Guest Post by Bastyr University Nutrition Studies Student, Amber Lagerwey

 Gluten is a very controversial topic these days. An article I recently read cited multiple research studies proving that wheat is responsible for inflammation, diabetes, heart attacks and weight gain. The attack on gluten is generally directed at wheat, the most common source of gluten in the American diet. With chronic diseases and Celiac increasingly on the rise, it seems natural to look to our standard diet for clues.  However realistically targeting wheat may actually be, how realistic is it to demonize the entire grain, especially when it happens to be mostly consumed as refined flour in processed foods that are high in added sugars, salt, and chemical food additives?  Is it the really wheat or what we’ve done to the grain?

The American Association of Cereal Chemists International and the FDA define whole grain as consisting of the “intact, ground, cracked or flaked fruit of the grain whose principal components, the starchy endosperm, germ and bran, are present in the same relative proportions as they exist in the intact grain”.  The USDA recommends a dietary intake of 6 and 7 oz equivalence* in grains for adult women and men, respectively, with half of these servings from whole grain sources. And for good reason. Whole grains, including wheat, barley, and rye (the gluten offenders) offer an incredible source of sustained energy, fiber, vitamins and trace minerals (including B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and selenium); all provided by the three layers of a whole grain: the outer bran, middle endosperm, and inner germ.

What does this mean for our health? It means we have a very effective way to reduce cholesterol, our risk for coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, and maintain a healthy gut and nervous system. In 2010 additional recommendations were made to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, including “limiting the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium”. A refined grain has had the bran and germ removed, leaving only the endosperm. Ironically, the endosperm is mostly carbohydrate, with some protein; this loss of important nutrients when the bran and germ is stripped is the reason why most products are enriched. Fiber is typically not added back.

With 85% of all grain consumed in the US as refined, it appears that we are not getting our gluten, or wheat, from whole grain, healthy sources. Americans favorite way to eat grain? Refined bread, pizza, grain-based desserts, and tortillas. And wonder which layer holds the highest concentration of gluten? If you guessed the endosperm, you are correct.

Avoiding a particular food due to a disease, allergy, or any medical reason is essential to health. However, people who are aiming to improve their health by excluding important sources of whole grains out of fear should be mindful of how our food items are processed and what implication these changes could potentially have on our health.


* Link to grain equivalence info:


 (1) USDA MyPlate

 (2) 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

 (3) Williams, Peter G. “Evaluation of the Evidence between Consumption of Refined Grains and Health Outcomes.” Nutrition Reviews 70.2 (2012): 80-99. Web.

 (4) Linus Pauling Institute

 (5) Tosi P, Gritsch CS et al. “Distribution of gluten proteins in bread wheat (Triticum aestivum) grain.” Ann Bot. 2011