The Wheat We Hate to Eat

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Hating on wheat is the trendy thing to do these days. Everyone, it seems, has issues with the grain, and gluten free is the fashionable way to be.

After reading an article in Harper’s Bazaar about the perils of today’s wheat, it sparked a lively discussion.

In the book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Way Back to Health, by William Davis, it blames gliadin, a component of gluten, for causing our distress. Dr. Davis contends that wheat causes diabetes, heart disease and acne. He states that the gliadin found in wheat, and its interaction with the opioid receptors in the brain over stimulates the appetite and ultimately causes obesity. Later in the article, several other doctors disputed his theories as bunk, and states that other foods have this effect, including milk, soy and spinach.

It’s difficult to know who to believe.

I have heard people (myself among them,) discuss bloating, stomach distress, acne and “brain fog” as after effects of eating foods containing gluten. I have heard it blamed on the evils of American wheat vs. European wheat, and genetically engineered wheat vs. non-GMO types. Yes, the wheat we eat today is not the same wheat our fore folks ate hundreds of years ago, nor is it the same exact wheat we ate 50 years ago. It is not, however, the genetically modified Frankenwheat it is often accused of being.

I set out to gather the cold, hard facts on wheat production:

It is not legal to produce genetically modified wheat for commercial consumption in North America. Europe also does not permit their wheat crops to be genetically modified. There is no need to brag about flour or baked goods being non-GMO by labeling them as such, since all the wheat products in the United States and Europe fall into that category. Both countries are testing genetically modified wheat, but it is not available for consumption at this time.

Wheat has undergone hybridization over the years, caused both by nature and from man helping the breeding process and therefore creating new species of the plants. While hybridization is naturally occurring, the low-tech process of assisting compatible species to merge has been going on since the beginning of agriculture. This process does not alter the plant’s genetic structure through use of chemicals or technology, and does not introduce genes from other kingdoms into the mix, as does genetic modification.

Gluten is a naturally occurring protein that gives elasticity to dough. It is what helps it rise, and gives shape to the dough. Some grades of flour have a lower gluten content than others due to the milling process, but it is intrinsic in the natural makeup of wheat, as well as that of rye and barley.

Gluten-free flours and baked goods come from the use of alternative flours, not from removing the gluten from wheat. That in fact, would require genetic modification.

There is nothing going on in other countries that would make their wheat more palatable, or digestible than ours. Some common alternative flours are almond meal, garbanzo flour and coconut flour, among others. They often alter the consistency of the food, and can rarely be substituted in a recipe without adapting it accordingly.

While only 1 out of 100 people have Celiac disease, which makes it impossible for their body to process the gluten in wheat and other products, the rest of us are fully able to digest it. While that number is indeed higher than it was 50 years ago, it is still quite low. Many attribute the increase in Celiac disease to the fact that more and more people are being tested for it. Gluten is also being used in many medications, cosmetics and processed foods, which exposes us to much higher quantities of it than ever before.

Going gluten free, or even just opting to go wheat free does have its benefits for the mass population. Most people experience weight loss from cutting these products from their diet. Eliminating bread, pasta, cookies, cakes and other flour-based foods eliminates substantial calories. As people reach a healthy weight, they tend to experience less health symptoms.

Wheat or not to wheat, that is the question. If you suspect you have a problem with wheat, even though your doctor has ruled out a real allergy or Celiac disease,try eliminating wheat based foods, or gluten based products from your diet for two weeks and see how you feel. If you feel more energetic, and your skin or digestive issues improve, then go for it. If it doesn’t seem to have much effect, keep whole grains in your diet for the fiber, vitamins and minerals they offer, as well as the joy we often get from eating them.

Then sit back, relax and wait for the next food villain to emerge.

photo: Glasshouse Images

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One Response to “The Wheat We Hate to Eat”

  1. Tyler Brock Says:

    This article contains a lots of misinformation. There are many Nuance issues that are overly simplified here or not addressed at all. One of them is when the wheat is harvest real to its growth cycle. The wheat in the United States is harvested when it is still dwarfed while the wheat in Europe is harvested when it has fully matured creating substantial health benefits over the United States process. Also, while the weeds in the United States cannot be officially considered genetically modified, there is substantial genetic modification that takes place which is not the case in Europe. My question is, what is your motivation in writing this article? You do not cite any sources and are misleading people. It is frustrating to see so much misinformation and confusion on the Internet. I’m sure you have good intentions, but I would Encourage you to be more thorough and precise in your research.

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