Is Wheat Healthy?

Is Wheat Healthy - Pancakes

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Is wheat healthy? Wheat gets picked on a lot these days, as a common allergen and as the demonized white flour. But are these concerns justified?

What about whole wheat, seitan (made with wheat gluten), and sprouted wheat? There are two sides to the wheat story, so let's go through both and hopefully you'll have the information you need to decide for yourself.

Allergies and Digestion

Wheat and gluten (the protein in wheat, and some other grains) are two of the most common allergens these days. Part of the reason for that is that wheat is in so many foods, in various forms.

When we're overexposed to one food, our bodies become sensitive to it. That's one reason variety in your diet is so important.

Like all other grains and seeds, wheat has something called phytic acid. This is a compound that protects the seed as it passes through our digestive systems.

From the plant's point of view, this is genius, since the seed will wind up intact surrounded by our poo, which is a perfect place for it to sprout and grow.

From our point of view, though, this means that we don't get the nutrients out of the grain or seed, and the phytic acid can actually interfere with the absorption of nutrients from other foods. If it interferes with digestion and tends to cause allergic reactions, is wheat healthy?

Flour

Wheat is most often eaten in the form of flour, so the whole grain is ground up to a powder. You might occasionally see wheat berries in a grain salad, but flour is by far the more common way we eat wheat. Flour doesn't absorb nearly the amount of water that a whole grain would during cooking.

Think of pancakes - the flour is mixed with liquid, but when it cooks the end result is pretty dense. Compare that to rice, which cooks as a whole grain by slowly absorbing twice its volume (or more, if you're making a risotto or pudding) of liquid. That's what makes whole grains so much less calorie-dense than flour-based foods like pancakes or muffins.

Calorie density is important not only for losing weight (filling up your stomach on fewer calories), but for keeping things easy for your digestive system. Since carbohydrates start breaking down in your mouth with the enzymes in your saliva, making sure you chew grains well is really important - and particularly important for carbohydrate-dense flour.

While whole wheat is healthier than white flour, since whole wheat maintains the bran and germ, it's still very calorie-dense. Whole wheat flour will still lose quite a bit of its nutrients, since it's ground down to a powder and left exposed to air.

Despite these downsides, there's still the question - is wheat healthy?

Supports Growth

If you're looking to build muscle mass or are a growing child, there are things that make wheat healthy for you. It has a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat and other nutrients to promote growth.

If you're looking to put on weight, the calorie-density of flour can work in your favor, allowing you to eat more calories without feeling like your stomach is going to explode.

Sprouting for Easier Digestion

If wheat is soaked and/or sprouted, the phytic acid that interferes with our digestion is mostly broken down. It also makes all of the other nutrients more available. Sprouting in particular can lessen or even eliminate allergic reactions. This is most likely because of the proteins being broken down into easier-to-digest forms, but could be the overall easy-access package.

Looking at all of these factors, here's my opinion. All grains and seeds have phytic acid, and sprouting can neutralize it. The issue with flour is true of any type of flour - not just wheat. I don't get any allergic reactions to wheat or gluten, so for me I don't see a need to fully avoid it. I don't eat a lot of foods made with flour, and when I do I try to get a variety of grains and not just wheat.

What's your verdict? Is wheat healthy? Let me know your experiences with wheat by leaving a comment below.

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About Heather

I’m Heather Nicholds, a registered holistic nutritionist. I can help you transform your life through simple changes in how you eat.

Whether you’re seeking healthy weight loss, more energy or a boost towards balanced nutrition, I’ll introduce you to the positive and powerful impact of a plant-based whole food diet.

I share my knowledge, enthusiasm and experience so you can prepare quick, healthy, delicious and balanced meals that leave you and your family full of vitality!

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