By: Derek Clouthier
Carbs, bread, pasta — all have gotten a bad rap over the last several years. While some believe gluten, the sticky protein found in these products, to be unhealthy, others look to avoid such foods in an effort to lose a few extra pounds. But one thing lost in the conversation is the importance of a balanced diet, one that includes wheat products that are chock full of necessary fibre, vitamins and minerals and, yes, carbohydrates.
Aside from those who suffer from a wheat or gluten allergy, there are countless health benefits from including wheat in your diet.
“With wheat being a high source of carbohydrates, which provide energy, helping to control your weight and protect you against cardiovascular disease, it should be a critical part of every Canadian’s diet,” says Megan Evans, marketing and events manager for the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions.
Evans also leads the commission’s Life’s Simple Ingredient campaign, which aims to remind consumers that wheat — Alberta’s largest crop — is one of the oldest, simplest ingredients and serves as the base for a variety of breads, pasta, pastries and more.
As Evans points out, the vitamins and minerals found in wheat — including B vitamins, folate, niacin, potassium, vitamin E and magnesium, to name a few — offer several health benefits.
“Eating whole grains, including whole-wheat foods with these nutrients, can lower your risk of stroke, colon cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and more,” she says.
Karyn Sunohara is a Calgary dietician who says wheat’s neutral flavour can be a bonus for cancer patients with a sensitive palate or loss of appetite.
“While undergoing treatment, white flour-based products may be a go-to due to their neutral flavour,” she says. “Wheat works well as a vehicle to add a high-fat or high-calorie food option. Ideally, once able to tolerate more food, choosing whole-grain fibre options is ideal.”
Janine Paly, a wheat producer and ambassador for the Life’s Simple Ingredient campaign, says the versatility wheat provides is what makes it a necessary ingredient in any family’s kitchen.
“Wheat is such a diverse ingredient, from soup to bread to pasta, the possibilities are endless,” says Paly. “As a wife, mother and consumer, I purchase our family groceries at a local store like any other consumer. As a consumer, I ensure my family is eating safe, nutritious food, and I feel Canadian wheat is such a product.”
Paly says cooking with wheat is the perfect opportunity for families to gather in the kitchen and together create some of their favourite foods and treats. From cookies, cakes and muffins, to pizza, bread, pasta and soups, wheat makes almost any recipe possible.
Several western Canadian farmers are also participating in a program to grow habitat-friendly winter wheat to support the nesting habitats of prairie wildlife.
Consumers can look for the “ecolabel” on food and drink items showing it is made with western Canadian winter wheat. The program not only supports wildlife, but it also helps consumers make sustainable food choices and support local farmers.
“For our farmers, the value of wheat goes beyond the economy,” says Evans. “Every decision our farmers make for their fields is based on stewardship and sustainability because what’s best for the land is best for their business and the grains, pulses and oilseeds grown there.”
Canadian wheat exports (2017): 20.5 million tonnes (valued at $21 billion)
Alberta farm area: 50.3 million acres
Alberta farm cash receipts (2016): $13.5 billion (22% of Canada’s primary agricultural production)
Easter Bread (Paska)
This Easter Paska recipe is inspired by Ukrainian Easter bread. It can also be found in other Eastern European countries that can trace their roots all the way back to the ancient Byzantine Empire. Presentation varies, but can include braided dough crosses baked into the top. However you choose decorations for yours, take time to enjoy your family and loved ones over the Easter holiday.
3 Tbsp yeast
5 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs, beaten
1 Tbsp salt
3/4 cup oil, reserve 1/4 cup for kneading
12 cups flour
1 tsp vanilla
- Combine yeast, ½ cup of warm water and one tablespoon of sugar in a bowl and let sit for 10 minutes
- In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, remaining sugar, salt and ½ cup of the oil, beating well 3. Add the yeast mixture to the egg mixture and stir well
- Add the water and flour, kneading for 10-15 minutes while using the remaining oil to make a soft dough
- Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size. Punch down every 20 minutes, four times
- Grease a round pan (10-12 inches wide)
- Using about 2/3 of the dough, shape into a round loaf and place in the greased round pan
- Cover loaf with a cloth and allow to rise until doubled in size, approximately one hour
- Use the remaining 1/3 of the dough to shape your decorations. This is a great time to let the little ones get creative, making crosses, swirls, rosettes or whatever comes to them.
- Once the loaf has risen, attach the decorative dough shapes to the top with a beaten egg white 11. Brush the loaf with a beaten egg yolk diluted with one tablespoon water
- Bake at 400°F for 20 minutes, then turn down to 350°F and continue baking for 35-40 minutes
- Remove from oven and loaf pan, allowing it to cool on a wire rack