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Wheat has been considered a staple food for centuries, but recently it’s been losing favor in some quarters, largely because of allergies and links to weight gain. Consider some of the pros and cons of eating wheat to see how healthy it is for you.

Wheat represents more than 20 percent of the world’s food, and more land is utilized for growing wheat than any other crop on earth. Furthermore it has overtaken rice as the second-most produced cereal after maize. But the question many people worldwide are asking is, how healthy is it?

I grew up believing that whole-wheat products, including bread were healthy and that processed wheat products should be avoided. But I also believed (and still do) that wheat products including bread should be limited when trying to lose weight. Overall, while I do limit the wheat I eat, I don’t believe it should be eliminated altogether. But that is my personal opinion, and there is a growing body of consumers who, for various reasons, believe that wheat should be avoided at all costs.

The Most Common Pros and Cons of Wheat as a Food

Not long ago my husband decided to try and lose weight by following a low-carb, high-fat diet that “strongly suggests” avoiding all baked and grain-based foods, including wheat. Within a week he was suffering from severe, very painful constipation – and this is a primary disadvantage of not including wheat in your diet. Fiber-rich, the wheat in whole-wheat products including pasta, bread and some breakfast cereals, does prevent chronic constipation. However, weight isn’t the only high-fiber food that keeps bowel movements regular. Fresh fruit, veg and legumes do too. He has found that one to two teaspoons of psyllium husks dissolved in a glassful of water daily does the trick. I find eating green chilies works for me.

Another advantage of eating wheat is that it contains vitamin B, which provides energy and is also essential for repairing body cells and tissue. But vitamin B is also found in other foods, including dark-green leafy veggies and red meat.

Eliminating wheat can also be a schlep, particularly if those around you are happy to eat bread, pasta and pizza that contains wheat, as all these provide relatively quick and easy meals that can be nutritious.

So what are the cons of eating wheat?

Eliminating wheat from ones diet is a common requirement for many weight-loss diets. But it’s questionable whether the motivation is in fact excluding wheat for wheat’s sake. More likely, by avoiding wheat and wheat products, you’ll be eliminating many processed foods that are rich in carbohydrates and very likely sugar as well. Dieticians and medically qualified people agree that refined carbohydrates can have an immensely negative effect on blood glucose levels which not only commonly leads to weight gain, but also, in many instances to diabetes.

Linked to the last point, there is a school of thought (including the authors of the low-carb, high-fat diet mentioned earlier) that advocates eliminating wheat simply to control blood glucose levels. It is particularly useful for those suffering from diabetes because it enables them to regulate insulin levels. Additionally, cutting out wheat to stabilize blood glucose levels can also help to prevent gluten intolerance and the risk of developing the autoimmune disorder, celiac (or coeliac) disease.

Ironically, even though cutting wheat out of ones diet can lead to constipation, so too can consuming wheat. In fact, since wheat can be difficult to digest, this is another con for including it in your diet, because it can lead to sluggish digestion, and in extreme cases to blockages.

Wheat consumption can also result in a number of allergies, with symptoms that include wheezing, coughing, a runny nose, diarrhoea, nausea, and even skin reactions. There is even a condition dubbed “baker’s asthma” that is sparked by inhaling wheat flour.

In 2014 I edited a weight-loss book for a US-based self-publisher, Mary Riche. Inspired by anti-wheat cardiologist and author, William Davis, she cut out all wheat and gluten, and found that she was no longer constipated, bloated, and a persistent cough she had suffered from for years disappeared. She said that even her arthritis became less painful.

But how bad is wheat really?

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