Wheat gluten: Versatile, healthy and tasty

Have you read the latest article in a newspaper, which reported that a person who had stopped eating wheat products became much healthier and so the recommendation was to stop wheat products if you are gluten intolerant. Gluten is the protein of wheat. If you are intolerant and have been tested as positively allergic to gluten, it is wise to do so and not otherwise.

I would like to share some of my own observations in relation to the usage of wheat and of some of the research conducted in the Department of Home Science in Women’s Christian College, Chennai (Source: A Decade of Research, a private publication).

After Independence in 1947, when India introduced rationing, it was compulsory to buy wheat along with rice. Perhaps, some people may still remember that rice was then being imported and our country was not self sufficient in rice production. Whatever may have been the quality of provisions in the ration shops, the ethical values of those days, combined with patriotic fervour, which ruled peoples’ thinking and decisions, made them buy only from ration shops.

Families consisted of a minimum of 20 members at any given time. To produce wheat products like poories, chapathis or any other rotis, for family consumption was a herculean task and the special skills required for making wheat products was in short supply in South India. On the other hand, rice is so easy to cook! Therefore, wheat products were rarely made and they took on a special and exotic flavour. We looked forward to them as the young crave for pizzas and hotbreads, these days.

Later, there was a government ruling that all South Indian hotels and restaurants had to compulsorily introduce wheat as the second cereal in every meal and not in just Bombay meals as they are sometimes referred to.

As mentioned, the Home Sc. Dept of WCC has conducted quite a few research projects including the study of wheat, especially in relation to weight loss, Glycaemic Index and diabetic diets.
One of the early studies by Gomathy and Rowlands (1975), on blood glucose levels of 50 diabetic patients fed rice, wheat, maida and ragi showed that wheat had the best hypoglycaemic effect.

Nelson and Mohan (1981) studied the effect of maize and wheat in the form of rava and rice on the blood glucose response and chew count in diabetics. The results showed that wheat rava and rice were more satisfactory in the palatability of cooked products, and were higher in carbohydrate and
protein and yet the glucose increments were lower with wheat than with corn. Further, the fibre content and chew count of corn was higher, but the glucose increments were also higher than that of wheat. This makes wheat superior to corn in diabetic diets.

Similarly, a study of John and Mohan (1982), reported comparison of various carbohydrates such as rice, ragi, wheat, corn and potato, in combination with greengram on blood glucose levels of diabetics. Here also, wheat ranked high on palatability and protein content and lowest in increments of blood glucose.

Menon and Shivaji (1989) found that wheat bran added to rice idli, lowered the blood glucose increment in diabetics, as compared to plain rice idlis.

Sarala and Shivaji (1989) reported that wheat chapathis, chapathis with dried peas, and chapathis with whole bengalgram (channa), gave a lowered glucose increment. The lowering was more marked when pulses were included with chapathis.

Moses and Antony (1989) gave upma made with fine rava and coarse rava to diabetics to find that coarse rava gave slower glucose response than the fine rava, indicating that diabetics should consume coarse cereals which have a higher fibre content.

In the areas of body weight and body composition, Solomon and Mohan(1982), studied the efficacy of a cereal (wheat or rice) in a reducing diet for overweight college women, based on the heresay that wheat was more effective than rice in weight reduction. There was no significant difference in weight loss in both the diets and both were effective in a controlled diet programme for 28 days. Weight loss was 3.12 Kg. with rice and 3.27kg. with wheat. However, the wheat diet appears to have produced better reduction at the waist and sub-scapular areas, which are commonly referred to as extra tyres!

This study was followed by Mohan (1986) based on a hypothesis that a change of cereal (wheat or rice) in the meal pattern is most effective in weight loss and that it has a lowering effect in percent body fat and body circumferences at specific body sites in older and younger women. This study confirmed the results of the previous one, that the weight loss was effective with both cereals and the wheat diet produced a significant change in the mean loss at the waist and subscapular circumferences.

These are just a few of the studies done which have proved that wheat is a nutritionally superior cereal, mainly because it has a higher fibre and protein content which are fairly well retained in milled products as compared to the polished, milled rice which loses the majority of its nutritional goodness in the bran and in the germ.

Wheat has an important place in balanced as well as therapeutic diets, especially, for obesity, diabetes and cardio vascular conditions.

So, to sum it up, wheat is interesting, popular, palatable, versatile, therapeutic and more than everything else, it is available. The recent spate of packed wheat flour looks as if it is well refined and closer to maida, the refined white wheat flour. However, there is no doubt that rice is easier to prepare, and is therefore, still the popular cereal with South Indians. Promoting easy to make wheat dishes, especially for South Indians would increase the demand for wheat, I suppose, and thereby, improve general health.

So please do not avoid wheat if you are not allergic to it.

Malathi Mohan

The author is a retired professor of WCC, Chennai; retired Dean, Academy of Fitness Management, Chennai and Past President, Indian Dietetic Association

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