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Wheat’s Nutritional Value

New research shows that modern wheat has a similar nutritional composition to wheat grown in Canada 150 years ago. Agriculture and Agri-Food scientist Dr. Nancy Ames was among a group of researchers working on a project studying modern and heritage Canadian wheat varieties used since the turn of the 20th century.

The researchers took 20 key varieties grown over the last century and compared the quality against modern varieties. These were assessed at multiple locations over the years by Dr. Ron DePauw and milling a baking quality by collaborator Dr. Nancy Edwards. Changes or consistencies in nutritional composition were investigated by Dr. Nancy Ames. Her team analyzed fibre, starch, carbohydrates, protein (including gluten proteins), and antioxidant activity.

Some critics have claimed that the protein composition of the grain, which includes gluten, has been fundamentally altered by the agriculture industry or that older varieties are more nutritious. Breeders’ efforts have focused on yield, disease resistance and milling and baking properties, but this research found that wheat’s nutritional profile has remained largely the same. Variation in nutritional components such as fibre and carbohydrates were observed, but were not related to any major trends over time. This research shows that while improvement in grain yields and baking performance over the past century has been significant, the increase in the total grain protein concentration has been very modest. Work is currently underway to look at the proteins that make up gluten.

Wheat contains both carbohydrates and protein and is rich in a number of vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre, and antioxidants. It has been a staple and essential part of the human diet for thousands of years, and because of the unique properties of its gluten protein, is used in countless ways to make breads, pastas and a variety of other foods.

Dr. Ames continues to research the health components of wheat—including opportunities for combating issues like obesity and diabetes.

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