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Rye vs Wheat - Health impact and Nutrition Comparison

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Introduction

Rye and wheat are two of the most commonly used cereal grains. As these grains are closely related to each other, 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 one 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 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 colour alone. Both can appear in different shades of neutral colours, such as beige and honey.

While the grains look similar in colour, the flour made from these grains do not. Rye flour has a darker colour that consequently results in darker coloured rye products, such as bread.

Taste and Use

Of course the taste of these grains are determined greatly by the preparation method of the meal, as well as the variety and growing conditions. That said, rye products tend to have a more dense and sour taste, whilst 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 and 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 3°C (38°F) and a pH range of 5 to 7. Wheat, on the other hand grows in warmer temperatures and in the pH range of 6 to 7.

Varieties

There are dozens of varieties of wheat and rye plants being cultivated all around the world. 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 separate genetic traits, wheat can be diploid (einkorn), tetraploid (durum, emmer, khorasan) and hexaploid (common wheat, spelt).

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 article is presented for whole rye grains and durum wheat, as well as 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 that is 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.

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.

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 (3).

Both rye and wheat grains tend to fall in the low glycemic index category, due to their high content of dietary fat. 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 (4). This means 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 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, that can play an important role in a healthy diet.

Out of these two grains, rye is the better choice for a low calorie, low fats or a low glycemic index diet, whilst 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 (5).

Research shows that whole grain rye, but not whole grain wheat, lowers body weight and fat mass due to the increased satiety that leads to a reduced energy intake (6).

Nonetheless, there are studies showing that whole grain intake, including wheat, has an inverse association with body mass index and weight gain (7).

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 is effective in reducing serum total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations in men, but not women, with elevated serum cholesterol (8).

Ingestion of rye bread has also been shown to significantly reduce plasma total and low density lipoprotein cholesterol levels, when compared to wheat consumption (9).

One meta-analysis has demonstrated inverse associations between whole grain intake, such as wheat and rye, and total and cause-specific mortality, cardiovascular mortality in particular (10).

There is a consistent, inverse association between dietary whole grain intake and incident cardiovascular disease in epidemiological cohort studies (11). 

Diabetes

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

When compared to wheat bread, rye bread demonstrated a preferable absorption pattern and metabolic response (12).

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 (5).

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 (13)

Cancer

Various studies have researched the ability of rye products to decrease the risk of breast cancer (14).

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 (15).

Whole grain intake has also been correlated with a reduced risk of gastric, pancreatic and endometrial cancers (16)

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 coeliac’s disease, noncoeliac gluten sensitivity, as well as more rare conditions, including dermatitis herpetiformis and gluten ataxia.

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

Summary

In 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 not only vitamins of the B group, but vitamin A, vitamin E and vitamin K as well. Wheat, on the other hand, is richer in almost all minerals.

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

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

Sources.

  1. https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169743/nutrients
  2. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/diacare/suppl/2008/09/18/dc08-1239.DC1/TableA2_1.pdf
  3. https://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/diacare/suppl/2008/09/18/dc08-1239.DC1/TableA1_1.pdf
  4. http://www.nphsystem.guide/grain_food_values.htm
  5. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0924224418303339
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28327566/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6627338/
  8. https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/2/164/4686574
  9. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jsfa.3229
  10. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.115.021101
  11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0939475307000026
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2436870/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6163785/
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037245/
  15. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/exposures/wholegrains-veg-fruit
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9589426/
Article author photo Victoria Mazmanyan
Profession: Yerevan State Medical University
Last updated: February 22, 2021

Infographic

Rye vs Wheat infographic
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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 Iron +33.8%
Contains more Calcium +41.7%
Contains more Magnesium +30.9%
Contains more Copper +50.7%
Contains more Zinc +57%
Contains more Phosphorus +53%
Equal in Sodium - 2
Iron Calcium Potassium Magnesium Copper Zinc Phosphorus Sodium 99% 8% 45% 79% 123% 73% 143% 1%
Iron Calcium Potassium Magnesium Copper Zinc Phosphorus Sodium 132% 11% 39% 103% 185% 114% 218% 1%
Contains more Potassium +18.3%
Contains more Iron +33.8%
Contains more Calcium +41.7%
Contains more Magnesium +30.9%
Contains more Copper +50.7%
Contains more Zinc +57%
Contains more Phosphorus +53%
Equal in Sodium - 2

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 C Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Vitamin B12 Vitamin K Folate 0% 1% 17% 0% 79% 58% 81% 88% 68% 0% 15% 29%
Vitamin C Vitamin A Vitamin E Vitamin D Vitamin B1 Vitamin B2 Vitamin B3 Vitamin B5 Vitamin B6 Vitamin B12 Vitamin K Folate 0% 0% 0% 0% 105% 28% 127% 57% 97% 0% 0% 33%
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 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 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 Cholesterol Equal
Lower in Sodium Equal
Lower in price Equal
Rich in vitamins Equal

Which food is preferable for your diet?

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

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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 Cholesterol?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Cholesterol (0 mg)
Which food contains less Sodium?
?
The foods are relatively equal in Sodium (2 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.

All nutrients comparison - raw data values

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

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.