Submitted by Dave Draeger, CDM, CFPP,
Director of Dietary and Dining Services
Misconceptions about wheat continue to drive some consumers to avoid the grain. There are valid concerns regarding refined grains in the Western Diet, but whole wheat products are nutritious and should be consumed if able.
Wheat does contain gluten, a group of proteins found in many grains. Individual testing has proven that celiac disease derives from gluten. The gluten protein causes damage to the villi in in a person’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Avoiding all gluten is the only way to ensure digestive health for someone with this disease.
Non-celiac wheat sensitivity shows symptoms of celiac disease, but these individuals do not test positive. Symptoms of gluten sensitivity may include upset GI, headache, skin irritation and fatigue. Unless you experience symptoms after consuming gluten, there is no reason to avoid wheat.
A wheat allergy may cause life threatening immune reaction to proteins in the wheat grain. Wheat must be avoided completely for those who are allergic.
Inflammation occurs when the body attempts to fight something off it perceives as harmful. Research has shown that there is no compelling evidence that whole wheat causes ongoing inflammation. Some studies indicate that amylase-trypsin inhibitors in modern wheat lead to intestinal inflammation. Refined modern wheat may also increase inflammation, so swapping those out for whole grains is a great choice.
Genetically modified (GMO) products are viewed as harmful. The process involves scientists selectively choosing good traits and eliminating bad traits to improve a product. Currently no GMO wheat is produced in the US. Selective cross breeding of wheat has increased yield and bigger grains to maximize efforts. Overall, no major changes to nutritional value have emerged since wheat was domesticated 10,000 years ago.
Some people believe wheat may cause weight gain, however there is no indication that wheat promotes weight gain. In reality, gluten-free processed goods (breads, snacks, etc.) are often higher in calories. Generally, when individuals choose a wheat-free diet they consume less processed foods and more nutritious foods, resulting in weight loss.
Adding whole wheat to the diet is simple. Options include swapping out refined wheat products for whole wheat, choosing whole wheat pasta, and baking. One may be able to substitute half whole wheat flour in most recipes.
Adjusting eating patterns and behaviors is difficult, but often rewarding in the long run. Give whole wheat a try and see what healthy benefits it can bring.