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Wheat—The Whole Truth
The health benefits of wheat depend entirely on the form in which you eat it. These benefits will be few if you select wheat that has been processed into 60% extraction, bleached white flour. 60% extraction—the standard for most wheat products in the United States, including breads, noodles and pastas, baked goods like rolls or biscuits, and cookies—means that 40% of the original wheat grain was removed, and only 60% is left. Unfortunately, the 40% that gets removed includes the bran and the germ of the wheat grain—its most nutrient-rich parts. In the process of making 60% extraction flour, over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber are lost.
Since 1941, laws in the United States have required “enrichment” of processed wheat flour with vitamins B1, B2, B3 and iron in response to the problems created by 60% extraction. Since not nearly as much of these B vitamins and iron are replaced as are removed from 60% extraction flour, “enriched” seems an odd word to describe this process.
If you select 100% whole wheat products, however, the bran and the germ of the wheat will remain in your meals, and the health benefits will be impressive! Our food ranking qualified whole wheat (in its original non-enriched form) as a very good source of dietary fiber and manganese, and as a good source of magnesium.
The many benefits of whole wheat products are being recognized more and more by consumers. Even though many health-conscious individuals have been cutting back on their intake of total carbs and refined wheat products (by about 10% between 1997-2007), the demand for whole wheat products has actually increased during that same time period. This trend fits in well with a Mediterranean diet approach to health, which looks to lower overall carbs but higher whole grains, including whole wheat.
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Women Who Eat Whole Grains Weigh Less
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition underscores the importance of choosing whole rather than refined wheat to maintain a healthy body weight. In this Harvard Medical School / Brigham and Women’s Hospital study, which collected data on over 74,000 female nurses aged 38-63 years over a 12 year period, weight gain was inversely associated with the intake of high-fiber, whole-grain foods, such as whole wheat, but positively related to the intake of refined-grain foods, such as products made from refined wheat. Not only did women who consumed more whole grains consistently weigh less than those who ate less of these fiber-rich foods, but those consuming the most dietary fiber from whole grains were 49% less likely to gain weight compared to those eating foods made from refined grains.
Whole Wheat Gets You Going
Wheat bran is a popular bulk laxative. A third of a cup per day is all that is needed. Research studies support this popular practice. A fiber-rich diet, primarily composed of whole wheat breads, cereals high in bran and supplemental “millers bran” was shown to alleviate the symptoms of diverticular disease (pain, nausea, flatulence, distension, constipation, etc.) in 89 percent of patients enrolled in a study which examined the effects of fiber on bowel regularity. Diverticular disease, a condition often marked by inflammation and lower abdominal pains in which chronic constipation and excessive straining results in a sac or pouch in the wall of the colon, is typically treated with dietary roughage such as cereal fiber (i.e., wheat bran), fruit and vegetable fiber, and plenty of fluids.
Whole Wheat Promotes Women’s Health and Gastrointestinal Health