Wheat (Xiao Mai)
Botanical Name: Triticum, T. aestivum
Wheat includes two key components: wheat germ and wheat bran. Both are extremely high in nutritional value. Wheat based products include bread, pasta, semolina, bulgur and couscous. The grain has become controversial because of the protein gluten, which can trigger a harmful immune response in predisposed individuals. Wheat is a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Wheat feeds an estimated one third of the world’s population.
Below is an overview of Wheat (Xiao Mai), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Wheat (Xiao Mai).
Western Name: Wheat
Also Known As: Common Wheat, Bread Wheat
Organs/Systems: Digestion, Development, Metabolism
Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: Antioxidant, Nutritious, Digestive, Mild Laxative, Anti-inflammatory, Carminative. Supports developmental growth and beneficial bacteria in the gut, anemia, mineral deficiencies, gallstones, breast cancer, obesity, constipation, calms stomach upset, absorbs stomach acid, lowers risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes, lowers cholesterol, protects the heart.
Pin Yin: Xiao Mai
Also Known As: N/A
Meridians: Spleen, Stomach, Liver
Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Tonifies and Regulates Qi/ Strengthens the Spleen/Harmonizes the Stomach: fatigue, weakness, lack of appetite, indigestion, abdominal distention and fullness, dysentery, edema, gallbladder stones. Stops Lactation.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Whole Grain, Bran, Germ
Flavors/Temps: Slightly Sweet, Slightly Sour, Cooling
Caution: Some people are allergic to wheat and a small portion of the population is gluten-intolerant.
History/Folklore: Wheat is the leading global source of vegetable protein in human food, containing about 13% protein, a relatively high amount compared to other cereals. Eaten as a whole grain it contains many vitamins, minerals and important dietary fiber.
Khorasan, spelt, emmer, and einkorn wheat are closely related to “common or bread wheat.” It has been feeding people for well over 10,000 years. Archeological analysis reveals early varieties of wheat being cultivated in the Southern Levant, Turkey, Iraq and Syria. The early Egyptians were the developers of bread and using an oven for baking bread. By 3,000 BCE, wheat had reached the British Isles and Scandinavia. It was introduced to the New World in the late 15th century.
Most of the fibers in wheat are removed during the milling process and largely absent in refined flour. Wheat fiber passing through the digestive tract helps improve bowel movements and feeds friendly intestinal bacteria.
Gluten is a large family of proteins and make up 80% of the total protein content of wheat. It is gluten that gives wheat dough its unique elasticity and stickiness, making it a popular ingredient for bread making.
Whole wheat is a good source of vitamins and minerals. The B9 found in wheat is an important vitamin for women during pregnancy.
Whole grains such as wheat are immensely effective on patients with metabolic disorders, such as obesity, high triglycerides, low levels of HDL cholesterol and high blood pressure. Whole grains are being shown in recent studies to help prevent what is called metabolic syndrome, a strong precursor to type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The American Journal of Gastroenterology has reported that whole wheat has helped women avoid gallstones. Excessive bile acids are a major cause of gallstone formation. Whole wheat is rich in insoluble fiber that it helps lower the secretion of bile acids helping to prevent gallstone formation. A fiber rich diet has also been shown to help prevent breast cancer in women. Pre-menopausal women who consumed whole wheat had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer compared to those who ate other forms of fiber.
New studies show that wheat bran may function as a prebiotic, feeding beneficial bacteria already living in your gut. One study found that bran can reduce the risk of constipation in children.
The most nutritious parts of wheat are found in the bran and germ, these are both removed during the process of milling and refining wheat for the making of white wheat or white flour. White flour is therefore enriched with vitamins and minerals to make up for the loss of nutrition during the processing of whole wheat flour into what is known as white flour or white wheat.
A study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that women aged 38-63 who included whole grain wheat in their diets over a 12 year period consistently weighed less than those who ate less of these fiber rich foods. It is important to remember that whole grains have very different effects in the body than processed grains.
For some people, the gluten in wheat can trigger a harmful immune response, called celiac disease. This is a chronic condition that causes damage to the small intestines impairing the absorption of nutrients. Symptoms include weight loss, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain and fatigue. About 0.5-1% of the population has celiac disease.
Spelt is a primitive variety of wheat. Both have similar nutritional properties, though spelt is richer in some minerals such as zinc.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, wheat is considered a superb source of dietary fiber and is used to harmonize the stomach, treat dysentery and alleviate indigestion. A soup, broth or conge (a porridge-like soup made with milk or water and crushed or ground grains.) is a popular method for using wheat as a medicine, especially for the weak, chronically sick or aged.
Wheat has been called the “Staff of Life” and has played a role in the sacred rituals of many cultures. It is a symbol of abundance, life and fertility. In Christian art it is often paired with grapes as a symbol of the communion with the Body and Blood of Christ performed by the eating of bread and drinking wine during the Catholic Mass. In the Bible, wheat is also a sign of love and charity.
In China, wheat is one of the 5 Grains or Cereals (called Wu Gu in Chinese). These were the five crops that were critical to ancient China. They were considered sacred and farming them held special meaning and import. These grains were understood to be the source of society itself. The earliest list of the Five Grains is from the Shennong Ben Cao Jing text, it defines the Five Grains as being: soybeans, wheat, broomcorn, foxtail millet and hemp. Modern Chinese dictionaries note wheat, sesame, barley, oats and peas as other possible candidates for the Five Grains. The Five Grains are associated with the Five Elements of Traditional Chinese Medicine, with each grain being identified with a specific organ and channel system. Wheat is associated with the Liver/Gallbladder organ and channel systems. In some parts of Northern China, wheat is still considered sacred. In these areas, wheat was the source of carbohydrates, not rice.
Wheat Germ: Protein (13%), Folate (B9), Betaine, Thiamin, Magnesium, Vitamin B6 and E, Iron, Selenium, Zinc, Phosphorus, Copper, Potassium, Manganese, and Fiber. Wheat Bran: Fiber, a variety of B Vitamins, Protein, Iron.
Heart of the Kernel
Wheat germ is “the heart” of a kernel of wheat.
Betaine Fights Inflammation
The metabolite, betaine helps fight inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation is associated with heart disease, cognitive decline and type-2 diabetes.
The American Lung Association reports the inclusion of whole grains and fish in children’s diets reduces the risk of developing asthma by 50%.
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