Nutritional quality and safety of wheat-based food products

The European Seed Association (ESA) reports that wheat is the most cultivated cereal in the EU and the 3rd in the world, after corn and rice. The present world’s production of wheat is about 840 million tonnes (FAO, 2023). Wheat is of paramount importance among cereals mainly because of its grains, which comprise protein with particular chemical and physical properties. In fact, it is integrated into almost everyone’s diet so that we can find it as part of many foods (bread, pasta, cookies, buns, cakes, etc.).

Besides protein, wheat can also be a source of macroelements such as Magnesium and Phosphorus and microelements like Zinc, Iron, and Copper as well valuable sources of carbohydrates and vitamins such as riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, and alpha-tocopherol.

One cereal to feed the world… and heal it

Wheat represents one of the bases of human nutrition, offering many healthy and therapeutic properties. For example, as a medicinal plant is used to treat states of demineralization, anemia, asthenia, growth deficiency, rickets, and tuberculosis, in addition to being recommended for the treatment of sterility. In addition, wheat can mitigate the cholesterol, since it contains essential fatty acids that prevent its accumulation in the walls of blood vessels, by increasing good cholesterol or HDL and consequently reducing bad cholesterol or LDL.

Wheat ears

Cereals play a key role in being a fundamental pillar of healthy and sustainable dietary patterns due to their contribution of energy and nutrients at a global level, as well as the different health benefits. However, wheat grain quality can be lessened due to mycotoxin secondary metabolites produced by fungi. In this sense, wheat flour is one of the important dietary sources of mycotoxin exposure and its safety deserves attention.

Contamination of crops with mycotoxins begins in the field and, the earlier the problem is addressed in the growing season, the smaller it usually will be when the crop is harvested and stored. The most common mycotoxins that pose a concern to human or animal health include aflatoxins, ochratoxin A, and fusarium toxins such as deoxynivalenol. Since temperature and humidity are important parameters for the growth of fungi, climate change is anticipated to impact the presence of mycotoxins.

Armed conflicts vs. wheat markets

Wheat has many species that belong to the genus Triticum, but the most important and widely cultivated is Triticum aestivum (common wheat or bread wheat) which, together with T. turgidum, was domesticated around 7500 BC. approximately in the Near and Middle East. Wheat cultivation gradually expanded to the Balkans, Central Europe, and Western Europe. Recently, the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on global food markets has had an important impact on the economy.

Ukraine is one of the world’s leading agricultural exporters, i.e. it has some of the most fertile lands in the world and is the main exporter of sunflower oil worldwide (50 % of world exports), the third largest exporter of barley (18 %), the fourth largest exporter of corn (16 %) and the fifth largest exporter of wheat (12 %). In 2021, Ukraine exported grain representing 12 billion US dollars (about 11,5 billion euros) and Ukrainian farmers planted almost 17 million hectares of spring crops (an area larger than Austria and the Czech Republic combined). Nevertheless, after the beginning of the war, in 2022 farmers planted 22 % less wheat. Furthermore, global crop and food prices have been increasing in the latest years and Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified aggression against Ukraine has further increased prices.

To summarize, wheat is considered the most important staple food worldwide. Up to 55 % of the world’s population depends on this crop for 20 % of caloric intake. The crop is prevalent in temperate zones and is an important source of income for millions of small and medium farmers.


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