Know Your Nutrients -Wheat

Organic Food

Wheat is one of the ancient and a very important cereal crop. It is a staple crop in temperate zones and there is high demand for wheat in countries which are undergoing urbanization and industrialization (1).

Wheat is grown on more land than any other commercial crop in the world (FAO) (2). Wheat is the most important food crop for more than one third of the world population and contributes more calories and proteins to the world diet than any other cereal.

Wheat is one of the principal grains and is one of the main sources of energy. It also provides good amounts of a number of components which are beneficial for health, especially protein, B vitamins, dietary fiber, and phytochemicals (1).

Different varieties of wheat are used for different products

Out of the thousands of varieties existing the most important varieties of wheat are Triticum aestivum and Triticum durum. Wheat variety (Triticum aestivum) is used to make bread including flat breads. Durum wheat (T. durum) is used in making pasta such as spaghetti and macaroni. The softer variety called club wheat (T. compactum) is generally used to make cake, crackers, cookies, pastries, and flours. Some of the other wheat varieties are used by the industry for the production of starch, paste, malt, dextrose, glutenalcohol, and other products (Brittanica).

Wheat because of the quality and quantity of its distinctive protein called gluten is used to make bread. Gluten gives bread dough the ability to retain gas (3). About 95% of the wheat grown globally is hexaploid bread wheat, with most of the remaining 5% being tetraploid durum wheat (4).

Composition of wheat

Wheat contains carbohydrate 78.10%, protein 14.70%, fat 2.10%, minerals 2.10% and considerable proportions of vitamins (thiamine and vitamin-B) and minerals (zinc, iron). Wheat is also a good source of trace minerals like selenium and magnesium, nutrients essential for good health (3)

Wheat grain consists of 85% (w/w) carbohydrate, 80% of which is starch present only in the endosperm (2). Protein is about 10–15% of the dry weight of wheat. The major constituents of wheat grain dietary fiber which constitutes about 11-15 % are cell wall polysaccharides, lignin, fructan, and resistant starch.

According to FAO wheat and rice provide 19 % of the total available calories each (FAO). Wheat along with maize and rice account for 94% of total cereal consumption worldwide (5).

The main group of phytochemicals quantitatively in wheat is phenolic acids, derivatives of either hydroxybenzoic acid or hydroxycinnamic acid. Epidemiological studies show that the phenolic acids have a number of health promoting properties mainly because of their antioxidant activity (4).

Why has wheat become so popular?

The adaptability of the wheat crop and its ability to give high yields made wheat a very popular crop. The other most important distinguishing characteristic of wheat is the presence of gluten protein. This storage protein of wheat flour when it comes into contact with water forms a unique network in the dough which makes it possible to make bread and the other whole range of baked products. The network of gluten holds air within and makes it possible for the dough to rise. Without gluten it would not be possible to make the delicious baked products with the wonderful texture they are known for.

1.      Shewry, P.R. and Hay, S. (2015). The contribution of wheat to human diet and health. Food and Energy Security. 4 (3)
  1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2019). Wheat – The largest Primary Commodity
  1. Kumar, P., Yadava, R. K., Gollen, B., Kumar, S., Verma, R. K. and Yadav, S. (2011). Nutritional Contents and Medicinal Properties of Wheat: A Review. Life Sciences and Medicine Research.
4.      Shewry, P. R. (2009) Wheat. Journal of Experimental Botany, Volume 60 (6)
  1. World Health organization. Fortification of Wheat Flour

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