Wonderful wheat

People all over the world enjoy wheat. It’s found in countless different food products. Canadian wheat is special and unique. We grow it, mill it and use it many of our favourite foods. Not only is Canadian wheat delicious, it’s nutritious too. Read on to learn more about this amazing grain.


Wheat is grown coast to coast by Canadian farmers. It’s a member of a large family of grass plants that includes other cereal grains grown for food use such as barley, rye, and oats.

‘Wheat’ refers to the whole plant – roots, leaves, flowers and seeds (that develop from the flowers). These seeds, also called kernels, are the part of the wheat plant used to make a wide range of foods like bread, pasta, cereals and crackers.

As the wheat plant matures in the field, the kernels increase in size, accumulating the nutrients that are important to human nutrition.

While many varieties of wheat grown today have been improved to better withstand pests, disease and harsh weather conditions, the nutritional value of the wheat kernel hasn’t changed much. In fact, research has found the nutritional composition of today’s wheat varieties to be very similar to those grown more than a century ago.

While genetic modification has been used to help some crops grow more efficiently, there are no genetically modified (GM) wheat varieties grown in Canada.


Whole wheat grains or kernels are made up of three parts:

Bran – the fibre-filled outer layers of the wheat kernel, which contains most of the dietary fibre, but also consists of protein, fat, B vitamins, vitamin E, and some minerals such as iron, copper, zinc, and magnesium. Bran comprises 12-17% of the kernel.

Endosperm – the starchy carbohydrate middle layer that contains small amounts of protein, fibre, and vitamins. Endosperm accounts for 80-85% of the kernel.

Germ – the nutrient-packed powerhouse found at the end of the kernel. Wheat germ is a rich, concentrated source of saturated fats, plant sterols, antioxidants, vitamin A, vitamin E, iron, folate, thiamin, riboflavin, calcium, phosphorous and magnesium. It represents 3% of the kernel.

What’s the difference between whole grain wheat, whole wheat and refined wheat flour?

100% whole grain, whole wheat flour: This flour still contains the bran, germ and endosperm. It’s often called whole grain flour, 100% whole grain flour or 100% whole grain whole wheat including the germ.

Whole wheat flour: This flour is missing 5% of the grain kernel, including most of the germ and some of the bran. This helps reduce rancidity while prolonging the shelf life and flavour of whole wheat flour.

Refined wheat flour (enriched or all-purpose): This flour contains the endosperm with much of the bran and germ removed, and is enriched with iron, thiamine, niacin, riboflavin and folic acid.

Multigrain: A product labelled ‘multigrain’ simply means a flour that contains many different grains. Multigrain does not indicate whether a product contains whole grains or refined grains. Take a look at the ingredient list to find out more about which grains are included in the product.

Refined wheat & fortification

“Refined grains” is a term used to refer to grains that are not whole, because they are missing one or more parts of the kernel (i.e., bran, germ, or endosperm).

For wheat, all-purpose flour is the most common example of a refined grain where some or all of the bran and germ have been removed in the milling process, leaving only the white endosperm.

This milling process removes some of the protein and many of the vitamins and minerals naturally found in wheat. To help counter this loss, Health Canada requires refined wheat flour to be enriched to add back some of the key nutrients lost during processing.

Originally, the enrichment of wheat flour simply replaced nutrients lost in the milling process, but today enriched flour is fortified with a higher amount of nutrients shown to provide specific health benefits. For example, folic acid fortification of flour in Canada has greatly contributed to reducing the number of babies born with neural tube defects.

The enrichment and fortification requirements are set by the health and government officials.

Are all refined flours enriched?

In Canada, most refined wheat flour is enriched and fortified. You may see described as ‘enriched all-purpose white flour’ in grocery stores or as ‘enriched white flour’ as an ingredient in many bakery products such as white bread, bagels or english muffins.

Flours made from other grains, like rice, oat or corn flour are not required by law to be enriched or fortified, so be sure to always check the label. Many gluten-free food products are made with these flours. While they’re extremely important for people who need to avoid gluten or wheat, they don’t always stack up nutritionally because they may not be fortified or enriched with any additional vitamins and minerals.

In Canada, all refined wheat flour is fortified with:

  • Thiamine (vitamin B1)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2)
  • Niacin (vitamin B3)
  • Folic acid
  • Iron

Vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, magnesium and calcium may also be added, but this is voluntary.

Canadian Food & Drug Regulations 🔗

Types of wheat flour

Whole grain, whole wheat flour: This flour is 100% whole grain, containing the bran, germ, and endosperm. Most whole grain whole wheat breads are made with this flour.

Whole wheat flour: Under federal regulation in Canada, up to 5% of the wheat kernel (approximately 70% of the germ) can be removed during processing and can still be labelled whole wheat. It does not mean that the product is 100% whole grain.

Wheat flour: Also known as refined or enriched white flour or all-purpose flour, this flour has both the bran and the germ removed. By federal law, all refined white flour in Canada is enriched with folic acid, iron and three B vitamins.

Bread flour: This flour is made from hard wheat varieties and has a slightly higher protein content than all-purpose flour. It’s ideal for denser baking (e.g., breads, pretzels and pizza dough) as it holds up well structurally and creates a fluffy chewiness.

Cake and pastry flour: This flour is made from soft wheat varieties and has a slightly lower protein content than all-purpose flour. It’s ideal for softer baked goods like cakes and muffins because its ultra-fine, silky texture absorbs sugar and liquids well.

Semolina: This flour is made from a hard wheat called durum. It’s primarily used for pasta making due to its high gluten content. Couscous is also made with semolina. Its yellowish colour and coarse texture easily distinguish it from all-purpose flour. 

00 flour or pizza dough flour: This flour is made from high-quality wheat varieties such as hard red spring wheat. It is very finely milled, allowing it to absorb water much more readily than other flours. 00 flour is ideal for pizza crusts, flat breads, ciabatta and focaccia.

Wheat in a healthy dietary pattern

In Canada, wheat fits within the ‘grains’ portion of the Food Guide. Canada’s Food Guide promotes the consumption of whole grains as part of a balanced diet. It focuses specifically on consumption of whole grains rather than refined grains, because whole grain foods contain more dietary fibre and other healthy nutrients.

While all foods can fit in a healthy diet, it is recommended to choose whole grain whole wheat bread and pasta first, rather than cookies and cakes that lack dietary fibre and are made with added sugars and fats.

Wheat provides a variety of important vitamins and minerals to our diet, including dietary fibre, B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, folate), iron, copper, zinc, magnesium, vitamin E, selenium, manganese, phosphorous, potassium, and more. Eating whole grains, including whole wheat foods with these nutrients may lower your risk of stroke, colon cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and more. Check out the topics on the nutrition research page for more information about the role wheat and whole grains can have in the reduction of these diseases.

Did you know

Did you know wheat flour contains protein? Gluten is a plant protein found naturally in the grain.

Dietary Fibre

Fibre has been classified as a nutrient of public health concern as under-consumption has been linked to adverse health outcomes. Eating foods made with grains like wheat can help with this shortfall.

Whole grain whole wheat products have the most dietary fibre content because they contain the entire wheat kernel. However, refined grains can also be a source of dietary fibre.

Looking to learn more about wheat nutrition and health?

Visit the nutrition research page for these topics and more: