My Trip to the Wheat State: A Nutritional Perspective

Summer is a great time to do something out of the ordinary; this summer I  was fortunate enough to get that  chance!  I had a unique opportunity to take part in  a “Wheat Safari”  hosted by the Wheat Foods Council that helped expand  my knowledge about wheat and wheat products. It included a visit to a Kansas wheat farm complete with a combine ride; a mill tour; participation in baking labs; and taste testing some freshly, finished products at a locally owned and operated bakery!   Meeting others in my field and  sharing work experiences  was yet another valuable learning experience. (There were 25 of us). Interestingly, we all shared similar experiences with the public. My colleagues  found consumers to be: afraid of carbohydrates, confused about whole grains and some even unnecessarily avoiding breads, cereals and whole grains. In this post I hope to quell your carbohydrate fears, eliminate the confusion between  whole grains and whole wheat, and tell you about the newest class of wheat that may be the answer to your prayers!

Let me start by explaining the  recommendations for carbohydrates. Nutrition experts recommend you consume 45 -60% of your calories as carbohydrate.  If you are sedentary, the lower end; if you are an athlete, the high end. I frequently get asked, “Why do athletes require such a large portion of their diets as carbohydrates?”  The answer is simply ENERGY!  Carbohydrates are the preferred energy source for muscles.  I promise to discuss more on this in a later post. According to Janet Walberg Rankin, Ph.D., Professor, Virginia Tech,   “A high carbohydrate diet has been identified to be beneficial for performance of various types of exercise and is better for overall health.”

When on a  balanced diet,  your carbohydrates should come from  a variety of  sources including:   fruits; vegetables; legumes;  low fat or non-fat dairy products;  breads , cereals and whole grains. Low consumption of  carbohydrate containing  foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains) will lead to reduced dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals- the substances that  have been linked to disease prevention.

Did you know that  >90% of  Americans are falling short of their daily fiber recommendations? That’s why I, and other health experts, are concerned about   individuals  restricting carbohydrates or getting too many from the wrong sources. Research has shown fiber, once only touted as the substance necessary for regularity, to be  helpful with weight control, by increasing satiety (it fills you up), and  also associated with a decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and some cancers.

The National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine recommendations for fiber are:

• women 50 years of age or younger: 25 g/ day

• women 51 years of age and older:  20 g/day

• men 50 years of age or younger: 38 g/day

• men 51 years of age or older :  30 g / day

Whole grains are good sources of fiber, yet many consumers aren’t sure what they are.  A whole grain means 100% of the orginal kernel is present: the bran, germ and endosperm. Here is a list of the more common whole grains : amaranth, barley, brown rice, buckwheat, corn and popcorn, millet, oats, quinoa, rye, sorghum, wheat (including farro and bulgar), and wild rice.

Should you eat whole wheat or whole grain?  I say some of both! The recommendation for  whole grains is 3 servings/day or 48 grams. Whole wheat is just one of the many whole grains you have to choose from.   If you find yourself confused about the difference between whole wheat and whole grains, keep this analogy from the Wheat Grains Counsel in mind:

 Whole wheat is to whole grain as a carrot is to vegetables.


Finally, I want to share information with  you about the newest class of U.S. wheat,  white whole wheat, which I was only vaguely familiar with prior to my trip. If you or your kids prefer the taste of refined white bread, but are looking for the nutritional benefits of whole wheat try white whole wheat. The bran of white whole wheat is lighter in color and milder in taste. You can have the nutritional benefits of a whole wheat, but keep the taste your accustomed  to.  White whole wheat contains a different phytochemical profile than red whole wheat products. (Just like red fruits and vegetables contain different phytonutrients than green fruits and vegetables.) Nutritional differences can occur between all wheat varieties  because of environmental conditions, such as weather and soil. For example, the wheat grown in a drought year will have a higher protein content.

There is no need to fear carbs! Eating  appropriate amounts and types of carbohydrates  are health enhancing. If you are concerned about your weight, make sure you are consuming the fiber containing carbohydrates as they will actually aid in your weight loss. Aim for 3 servings or 48 grams of whole grain daily. Whole wheat is a whole grain, but if you prefer the taste of refined white bread, white whole wheat may deliver on both taste and nutrition!

Disclosure: The Wheat Foods Council funded my trip to Kansas. I was not compensated for my time or for writing this blog post. The opinions are my own.

Diane Boyd, MBA, RD, LDN

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