Wheat has long been a major contributor of nutrients to the American diet through consumption of bread, rolls, cereal and pasta.
Grains contribute more than 70 percent of the folic acid/folate; 50 percent of the iron and 39 to 60 percent of the three major B vitamins, and many other nutrients.
About 70 percent of the grains consumed in America are wheat, so it plays a significant role in delivering those nutrients.
While old wives’ tales often purport that bread and grains are “fattening,” science shows the opposite. As far back as 1997, Harvard colleagues published a paper in Diabetes Care showing that men who consumed 6.1 slices of white bread per week had BMIs (body mass indexes) 0.4 units less than men who consumed 1.9 slices per week.
And carbohydrates in general do not cause obesity. In 2009, the Canadian Community Health Survey 2.2 concluded, “Consuming a low-carbohydrate (approximately 47 percent energy) diet is associated with greater likelihood of being overweight or obese among healthy, free-living adults. Lowest risk may be obtained by consuming 47 percent to 64 percent energy from carbohydrates.”
This conclusion has been supported by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which is an ongoing survey conducted by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Wheat, barley and rye all contain gluten (a protein found in these particular grains) which cannot be digested by those with celiac disease (which is an auto-immune response to gluten by people who are genetically predisposed to this condition) or who are gluten sensitive. In the U.S. less than 1 percent of the population has CD and 6 percent are thought to have gluten sensitivity.
Unfortunately, gluten free has become a fad for those seeking to lose weight, “feel better,” etc., but the claims are unsubstantiated. Often, the replacement products for wheat, barley and rye are higher in fat and sugar and contain fewer nutrients. Gluten-free diets are very strict and limiting and are a medical therapeutic diet prescribed for a serious medical condition.
Unless you have celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, there is no reason to go gluten free. If you suspect you might have trouble digesting gluten containing grains, it is recommended you see your physician for testing.
There has been an increase in celiac disease in the past 50 years, and there are many theories as to why, but none has been proven. Research is ongoing. What we do know is, the vast majority of people can consume gluten without any adverse effects.
Another common myth is that many people think they are allergic to wheat. In reality, fewer than 1 percent of Americans — mainly children — have diagnosed wheat allergies. Most children outgrow their allergies by their teenage years.
Grains, and wheat in particular, are a major source of fiber in the U.S. diet. Some fiber components found in wheat, corn, millet and rice as well as barley and oats have been shown to improve glucose tolerance, which can lead to preventing insulin resistance and diabetes.
Higher fiber intakes have also been associated with lower rates of colon cancer and diverticular disease in large cohort studies. Fiber is recommended both to prevent and to treat diverticular disease.
Refined/enriched grains are often blamed for causing diseases or being nutritionally inferior. However, a recent Nutrition Reviews article looked at 135 relevant studies that were published between 2000 and 2010. The article stated: “The totality of evidence shows that consumption of up to 50 percent of all grain foods as refined-grain foods (without high levels of added fat, sugar or sodium) is not associated with any increased disease risk.” This 50 percent recommendation mimics the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Last year CDC credited enriched grains, fortified with folic acid since 1998, with preventing 36 percent of neural tube birth defects (spina bifida) in America. They listed this accomplishment as one of the top 10 most significant health initiatives in the 21st century. The science shows wheat and grains are important carriers of nutrients in the American diet.
Fads, old wives’ tales and Internet spam are not credible sources for nutrition information.