By Rachael Link, MS, RD
From pizza crusts to pastries, many popular grain-based products start out as wheat berries. From there, these grains are often drained of their nutrients, ground into white flour, heavily processed and sold on the shelves of your local supermarket.
But while these ultra-processed foods may not be so stellar for your health, they start out full of fiber, protein and essential nutrients that are vital for everything from keeping your heart healthy to maximizing bone strength.
Fortunately, you can still get these benefits by skipping the processed grains and going straight to the source. Wheat berries are widely available, easy to add to your diet, and offer an impressive array of nutrients and health benefits in each and every serving.
What Are Wheat Berries?
The wheat berry, or wheatberry, is the whole grain form of wheat. It’s composed of all three parts of the wheat kernel, including the wheat germ, bran and endosperm. During processing, refined grains are stripped of the nutrient-rich bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm and producing a final product significantly lower in important vitamins and minerals.
Because the wheat grain berry contains the bran, germ and endosperm, it contains a concentrated amount of protein, fiber and micronutrients and boasts a long list of health benefits.
The wheat berry can be cooked and added to dishes or ground up to make wheat flour. It can also be added to soil and grown into wheatgrass, a popular health food frequently found in juices and supplements alike.
Benefits of Wheat Berries
- Promote Regularity
- Support Heart Health
- Regulate Blood Sugar
- Aid in Weight Loss
- Strengthen Bones
- Help Prevent Anemia
1. Promote Regularity
Wheat berries are a great source of fiber, packing in up to 24 percent of the fiber you need for the entire day in a single quarter-cup serving. Fiber is important to many aspects of health, especially when it comes to the digestive system.
When you eat fiber, it moves slowly through the gastrointestinal tract undigested, helping add bulk to stool and get things moving. One analysis published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology looked at the results of five studies and showed that increasing fiber intake in patients with constipation was effective in increasing stool frequency. (1)
Dietary fiber may also benefit other digestive conditions and has been shown to help protect against intestinal ulcers, aid in the treatment of Crohn’s disease and improve irritable bowel syndrome symptoms. (2, 3, 4)
2. Support Heart Health
Heart disease is a huge problem that impacts millions around the world. In fact, about 92.1 million Americans have some form of heart disease, and it’s projected that nearly 44 percent of the population will be affected by the year 2030. (5)
Thanks to their high fiber content, wheat berries may have a positive effect on heart health. Fiber has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, which can prevent the buildup of fat in the arteries, maximize blood flow and keep your heart in good shape. (6)
In one study out of Seattle, taking a fiber supplement for 51 weeks dropped bad LDL cholesterol by 12.1 percent and lowered triglycerides by 8.5 percent without affecting beneficial HDL cholesterol. (7) Meanwhile, another study from the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in New Orleans composed of nearly 10,000 adults showed that a higher intake of fiber was associated with a lower risk of coronary heart disease. (8)
3. Regulate Blood Sugar
High blood sugar can contribute to a range of negative diabetes symptoms, such as increased thirst, fatigue and headaches. Long-term high blood sugar can cause even more serious side effects like nerve damage and impaired wound healing.
Incorporating wheat berries into your diet is an easy way to help keep your blood sugar levels under control. This is because they’re rich in fiber, which slows down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream.
Multiple studies have found that upping your intake of whole grains like the wheat berry could provide protection against diabetes. A massive study published in PLoS Medicine, for instance, showed that every two servings of whole grains consumed per day was associated with a 21 percent reduction in the risk of type 2 diabetes. (9)
4. Aid in Weight Loss
Wheat berries are a nutrient-dense food, meaning they contain tons of important nutrients and a low amount of calories. Because they’re high in both protein and fiber, wheat berries also make a great dietary addition if you’re looking to shed a few extra pounds.
Additionally, some studies have found that eating more whole grains like wheat berries could reduce the risk of obesity. One study published in Public Health Nutrition, for example, showed that a higher intake of whole grains was associated with a lower body mass index and less belly fat. (12)
5. Strengthen Bones
Much like other nutrients like calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D, manganese plays a central role in maintaining the health of your bones. Manganese is involved in bone mineralization as well as the formation of bone cartilage and collagen. Just one serving of wheat berry can nearly knock out your daily requirements for manganese, supplying 97 percent of the recommended daily value.
Although more research is needed, animal studies have found that a deficiency in this vital mineral can result in bone loss. (13) Meanwhile, a 2008 animal study out of South Korea showed that manganese supplementation actually helped increase bone formation as well as bone mineral density in rats. (14)
6. Help Prevent Anemia
Anemia is a condition characterized by a lack of healthy red blood cells in the body, and it’s often caused by nutritional deficiencies like a lack of iron, folate or vitamin B12. Anemia symptoms can range from weakness to pale skin and chest pain.
Wheat berry is a great source of iron, providing 10 percent of the daily recommended value in each quarter-cup serving. Supplementing your diet with iron-rich foods like wheat berry can help prevent iron-deficiency anemia to promote healthy red blood cell production. Be sure to pair wheat berries with other sources of iron like grass-fed beef, lentils and spinach, as well as vitamin C foods to help boost iron absorption.
Wheat Berry Nutrition
The wheat berries nutrition profile is high in fiber, manganese and selenium, along with a host of other important vitamins and minerals.
A quarter-cup serving of wheat berries contains approximately: (15)
- 158 calories
- 33 grams carbohydrates
- 7 grams protein
- 1 gram fat
- 6 grams dietary fiber
- 2 milligrams manganese (97 percent DV)
- 34 micrograms selenium (49 percent DV)
- 0.25 milligram thiamine (16 percent DV)
- 159 milligrams phosphorus (16 percent DV)
- 60 milligrams magnesium (15 percent DV)
- 2.8 milligrams niacin (14 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram copper (10 percent DV)
- 1.7 milligrams iron (10 percent DV)
- 1.3 milligrams zinc (9 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligram vitamin B6 (8 percent DV)
- 21 milligrams folate (5 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients listed above, wheat berry also contains a small amount of potassium, pantothenic acid and vitamin E.
Wheat Berries vs. Wheat Germ
The wheat kernel has three components, including the bran, germ and endosperm. The bran makes up the outer skin of the kernel, the endosperm is the part of the seed that provides nourishment and the germ is the embryo of the kernel that houses the most nutrients. While the wheat berry contains all three parts of the kernel, wheat germ is made up of only one.
Wheat germ has a nutty and mild flavor that works well in oatmeal, smoothies and baked goods. However, because of its unique texture, it may not be as easy to use or versatile as wheat berries, which can be subbed into just about any recipe with whole grains.
Nutritionally, wheat germ a bit higher in calories and carbohydrates but contains more protein and fiber per ounce. It’s also richer in many micronutrients, including manganese, selenium, thiamine and phosphorus.
Where to Find and How to Use Wheat Berries
Wondering where to buy wheat berries? These nutritious grains are widely available at most major grocery stores, health food shops and online retailers and can typically be found in the natural foods section alongside other whole grains. They’re also sometimes available in the bulk foods department, allowing you to try as much as you want before committing to bringing home a whole bag.
Do a quick search for “how to cook wheat berries” and you’ll notice that it’s pretty much the same as other grains. It involves adding the wheat berries to a pot of water, bringing it to a boil and then letting it gently simmer until fully cooked.
However, the wheat berries cooking time is a bit longer than other grains, which may discourage some people from trying them out. But while they do take a full hour to cook, they’re incredibly versatile and can be made in big batches and used for meal prep throughout the week. Because of their density, they also freeze well and can be stored for up to a month.
Wheat berries can easily be swapped into your favorite recipes and used in place of other grains like farro, rice, quinoa or barley. They have a nutty yet sweet flavor that works well in many dishes and adds a delicious crunch to salads, soups, side dishes and desserts. Plus, you can even throw your wheat berries into a food processor or home mill and use them to make homemade wheat flour.
You can also use wheat berries to grow wheatgrass, which is usually either juiced or ground into a fine green powder. It’s often recommended to soak the wheat berries first to let them sprout before adding them to a growing tray with about an inch of soil. The tray should be placed in an area with indirect sunlight and watered daily. Once the wheatgrass reaches four to six inches, you can cut it just above the roots and use the wheatgrass immediately.
Wheat Berry Recipes
Just as you can use other grains as a simple wheat berries substitute, you can also swap wheat berries in place of grains like farro, quinoa, rice, buckwheat or barley in a variety of dishes.
Need some ideas? Here are some wheat berries recipes that you can try out to get you started:
The modern milling process strips wheat kernels of the germ and bran, leaving behind only the endosperm. While this process may extend shelf life and give products a softer texture, it also removes many of the important nutrients found in the wheat berry.
However, this method of processing is relatively new. Originally, stone mills made flour by grinding grains between stones to help retain their nutritional quality. In later years, steam roller mills and automated flour mills were used to speed up production and enhance efficiency.
During the Industrial Revolution, the invention of the roller mill helped skyrocket flour production by stripping the kernel of the bran and germ, leaving behind mostly empty calories and carbohydrates and depleting the kernel of its health-promoting properties.
By opting for whole wheat products like wheat berries, however, you can ensure that you’re taking full advantage of the many nutrients and health benefits these whole grains have to offer.
Wheat berries are chock-full of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and can generally be enjoyed with minimal risk of side effects. That being said, there are some people who may want to limit their intake.
In particular, if you have celiac disease, a wheat allergy or a sensitivity to gluten, you should definitely avoid wheat berries. Wheat berries contain gluten, which can trigger adverse side effects for these individuals.
Additionally, if you experience symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, stomach discomfort or itching after eating wheat berries, you should discontinue use immediately and consult with your doctor.
- Wheat berries are the whole grain form of wheat, which contain all three parts of the wheat kernel.
- They are high in fiber and protein, plus an array of micronutrients like manganese and selenium.
- Wheat berries benefits the health of your heart and bones, aids in weight loss, prevents anemia, promotes blood sugar control, and supports regularity.
- They can be cooked and used to add a crunch to dishes, ground up into wheat flour, or sprouted and grown into wheatgrass.
- Combining wheat berries and other whole grains with a well-balanced and healthy diet can have a major influence on many aspects of overall health.
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