Wheat, which resulted from a cross between three different grass species around 10,000 BC, has been an important food source for humans for thousands of years. The kernel or “berry” consists of three distinct parts: the bran or outer covering of the grain; the germ, the embryo contained inside the kernel; and the endosperm, the part that makes white flour. When the wheat kernels are ground through the milling process, these three parts are separated and recombined to achieve different types of flours.
Wheat flour is an excellent source of complex carbohydrates, the essential fuel for our bodies. Wheat flours derive at least 80 percent of their calories from carbohydrates except for gluten flour, a very high-protein type of flour with the bran and starch removed. Depending on the flour type, the percent of calories from protein ranges from 9 to 15 percent. Gluten flour has 45 percent protein content. Calories from fat are never more than 5 percent.
Wheat flour can be a good source of dietary fiber, ranging from 3 g for cake flour to 15 g for whole wheat flour per one-cup serving. Wheat flour also contains important B-vitamins, calcium, folacin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, minimal amounts of sodium and other trace elements.
Grains have been enriched since 1941 with iron and the B vitamins riboflavin, niacin and thiamine. As a result, the crippling diseases pellagra and beriberi have been eradicated from the U.S. population. In 1998, folic acid was added to the enrichment formula. Data from U.S. birth certificates indicate neural tube defects have decreased by 19 percent and spina bifida by 23 percent following folic acid fortification in the U.S. grain food supply. Enriched grain products have more than twice the amount of folic acid as whole wheat. A slice of enriched white bread has 37 mcg versus whole wheat at 17.5 mcg. Studies show folic acid may also help prevent heart disease, cancer, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease.