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Rye vs Wheat - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan by Victoria Mazmanyan | Last updated on February 22, 2021
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Rye
vs
Wheat

Summary

Wheat is higher in calories, protein, and fats, while rye contains more carbohydrates, including dietary fiber. Rye is also more diverse in vitamins, containing vitamins of the B group, as well as vitamin A, vitamin E, and vitamin K. Wheat, on the other hand, is richer in almost all minerals.

Due to its higher dietary fiber content, rye has a lower glycemic index. 

As whole grains, both rye and wheat have various beneficial effects on cardiovascular health, diabetes, and cancer.

Introduction

Rye and wheat are two of the most commonly used cereal grains. As these grains are closely related, they may look alike but have distinct characteristics, such as taste and nutritional composition.

In this article, we will compare these two grains to find what they share in common and what sets them apart, with the main focus on nutrition and health.

Classification

Rye and wheat are grass crops grown for their seeds, which are used as cereal grains. These plants are closely related, belonging to the same Triticeae tribe and Poaceae family. The point of the scientific classification at which these two diverge is the genus. Rye (Secale cereale) belongs to the Secale genus, with wheat belonging to the Triticum genus. Multiple species make up the wheat genus; however, the most popular is the common wheat (Triticum aestivum).

Rye and wheat also share this common tribe with barley.

Appearance

These two grains, belonging to the same family and tribe, can look very similar.

Depending on the variety, the appearance of rye and wheat grains can slightly change. However, rye grains are usually more slender and long when compared to wheat grains.

Rye is hard to distinguish from wheat based on color alone. Both can appear in different shades of neutral colors, such as beige and honey.

While the grains look similar in color, the flour made from these grains does not. Rye flour has a darker color, consequently resulting in darker colored rye products, such as rye bread.

Taste and Use

Of course, the taste of these grains is determined greatly by the preparation method, as well as the variety and growing conditions. That said, rye products tend to have a more dense and sour taste, while wheat can taste more bitter or neutral.

Rye and wheat are incredibly versatile. These grains are commonly used to produce flour, bread, beer and vodka, pasta, pastries, among many other foods. Rye and wheat grains can also be consumed whole, as boiled or rolled grains.

Other popular products made from wheat grains are bulgur and semolina.

Growing Conditions

Rye plants are less demanding compared to wheat plants. Rye plants can be grown in temperatures as low as 38°F (3°C) and a pH range of 5 to 7. Wheat, on the other hand, grows in warmer temperatures and the pH range of 6 to 7.

Varieties

There are dozens of varieties of wheat and rye plants being cultivated worldwide. Each variety has a slightly different nutritional composition, appearance, and use.

Wheat is commonly classified into six main groups: hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, soft white, hard white, and durum.

Based on different genetic traits, wheat can be diploid (einkorn), tetraploid (durum, emmer, Khorasan), and hexaploid (common wheat, spelt).

A few of the most common varieties of cereal rye are Aroostook, Brasetto, Elbon, and Hazlet.

Depending on the processing method, these grains can be whole, cracked, or rolled. Whole grains are also called rye berries or wheat berries. The cracked berries have the same nutrition as whole grains, as they are simply cracked into smaller pieces for easier use and quicker preparation. Grain flakes are otherwise known as rolled grains. Rye and wheat are steamed and later rolled and dried to achieve these.

Nutrition

The nutritional information in this section is presented for whole rye grains, durum and Khorasan wheat.

Macronutrients and Calories

Rye and wheat are incredibly dense in nutrients, both containing less than 11% of water.

The average serving size of wheat is one cup, equal to 192g of wheat. One cup of rye weighs a little lighter, making the serving size of rye 169g.

Calories

Like most grains, both wheat and rye are very high in calories. These grains contain nearly the same amount of calories, with wheat containing only one more calorie per every hundred grams.

Protein and Fats

Wheat grains are richer in both protein and fats.

Both of these grains contain high levels of all essential amino acids. Wheat is higher in all of these amino acids, except for lysine, as wheat and rye grains contain a nearly equal amount of lysine.

Wheat is higher than rye in all three forms of fatty acids: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.

Wheat and rye naturally do not contain cholesterol.

Carbohydrates

Rye grains are comparatively richer in carbohydrates.

Both rye and wheat are high in carbohydrates but low in sugars. This is due to the high dietary fiber content. About 90% of all carbohydrate content of these grains is made up of fiber.

Rye contains larger amounts of dietary fiber when compared to wheat. The small content of sugars is made up of sucrose, glucose, and fructose.

Vitamins

Cereal grains are a great source of most B complex vitamins.

Wheat contains more B group vitamins, being richer in vitamin B1, vitamin B3, vitamin B6 and the folate form of vitamin B9.

Rye grains, on the other hand, are more versatile in vitamins, containing more of vitamin B2 and vitamin B6, as well as vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin E (1).

Both rye and wheat grains completely lack vitamin C, vitamin D, and vitamin B12.

Vitamin Comparison

Vitamin comparison score is based on the number of vitamins by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Rye
5
:
4
Wheat
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +107.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +55.7%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +32.6%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +57.8%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +42.5%
Contains more Folate +13.2%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 1% 17% 0% 0% 79% 58% 81% 88% 68% 29% 0% 15%
Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin C Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Folate Vitamin B12 Vitamin K 0% 0% 0% 0% 105% 28% 127% 57% 97% 33% 0% 0%
Contains more Vitamin A +∞%
Contains more Vitamin B2 +107.4%
Contains more Vitamin B5 +55.7%
Contains more Vitamin B1 +32.6%
Contains more Vitamin B3 +57.8%
Contains more Vitamin B6 +42.5%
Contains more Folate +13.2%

Minerals

Rye and wheat grains are very well packed in minerals; however, wheat is richer in most. Wheat grains contain higher levels of iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc, phosphorus, selenium, and manganese.

Nevertheless, rye is richer in potassium and choline.

Rye and wheat contain the same amount of sodium.

Mineral Comparison

Mineral comparison score is based on the number of minerals by which one or the other food is richer. The "coverage" chart below show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of the food
Rye
1
:
6
Wheat
Contains more Potassium +18.3%
Contains more Calcium +41.7%
Contains more Iron +33.8%
Contains more Magnesium +30.9%
Contains more Phosphorus +53%
Contains more Zinc +57%
Contains more Copper +50.7%
Equal in Sodium - 2
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 8% 99% 79% 143% 45% 1% 73% 123%
Calcium Iron Magnesium Phosphorus Potassium Sodium Zinc Copper 11% 132% 103% 218% 39% 1% 114% 185%
Contains more Potassium +18.3%
Contains more Calcium +41.7%
Contains more Iron +33.8%
Contains more Magnesium +30.9%
Contains more Phosphorus +53%
Contains more Zinc +57%
Contains more Copper +50.7%
Equal in Sodium - 2

Glycemic Index

According to The International Tables of Glycemic Indices, the average glycemic index of whole rye kernels, based on three studies, is 34 (2).

The average of three studies makes the glycemic index of whole-kernel wheat 45. The glycemic index of precooked and cooked durum wheat falls in the range of 50±5 (2).

Both rye and wheat grains tend to fall in the low glycemic index category due to their high dietary fat content. However, the glycemic index of rye grains is lower.

Similarly, the glycemic index of wholemeal wheat bread is 58, while the glycemic index for rye kernel bread is 53 (2).

Acidity

The acidity of rye and wheat grains is very similar. The pH value for whole wheat grains is 5.8, while this value for whole rye grains is 5.9 (3). This shows that both are acidic foods, but wheat is slightly more acidic.

Another way of evaluating the acidity of foods is the potential renal acid load, also known as the PRAL value. This value demonstrates how much acid or base the food produces inside the organism.

The PRAL values for rye and wheat grains have been calculated to be 3.5 and 12.3 accordingly. The higher this number is, the more acidic-forming the food. This means that wheat produces more acid inside the body compared to rye.

Weight Loss & Diets

Cereal grains are very high in calories; however, this is due to their nutrient-dense qualities, which can play an important role in a healthy diet.

Out of these two grains, rye is the better choice for low-calorie, low-fat, or low glycemic index diets, while wheat is the preferred choice on a low-carb diet.

Studies have shown that rye products, as well as whole-grain rye, increase satiety and lower hunger, thus leading to greater weight loss when compared to the same size serving of wheat products or whole wheat grain (4).

Research shows that whole-grain rye, but not whole-grain wheat, lowers body weight and fat mass due to increased satiety, leading to reduced energy intake (5).

Nonetheless, there are studies showing that whole grain intake, including wheat, has an inverse association with body mass index and weight gain (6).

Health Impact

Health Benefits

Cereal grains are full of beneficial qualities when consumed in moderation. In this section, we will look into some of those qualities.

Cardiovascular Health

A study has concluded that rye bread consumption effectively reduces serum total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations in men, but not women, with elevated serum cholesterol (7).

Ingestion of rye bread has also been shown to significantly reduce plasma total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels when compared to wheat consumption (8).

One meta-analysis has demonstrated inverse associations between whole grain intake, such as wheat and rye, and total and cause-specific mortality, particularly cardiovascular mortality (9).

In epidemiological cohort studies, there is a consistent, inverse association between dietary whole grain intake and incident cardiovascular disease (10).

Diabetes

Rye and wheat grains both have low glycemic indices, although the glycemic index of rye tends to be lower.

Compared to wheat bread, rye bread demonstrated a preferable absorption pattern and metabolic response (11).

Eleven meta-analyses have concluded that the consumption of whole grains, such as rye and wheat, may prove to be beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (4).

Regular consumption of whole grains may lower diabetes risk due to an improvement of plasma glucose regulation, postprandial hyperinsulinemia, insulin resistance, and the beneficial effect on body weight (12)

Cancer

Various studies have researched the ability of rye products to decrease the risk of breast cancer (13).

There is strong scientific evidence that the consumption of whole-grain products reduces the risk of colorectal cancer, partially due to the high dietary fiber content (14).

Whole grain intake has also been correlated with a reduced risk of gastric, pancreatic, and endometrial cancers (15)

Downsides and Risks

Gluten Intolerance

Both wheat and rye are rich in a family of proteins called gluten. In some people, consumption of this protein causes adverse effects, such as Celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, as well as more rare conditions, including dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten ataxia.

However, gluten is harmless to consume for people who are not gluten intolerant.

References

  1. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169743/nutrients
  2. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/114/5/1625/6320814
  3. http://www.nphsystem.guide/grain_food_values.htm
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924224418303339
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28327566/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627338/
  7. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/2/164/4686574
  8. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jsfa.3229
  9. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.021101
  10. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0939475307000026
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2436870/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6163785/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037245/
  14. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/exposures/wholegrains-veg-fruit
  15. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9589426/
Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan
Education: General Medicine at YSMU
Last updated: February 22, 2021

Infographic

Rye vs Wheat infographic
Infographic link

Comparison summary table

Pay attention to the most right column. It shows the amounts side by side, making it easier to realize the amount of difference.
Rye Wheat
Rich in minerals ok
Lower in Sugar ok
Lower in Saturated Fat ok
Lower in glycemic index ok
Lower in Sodium Equal
Lower in Cholesterol Equal
Lower in price Equal
Rich in vitamins Equal

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

Nutrient Rye Wheat Opinion
Net carbs 60.76g 71.13g Wheat
Protein 10.34g 13.68g Wheat
Fats 1.63g 2.47g Wheat
Carbs 75.86g 71.13g Rye
Calories 338kcal 339kcal Wheat
Starch g g
Fructose 0.11g g Rye
Sugar 0.98g g Wheat
Fiber 15.1g g Rye
Calcium 24mg 34mg Wheat
Iron 2.63mg 3.52mg Wheat
Magnesium 110mg 144mg Wheat
Phosphorus 332mg 508mg Wheat
Potassium 510mg 431mg Rye
Sodium 2mg 2mg
Zinc 2.65mg 4.16mg Wheat
Copper 0.367mg 0.553mg Wheat
Vitamin A 11IU 0IU Rye
Vitamin E 0.85mg mg Rye
Vitamin D 0IU 0IU
Vitamin D 0µg 0µg
Vitamin C 0mg 0mg
Vitamin B1 0.316mg 0.419mg Wheat
Vitamin B2 0.251mg 0.121mg Rye
Vitamin B3 4.27mg 6.738mg Wheat
Vitamin B5 1.456mg 0.935mg Rye
Vitamin B6 0.294mg 0.419mg Wheat
Folate 38µg 43µg Wheat
Vitamin B12 0µg 0µg
Vitamin K 5.9µg µg Rye
Tryptophan 0.108mg 0.176mg Wheat
Threonine 0.289mg 0.366mg Wheat
Isoleucine 0.208mg 0.533mg Wheat
Leucine 0.563mg 0.934mg Wheat
Lysine 0.286mg 0.303mg Wheat
Methionine 0.153mg 0.221mg Wheat
Phenylalanine 0.435mg 0.681mg Wheat
Valine 0.317mg 0.594mg Wheat
Histidine 0.189mg 0.322mg Wheat
Cholesterol 0mg 0mg
Trans Fat 0g g Wheat
Saturated Fat 0.197g 0.454g Rye
Monounsaturated Fat 0.208g 0.344g Wheat
Polyunsaturated fat 0.767g 0.978g Wheat

Which food is preferable for your diet?

ok
ok
is better in case of low diet
Rye Wheat
Low Fats diet ok
Low Carbs diet ok
Low Calories diet ok
Low glycemic index diet ok

People also compare

Vitamin and Mineral Summary Scores

The summary score is calculated by summing up the daily values contained in 300 grams of the product. Obviously the more the food fulfills human daily needs, the more the summary score is.
Vitamin Summary Score
36
Rye
37
Wheat
Mineral Summary Score
71
Rye
100
Wheat

Macronutrients Comparison

Macronutrient comparison charts compare the amount of protein, total fats, and total carbohydrates in 300 grams of the food. The displayed values show how much of the daily needs can be covered by 300 grams of food.
Protein
62%
Rye
82%
Wheat
Carbohydrates
76%
Rye
71%
Wheat
Fats
8%
Rye
11%
Wheat

Comparison summary

Which food is richer in minerals?
Wheat
Wheat is relatively richer in minerals
Which food is lower in Sugar?
Wheat
Wheat is lower in Sugar (difference - 0.98g)
Which food is lower in Saturated Fat?
Rye
Rye is lower in Saturated Fat (difference - 0.257g)
Which food is lower in glycemic index?
Rye
Rye is lower in glycemic index (difference - 16)
Which food contains less Sodium?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Sodium (2 mg)
Which food contains less Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food is cheaper?
?
The foods are relatively equal in price ($0.4)
Which food is richer in vitamins?
?
It cannot be stated which food is richer in vitamins. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information. See the charts below for detailed information.

References

The source of all the nutrient values on the page (excluding the main article the sources for which are presented separately if present) is the USDA's FoodCentral. The exact links to the foods presented on this page can be found below.

  1. Rye - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168884/nutrients
  2. Wheat - https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169721/nutrients

All the Daily Values are presented for males aged 31-50, for 2000 calorie diets.

Data provided by FoodStruct.com should be considered and used as information only. Please consult your physician before beginning any diet.