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Despite the headlines, not all wheat is bad for you

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Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 5:39 PM

Ah, fresh warm bread. Whether it is hot out of the oven, dipped into a steaming bowl of soup or enveloping your favorite sandwich, it is easy to see why it is such a staple food. Wheat makes up about 16 percent of our diet.

Whole grains should make up at least half of total grain intake and have been linked to health benefits, such as reduced risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Whole wheat contains nutrients such as vitamin E, B vitamins, magnesium, iron, fiber and even antioxidants.

Yet, despite this, wheat has gotten a bad rap over the last five to 10 years with claims that it is behind the obesity epidemic and the idea that whole wheat is no better than refined wheat. Popular media found a way to influence many Americans to jump on the low-carb bandwagon or avoid wheat all together, thinking they are allergic or sensitive to the grain.

The truth is, some individuals have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity or wheat allergies, but this does not mean that wheat is unhealthy for everyone. It is true that many Americans eat too much refined wheat in foods such as pastries, cookies, pizzas and crackers.

Whole wheat includes every part of the kernel (bran, germ and endosperm). The bran and the germ contain the fiber, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. To be called a “whole grain,” the product must contain all three parts in their original amounts. Refined wheat contains only the endosperm after removing the bran and germ and many important nutrients.

Read labels. If the package label reads “multigrain,” “stoneground” or “wheat flour,” it might contain whole grain, but it might not. If it does, it may only be a very small amount. The key phrase should be “100 percent whole wheat.” If the front of the package does not indicate that it is 100 percent whole wheat, search for “whole wheat” (or other whole grains) listed as the first ingredient on the label.

My focus is on wheat, but don’t forget that variety and moderation are key to a healthy diet. Choose from a variety of whole grains, such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, faro and bulgur. Be sure to include a variety among all food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy. But, most importantly, take time to enjoy what you eat.

Experiencing aroma, texture, warmth and taste of a homemade loaf of bread is wonderful. Yet, the baking process can be intimidating at this elevation. The structure of the bread dough when making yeast-based breads is important for a high-quality product. Yeast, a leavening agent, produces carbon dioxide, which is trapped by the protein strands in the dough, and gives the bread its desirable rise and texture. To develop the texture and taste, it is necessary to let your dough rise twice at this elevation. Check out the Higher Altitude Food Preparation brochure at the Extension Office for recommended modifications.

The protein, or gluten, in flour builds the dough structure. When baking yeast bread, the addition of flours with higher protein can strengthen dough structure and enhance taste and texture of the baked bread. Whole wheat flour has more protein than white flour. Flours that work well at sea level will also work well at higher elevation but absorb liquid at different rates because our air is drier. Liquids boil at a lower temperature, evaporating faster. For baking yeast breads, this translates to including more liquid or less flour to compensate for loss of moisture.

Enjoy some fresh bread this weekend!

Wendy Rice is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at wendy.rice@colostate.edu or 382-6461.

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