Rye and wheat are both cereal grains and they belong to the same family. They are both frequently used for food for both humans and animals and can also be used for a variety of other purposes, such as the distillation of alcoholic beverages.
However, despite all of these similarities, they also share several differences. These can be seen in their health impact and nutritional values. Rye is higher in carbohydrates whereas wheat has more protein, fats, and calories.
The truth is, I love both and have found both rye and wheat to be phenomenal choices in my kitchen. Although I love a fermented (sourdough) loaf of whole wheat bread or whole rye bread, my favorite is when I combine the two grains together.
Let’s take a closer look at rye and wheat and I’ll share some of the things I’ve learned over the years, trying (and a lot of failing) when baking with both grains. We will look at their similarities and differences, and how this affects their health impact and nutritional values.
Let’s get started.
What are rye and wheat?
Let’s begin by explaining more about rye and wheat. Both rye and wheat are grasses that produce seeds that can be eaten by both humans and animals.
The grains (seeds) of these plants have several different components that are used for different purposes.
Each seed is made up of three parts:
- Bran: Fiber filled outer layer with B vitamins and minerals
- Endosperm: Starchy carbohydrate middle layer with some proteins and vitamins
- Germ: Nutrient-packed core with B vitamins, vitamin E, phytochemicals, and healthy fats
A “whole grain” food it uses ALL three parts, although not all “whole grain”-marked foods mean that it’s truly “whole grain.” Often times just some of the bran and germ is left, so it’s important to know how whole grain your whole grains are.
In processed foods, it’s typically just the endosperm that is used but the wheat germ can be used to boost the nutritional content of foods due to the high levels of vitamins and fibers it contains.
This is why I tend to think of “whole grain” as a scale … On one side you’ll have a food that uses 100% of the bran, endosperm, and germ. These foods have a short shelf-life and can go rancid quickly. On the other side you have just the endosperm (most highly-refined foods). These foods have a loonnnggggg shelf-life and are therefore more profitable for food companies to make.
Rye is a hardy grain that can grow and thrive in colder temperatures and sandy soils of low fertility. It’s grown all over the world, from Tanzania to Argentina, but it is the Eastern and Northern European countries who grow most of the worlds rye.
Rye, just like other grains, is most often ground to create rye flour. There are currently no U.S. standards for what “rye flour” is, which leads to a lot of confusion when we seek to buy it. If it comes from a large commercial mill, it is almost sure to have both the bran and germ removed. Why? Rye flour is one of the most quickly to go rancid.
Once ground, rye deteriorates even faster than whole wheat. It has a shelf-life of only 5-6 weeks! You can imagine that by the time it gets ground at a mill, packaged, shipped to a distribution center, then finally to your grocery store shelf, it would likely be rancid. So commercial mills remove the bran and germ, or only leave part of it, in order to extend the shelf life.
This means that most rye flour sold in the United States is not whole grain rye flour.
This was one of the very first grains that were cultivated for human use and consumption. It grows in more temperate climates around the world and feeds more people than any other single grain does.
Its primary use is as food for humans, but it has other uses such as animal food and distilling. There are both hard and soft varieties of wheat, and additional variants of those including both red and white wheat.
Wheat is incredibly healthy for you, but is also featured in many processed foods and often blamed for many health problems such as inflammation, as it should be. When food companies started removing the bran and germ, also getting away from sprouted and fermented ways of cooking which have been used by people groups all over the world, they removed all the good things about wheat.
It’s important that when I talk about whole grains on this website, I’m talking about these old ways of processing and using wheat.
Now we’ve learned more about rye and wheat, let’s look at their impact on our health. All grains are beneficial to your health as long as they (1) Are free from modern pesticides, such as Roundup (glyphosate), (2) Keep the bran, germ, and endosperm together as a true whole grain, and (3) Are sprouted, fermented, or both. Read more about my three rules to whole grains here.
The information below should be read with these three assumptions in mind.
Studies have shown that rye is better for cardiovascular health than wheat. It can reduce various different types of cholesterol and help prevent heart disease.
Wheat can also be of benefit to your cardiovascular health but not to the degree that rye can.
Both rye and wheat are low in sugar and have low glycemic indices. Of the two, rye has a lower glycemic index (GI) because of it’s higher fiber content.
Adding whole grains that follow my three rules may even reduce your risk of developing diabetes. When eaten with a diet high in animal protein (grass-fed beef, pastured-raised chicken that is high in Omega-3, wild fish, and eggs from bug-eating chickens), with no seed oils (I only use butter, avocado oil, and olive oil), they can also prevent you from gaining weight.
Whole grains have been linked to a reduction in the risk of developing several cancers, such as endometrial, gastric, and pancreatic cancers.
As well as these reductions, there are some additional ones that may be directly linked to rye and wheat.
For example, some studies show there may be a link between rye and a reduction in the risk of developing breast cancer. Wheat, on the other hand, can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
If you are gluten-intolerant, however, you should avoid both rye and wheat. Both of these grains are high in gluten and should not be consumed by anyone with Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Nutritional differences between rye and wheat
Although both are grains that are closely related and can be used in similar ways, they do have several differences when it comes to their nutritional values.
As is the case with nearly all types of grains, both rye and wheat are relatively high in calories. Their calorie count is very similar and is almost indistinguishable.
If you compare 100 grams of rye to 100 grams of wheat, you will find that wheat has just one more calorie.
Proteins and fats
When it comes to proteins and fats, both rye and wheat have very high levels but one grain does have more than the other. In the case of both proteins and fats, wheat has more than rye.
Wheat is generally higher in all amino acids, including eight of the nine essential amino acids. The single exception to this is lysine, as both rye and wheat contain virtually the same amount.
When it comes to fatty acids, wheat also has higher levels of these than rye does. This is the case for all three forms of fatty acids, which are saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.
However, despite the high levels of proteins and fats, both rye and wheat naturally contain zero amounts of cholesterol.
Although both rye and wheat are relatively high in carbohydrates, rye is richer in carbs than wheat.
Despite the high levels of carbohydrates, both rye and wheat are low in sugar. This is because around 90 percent of all the carbohydrates contained in the two grains are in the form of fiber. Both rye and wheat are great sources of fiber and this keeps them low in sugars.
Of the two grains, rye has larger amounts of dietary fiber. The small amount of sugar that is found in the grains is made from fructose, glucose, and sucrose.
When it comes to vitamins, all cereal grains are great sources of B complex vitamins. The exact B complex vitamins that each grain contains can differ and rye and wheat do feature different ones.
Overall, wheat has more B group vitamins than rye does. It is richer in the following B group vitamins;
- Vitamin B1
- Vitamin B3
- Folate form of vitamin B9
In comparison, rye is more versatile in vitamins as it includes several vitamins from outside of the B group. In the case of B group vitamins, it is richer than wheat in the following vitamins:
- Vitamin B2
- Vitamin B6
Outside of B group vitamins, rye also includes;
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin K
- Vitamin E (1)
As was the case with vitamins, both rye and wheat are good sources of various minerals. They do have differences in the minerals they have and the amounts, however.
In general, wheat is richer in most minerals. Here is a list of the minerals that wheat is higher in;
Rye does have wheat beaten when it comes to two minerals, however. These are;
Both rye and wheat contain the same levels of sodium.
In this article, we introduced the grains rye and wheat. We took an in-depth look at both grains and compared their health impact and nutritional value.
Although the two grains have many similarities, they also differ in their nutritional information.
I hope that the information in this article has answered all of your questions about the health impact and nutritional values of rye and wheat.