Wheat berries are the true whole grain – you may not recognize it by its name, but without it, there would be no flour. Wheat is the most commonly consumed grain, but wheat berries are surprisingly unpopular on American shopping lists. Since it’s a chewy, nutty, and high-fiber whole grain, many people are missing out on its benefits. Get to know this healthy food here.
What are Wheat Berries?
Also known as whole wheat kernels, wheat berries are the edible part of the wheat kernel. It has only the inedible husk removed. It includes the bran, the germ, and the endosperm before the grain undergoes processing. It’s the original source of all wheat products before any milling, grounding and other types of refinements occur. Since the wheat kernel is kept intact, none of the nutrients is slipped away.
Wheat berries are loaded with nutrients and are as easy as rice to prepare, making them perfect for a meal any time of the year. Whether it’s eaten whole, added as a topping, added to bread, or cooked into a porridge – wheat berries offer a chewy texture to dishes. It has a subtle earthy and nutty flavor, which makes it great for handling salad dressings, milk, cinnamon, and honey.
Nutritional Value of Wheat Berries
Wheat berries come with a wide array of macro and micronutrients. According to the USDA, 100 grams of wheat berries contain:
- Calories – 354 kCal
- Protein – 18.75 g
- Carbohydrates – 66.67 g
- Fats – 3.12 g
- Fiber – 8.3 g
- Calcium – 83 mg
- Iron – 4.5 mg
- Magnesium – 125 mg
- Phosphorus – 417 mg
- Zinc – 4.69 mg
- Vitamin A – 208 IU
Wheat berries are a great source of complex carbohydrates, with around 67 grams per 100-gram serving. The same serving offers 8.3 grams of fiber, which is around 28% of the daily recommended fiber intake.
The glycemic index (GI) of wheat berries is about 30, making it a low-glycemic food. Consuming whole grains in an unprocessed form is considered healthier – the lower the glycemic index range, the better.
For a grain, wheat berries are pretty high in protein, with 18.75 grams per 100 grams. You may still need to add some protein to a meal of wheat berries if you want a more balanced micronutrient profile since it lacks some of the essential amino acids.
Wheat berries are low in fat, with only 3.12 grams per 100-gram serving. The kind of fat found in wheat berries is unsaturated.
Vitamins and minerals
Several vitamins and minerals are present in high quantities in wheat berries. This grain contains iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin A. Other vitamins and minerals in wheat berries include manganese, vitamin B6, niacin, thiamin, and calcium.
Health Benefits of Wheat Berries
Whole grains like wheat berries are well-known for their nutrient density. This unprocessed whole grain offers many health benefits, such as:
1. It may help lower bad cholesterol.
Studies show that consuming 28 to 38 grams of whole grains a day can significantly reduce total serum cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is considered “bad” cholesterol. According to a 2017 study, whole grains help lower LDL cholesterol after six weeks of regular consumption compared to refined grains. Another research also revealed that the dietary fiber in low-GI foods like wheat berries reduces the reabsorption of cholesterol and bile acid production.
2. It may help with weight loss and weight management.
If you want to lose weight, eating whole grains is the key to keeping you feeling full for less. The higher your whole grain intake, the less risk of weight gain because you feel full for longer. This happens thanks to the higher fiber content in whole grains. A high-fiber intake helps weight loss by reducing your hunger and the urge to eat foods frequently, thus reducing your calorie intake. The protein content in whole grains can also help increase meal satiety.
Besides being high in fiber and protein, whole grains also contain essential nutrients like iron, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and B vitamins – vitamins that are lacking in refined grains. This makes wheat berries a healthier weight option than simply reducing refined grain intake.
3. It may protect against cancers.
Whole grains are revealed to be a game-changer against some types of cancers because they are rich in cancer-fighting compounds like fiber, antioxidants, and phytoestrogens. Several studies show that whole grains like wheat berries are related to lowering the risk of developing gastrointestinal cancers like gastric and colonic, as well as pancreatic cancers. Studies have also proven effective against prostate and breast cancer. Higher whole grain consumption is also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer.
4. It may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Consuming whole grain fiber, like those found in wheat berries, can lower the risk of developing cardiovascular conditions like high blood pressure, stroke, and heart attack. Wheat berries are rich in phytonutrients, antioxidants, and fiber and are low in GI. A study found that low-GI foods are linked to minimizing clot formation.
5. It may lower the risk of diabetes.
Those who are at risk for diabetes or are already with diabetes must steer clear or lessen their consumption of refined grains. Wheat berries, like other whole grains, may help lower both blood sugar levels and insulin concentrations when they are consumed regularly as part of a balanced diet. A meta-analysis of data about whole grains reveals that consuming two to three servings of about 30 to 45 grams per day significantly reduces your risk of type 2 diabetes. The fiber in wheat berries can help slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream.
Consuming 1 ½ servings of whole grains daily may help lower blood sugar levels and insulin concentrations when consumed as a part of a balanced diet.
6. It can help improve digestive health.
First off, wheat berries are an excellent source of fiber, making them great for promoting good digestion and helping keep you regular. Whole grains help prevent constipation and keep the stool soft yet bulky.
Some research indicates that the gut microbiota undergoes beneficial changes when the consumption of whole grains is increased. Eating more whole grains can help increase bowel movement frequency and increase the good bacteria in the gut.
In addition, a 26-year study involving more than 170,000 women showed a reduced risk of Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel disease, when they increased their fruit fiber intake.
7. It may help improve bone strength.
Wheat berries are loaded with calcium and iron, which can both help maintain bone strength. However, an overlooked mineral that also offers this benefit is manganese. A study suggests that manganese is very effective in strengthening the bones, as it positively impacts all aspects of bone strength, such as bone mineralization and synthesis of bone collagen and cartilage.
8. It may help prevent iron deficiency.
Wheat berries are a great source of iron. Each quarter-cup serving of iron supplies 10% of the daily recommended amount. Eating wheat berries with other iron-rich foods like beef, spinach, and lentils can help reduce the risk of iron deficiency and anemia. It can also help maintain the development of healthy red blood cells.
How to Prepare and Cook Wheat Berries
Whole grain wheat berries are hard, so it will take a while for them to cook. To prepare them, cover them with plenty of water and bring them to a boil. Simmer them in a covered pot for an hour or until it softens. To make cooking quicker, soak the wheat berries overnight first. You can also cook them in a crock pot or pressure cooker. Use cooked wheat berries like you would rice and other whole grains like quinoa and millet. You can prepare it in salted boiling water.
The nutty flavor of wheat berries makes them great to pair with fresh vegetables and dried fruit. It works with both sweet and savory dishes. They also absorb some of the flavors from any sauce or dressing you serve them in. Here are some more ways to use wheat berries:
- Add cooked wheat berries to soups, side dishes, casseroles, or even chili.
- Use it as a base for a stir-fry dish.
- Stuff bell peppers with them.
- Simmer wheat berries in milk for breakfast porridge.
- Wheat berries can also be sprouted and used to make bread and porridge or eaten as toppings for the mentioned foods.
- Use wheat berries to make your own fresh wheat flour using a high-powered food processor.
- Incorporate them into salads by adding other vegetables and dressings of choice.
- Serve with fruits, milk, or yogurt, like oatmeal.
Varieties of Wheat Berries
There are a few varieties of wheat berries. There are brown and red, hard and soft. Different varieties of wheat plants, like einkorn, are sold in the form of wheat berries. In general, the harder varieties contain more protein, and the softer types contain more starch. All varieties can be used interchangeably for recipes that require wheat berries, but flour produced from softer varieties is more suitable for cakes and pastries than bread.
When shopping for wheat berries, you may also notice that they can be labeled as winter or spring, indicating the season in which they were grown. Sprouted wheat berries are sometimes available in health food stores as well.
Storage and Food Safety
Store dry, uncooked wheat berries in an airtight container to maintain freshness. Keep it in a cool and dark pantry or in a refrigerator for extended storage. It can be kept for up to 6 months in a pantry and up to a year if frozen.
Because its texture is dense, you can store cooked wheat berries in the freezer if you choose to prepare them in advance. Before storing them in the freezer, allow them to cool completely. Then, fluff them occasionally with a fork to allow moisture and steam to release. Then, put the cooled, cooked wheat berries in an airtight, freezer-safe container. It can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days and up to three months in the freezer.
Precautions for Eating Wheat Berries
If you have allergies to wheat or grains, gluten sensitivity, and celiac disease, you may want to avoid wheat berries.
1. Wheat allergy
Wheat allergy is an allergic reaction to consuming foods that contain wheat. Sometimes, even inhaling wheat flour can cause allergies. Wheat allergy has symptoms including:
- Irritation in the mouth and throat
- Hives or rashes
- Runny nose or nasal congestion
- Asthmatic symptoms
- Gastrointestinal upset like nausea, indigestion, and stomach cramps
2. Celiac disease
Celiac disease is an auto-immune condition where the body triggers an immune response to eating gluten. The reaction eventually damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents the absorption of nutrients that, lead to many other conditions. People with celiac disease must avoid wheat berries and other wheat and grain-based foods. It may have no symptoms at all, but for some, symptoms of celiac disease include:
- Digestive problems like gas, constipation, bloating, diarrhea, pale stools
- Weight loss
- Unexplained anemia or hepatitis
- Blistering skin rashes and sores in the mouth
- Musculoskeletal problems
- Growth problems in children
- Tingling sensation in the legs
3. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity
This condition is not an allergy or auto-immune related, but for some people, wheat berries can trigger a response from the body. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a condition characterized by intestinal symptoms related to ingesting gluten-containing foods. It shares symptoms similar to those of celiac disease, which resolve when gluten is removed from the diet. Gluten sensitivity can also cause these symptoms:
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Stomach pain
- Depression and anxiety
- Brain fog
- Pain in the joints and muscles
Adverse Effects of Eating Wheat Berries
Whole grains like wheat berries are healthy, so there are a few known adverse effects to consuming them. However, if you’re eating too much fiber, then you may experience some uncomfortable symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and feeling full before consuming enough calories. These symptoms are the same as those experienced due to allergies, so you may want to speak to your healthcare provider to find out the cause of these symptoms. If you don’t have an allergy, don’t avoid eating whole grains entirely – just try to build up your tolerance gradually.
Wheat berries are the edible portion of the wheat kernel, which includes the wheat germ, bran, and endosperm before the grain is processed. It offers various healthy nutrients, making it a nutrient-dense superfood with wonderful health benefits.
Wheat berries can aid weight loss, improve digestion, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, manage bad cholesterol, prevent diabetes, protect against cancer, improve bone health, and prevent iron deficiency.
This food is versatile and can be used for various dishes and meals, whether savory or sweet. It’s a great addition to your daily diet, but consume them in moderation as with anything. Wheat berries can cause allergic reactions in some people because they contain gluten. People with wheat allergy, gluten sensitivity, and celiac disease may need to avoid eating wheat berries.