its proteins and other nutritive properties are retained.
- Processing and milling -- Wheat grain looses most of its nutrients during this process.
The best option is to buy organic 100 percent stone-ground whole-wheat flour at a natural food store. These stores use slow-speed, steel hammer-mills in place of stone but the result is as effective.
- We have been eating wheat since 10,000 BC to 15,000 BC. Egyptian tombs of pharaohs had large earthenware jars full of wheat.
- We eat over 600 million tonnes of wheat every year– much more than rice and corn.
- Wheat has been a source of our diets for under half a per cent of humankind’s history, just 12,000 years.
- Grains, read bread, make up almost a quarter of the Western diet – more than sugar, more than meat and fish, more than other processed foods.
- In half the world, bread provides more than 50 percent of the total caloric intake.
- Britons buy 12million of bread every day
- Nutritionists recommend we eat between four and six slices of bread a day
- Modern milling process strips wheat of its B vitamins and 24 key nutrient
- On average 20% of the UK dietary calcium intake is accounted for via bread and flour products.
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