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“Progress is very important and exciting in everything but food.” …Andy Warhol
Overview Wheat and other gluten grains are under attack today due to the apparent rise of wheat allergies and gluten intolerance. Grains are also blamed for contributing to the ongoing epidemic of diabetes and obesity. Leading the campaign against wheat and other grains are books like Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D. and the “Paleo Diet,” which advocates abandoning grains for weight loss and better health.
But, when civilizations throughout time thrived on traditional wheat and other gluten grains, does it make sense to attack grains? Rather than traditional grains, I believe a constellation of other factors in our modern food system help explain the rise in diabetes, obesity, allergies, mood disorders, nutrient deficiencies and other health issues now associated with consuming what are modern, denatured, fractured grains—empty calories that are in essence sugar.
For a quick overview, let’s first consider the type of wheat that we eat today. Through genetic engineering to produce a high yield, science in the 1960s developed “dwarf wheat” to replace the traditional wheat varieties that had through centuries sustained our forebears. Modern dwarf wheat is not only genetically-modified but it is also nutrient-deficient because, as Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills points out, it is grown commercially under crowded mono-crop conditions that compromise its leaf and root systems.
Second, consider modern commercial refining and bleaching methods that refine away the nutrition, enzymes, and taste of whole grains, leaving behind a life-less white flour that has the power to spike blood sugar even faster than common table sugar.1 Refined flour, which steals minerals from the body for its metabolism (see below), is a triumph for the food industry because refined flour needs no refrigeration; and, it has a long shelf life because there is nothing left in the flour to go rancid. It is easy, without thinking of the hidden consequences, to consume refined flour in great volumes through bread, buns, wraps, pasta, bagels, and many other bakery products and prepared foods. We would never think of eating these same high-glycemic calories in the form of table sugar.
Third, as mentioned above, refined flour steals minerals like calcium and magnesium from the body’s mineral bank, stored largely in the bones and teeth. This is because modern refining methods used to produce white flour remove the bran and germ, which are the parts of the whole grain that contain most of the grain’s nutrients—the vitamins, minerals and enzymes that are important cofactors needed for proper assimilation. Refined flour products, which provide empty calories but without nutritional cofactors, create mineral deficiencies and foster chronic disease.
Fourth, the nutrition, fiber, and satisfying nature of whole grains are locked in the bran and the germ, which is the heart of the kernel. The nutrition is in the taste, or better stated by JD McClelland, producer of the movie The Divided Grain, “Nutrition = Taste.” Without the fats, fiber, and taste of whole grains, empty-calorie white flour products leave us feeling empty and unsatisfied…so, we search for more.
Fifth, using baker’s yeast for a quick rise, modern, mass production factory bread-baking practices often doctor dough with extra gluten, as well as with artificial chemicals, preservatives and flavor additives to provide rise and taste. Extra gluten—sometimes as much as three-times what is in flour itself2—is added to dough to make factory bread. Extra gluten is used as a substitute for the time, patience and natural sourdough leavening that was a part of traditional baking practices. The chemicals and additives used in making factory bread are another factor contributing to chronic disease.
[A note on sourdough: Sourdough, which was used throughout time to leaven bread, has many health advantages. Sourdough converts starch molecules in flour to lactic and acetic acids to slow the rate of starch digestion and mute the blood sugar effect of consuming baked goods to prevent insulin resistance and diabetes. Sourdough also works on whole grain flour to boost B vitamins and defuses phytates, which would otherwise block the absorption of whole grain flour’s vital minerals, particularly potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper and zinc.]
Finally, and in some respects, perhaps most important, let’s look at modern gut health—Is the problem gluten or is it our gut? Refined flour, a simple sugar, feeds bad gut bacteria that can “eat through” the fragile gut lining. Holes in the gut lead to “leaking gut syndrome” whereby undigested proteins enter the blood stream to create allergic reactions and a host of physical ills, from depression and anxiety to learning and focus issues. The evolution of our modern diet away from fermented foods and foods with generous amounts of fiber—elements that feed good gut bacteria—are another major piece of the gluten intolerance puzzle.
People who eliminate grains often feel better simply because they are substituting sugar and other additives in bread and other refined flour bakery products for nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.
The modern controversy: With the recent increase of wheat allergies and celiac disease, as well as obesity and diabetes, wheat has come under attack. Leading the campaign against wheat are books like Wheat Belly, published last year by William Davis, M.D., and the “Paleo Diet” which advocates abandoning grains for weight loss and better health. But, it is not realistic to think that we can give up grains, particularly wheat. We need to distinguish between dwarf wheat that is questionable and traditional varieties of wheat that have been a mainstay throughout time. And, we need to look beyond wheat to other dietary and lifestyle factors that are strongly linked to obesity, diabetes, and wheat intolerance.
Defending wheat, a mainstay. Wheat is grown in every state and in almost every country of the world. It is the most nutritious of the major grains because it is better able to extract nutrients from the soil.3 And, because carbohydrates, largely as grains, supply between 55%-80% of the calorie needs of cultures around the globe, we must rely upon grains, especially wheat, to sustain life. Wheat is the cheapest nutritious source of energy and the key ingredient of bread, the “staff of life.”
Bread is a favorite of cultures throughout the world because it is easy-to-digest (carbohydrates are the “cleanest-burning” of the macro-nutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fats) and a quick source of energy to balance heavy proteins and fats. Wheat is sweet and cooling in nature and supports the heart, spleen, and kidneys. Accordingly, wheat helps to calm the mind and emotions and works as an antidote to insomnia and stress. If wheat’s blood sugar effect is a concern, just spread on a little butter or top a slice with some turkey or a couple of soft-boiled eggs. Most of us combine grains as well as bread with foods to quite naturally temper blood sugar.
Wheat consumption is down, allergies are up. Despite the prevalence of wheat in most prepared, packaged foods and snacks, we consume one-third less wheat today in all its forms than we did a century ago when obesity and type 2 diabetes were not major health problems and when wheat allergies and celiac disease were hardly known. So can we really blame wheat? What other factors might we point to?
For the majority of people, the problem is not so much wheat, but the kind of wheat—a hybrid high-yield, high-starch, high-gluten wheat—called “dwarf” wheat that was developed in the 1960s as a profit-driven venture to replace traditional wheat varieties in our food supply. Its high amylopectin starch content makes it super- fattening, while it also promotes insulin resistance and diabetes.4 And, due to the genetic engineering of dwarf wheat that results in extra chromosome sets with more and different gluten proteins than exist in traditional wheat like Einkorn and Emmer, dwarf wheat contains new, untested wheat proteins and in greater numbers that can foster and are linked to wheat allergies and celiac disease.5
An additional problem with wheat lies in how we process it. When we mill wheat, B vitamins are stripped away along with vitamin E, essential fatty acids, protein, minerals, and fiber to reduce nutrition. Fracturing wheat into simple starch devoid of its bran and germ also raises the glycemic index (GI ) of wheat-based convenience foods. Regarding blood sugar, there is a world of difference for example between eating properly cooked whole grain wheat (GI, 42) and puffed wheat breakfast cereal (GI, 80). Refined wheat spikes blood sugar, a factor that can fuel insulin resistance and diabetes. Retooling refined wheat into bakery products, boxed cereals, snacks, and other foods for a long shelf life also involves chemical additives, some of which can themselves trigger allergic reactions and celiac disease.6
It is certainly true that some people feel better when they eliminate grains, particularly wheat. But there are also many people for whom this is not the case. To use a broad brush to denigrate wheat per se when there are many other factors that explain obesity, diabetes, chronic disease, and the four-fold postwar increase in celiac disease is ill-founded.
The Constellation of Diet and Lifestyle Factors that Contribute to Wheat Allergies and Chronic Disease
Wheat allergies and celiac disease, as well as obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes, and chronic disease, are not simply the product of wheat, as Dr. Davis in Wheat Belly might like us to think. Our modern health problems are largely the result of government subsidies that create surpluses of GMO wheat, corn, and soy and the food industry that converts these surpluses into irritants in the form of cheap, new-fangled products that can survive long periods on grocery store shelves. In his book, Dr. Davis fails to mention inflammatory high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or refined vegetable oils, the consumption of which, through soft drinks and convenience foods, has mushroomed in the last 50 years in parallel fashion with dwarf wheat. Mutant dwarf wheat is only a piece of the obesity/diabetes puzzle.
Other ingredients of our modern lifestyle that underlie wheat allergies and celiac disease include a constellation of factors that weaken the immune system and gut health. Beyond HFCS and refined oils, we can point to our modern-day reliance upon antibiotics that play havoc with good intestinal flora.
And, in terms of diet, while we have added denatured oils and HFCS, mostly through prepared/snack foods and soft drinks, we have crowded out many traditional gut-healing/health-promoting foods like cod liver oil; fermented foods;7 and whole foods that are rich in natural fiber and pre-and probiotics. Urban living can also be a factor since it decreases our exposure to healthy bacteria from the soil, while our modern screen-based living habits often rob us of a good night’s sleep, a major restorer and safeguard of immunity. Compared to today, our great-grandparents ate 40% more wheat largely prepared at home and had little problem with wheat. Understanding the role played by elements of our modern lifestyle, discussed below, and adjusting habits accordingly could help more of us better assimilate and enjoy traditional wheat, artisan breads, and other gluten grains, when properly prepared.
- Antibiotics make us more susceptible to wheat allergies. The gift of antibiotics has brought with it more people to feed. The widespread use of antibiotics is a factor creating the “need” for cheap GMO plant foods such as mutant dwarf wheat. Antibiotics have also created a population of antibiotics users with compromised gut health who are less able to digest and absorb the very wheat that was bred and designed to meet their energy needs. While addressing acute conditions to save lives, antibiotics can foster chronic health issues. This is because antibiotics weaken gut health by killing off good gut bacteria, thus upsetting the delicate balance of intestinal flora nature designed as an important sentry of our immune system. Weakened intestinal flora can lead to “leaky gut syndrome,” a condition when undigested proteins (as in wheat proteins) enter the blood stream and cause allergic reactions.
- Inflammatory,8 omega-6 refined vegetable oils interfere with intestinal flora and metabolism. Per capita consumption of refined vegetable oils has increased more than five-fold in the last half-century! Like refined flour products, denatured, omega-6 oils feed inflammation, including inflammation of the digestive tract/gut. Omega-6 oils also depress thyroid/ endocrine function and metabolism, linking them to obesity.
- Inflammatory high fructose corn syrup. HFCS takes more energy to be absorbed in the intestine, thereby depleting reserves needed to preserve the integrity of intestinal lining. According to Mark Hyman, “High doses of free fructose have been proven to literally punch holes in the intestinal lining, allowing nasty byproducts of toxic gut bacteria and partially digested food proteins to enter the bloodstream and trigger the inflammation that is at the root of obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, dementia and accelerated aging.”
- Cod liver oil; fermented foods; and rural living—traditional links to immune/gut health. Cod liver oil, which was relied upon by former generations, is a good source of anti-inflammatory omega-3 oils, as well as a rich source of vitamins A and D. Active vitamins A and vitamin D help fight inflammation while they work to soothe and heal the digestive/immune system. Fermented foods provide digestive enzymes and fiber to help feed good intestinal flora. And, “healthy” bacteria from outdoor living and contact with the soil also support gut health.9
- Sleep, the victim of our modern screen-based lifestyle. I think of sleep as nature’s “super antibiotic.” Nothing restores the mind/spirit and immune system better than a good night of sleep. For many people, a healthy gut, a healthy immune system, and the ability to enjoy traditional wheat and other grains cooked in traditional ways may be as simple as making a habit of a good night of sleep.
The Paleo Diet and Wheat Belly
The Paleo Diet. There is nothing romantic about pre-agricultural times of some 10,000 years ago when hunter/gatherers had to scavenge for food. The Paleo Diet of today is a version far removed from the caveman when life was sustained haphazardly and at risk by hunting wild game and foraging plant foods prior to the domestication of animals and the cultivation of grains. Stressful as it had to be, it holds no resemblance to modern day food gathering—pushing shopping carts through wide, well-lit supermarket aisles that are piled high with convenience foods bearing colorful, catchy labels. The modern Paleo menu is really a “faux” copy of the original. Wild game do not roam and wild berries, nuts, seeds, roots, and rhizomes do not grow out our back door; rarely are these products sourced by supermarkets or by mail-order suppliers.
To its credit, the modern Paleo Diet does emphasize grass-fed animal products, fish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and fruits, while it forbids refined vegetable oils, refined sugar, industrial salt, refined grains, and commercial dairy products. One of the best features of Paleo is its implicit outlawing of most prepared convenience/snack/junk foods, as well as fast foods. An adherent of Paleo is forced to read food labels. And, a disciple soon recognizes the need to shop the periphery of the grocery store for whole, “real” food, as well as to spend more time in the kitchen preparing home cooked meals. If Paleo could become popular enough, it might encourage more local farming and farmers’ markets—perhaps we would fail to have enough “real” food to go around!
Realistically, the time commitment required for food shopping and preparation makes Paleo more attractive on paper than in real life. Most people are too busy to bother with food gathering and preparation. Another problem with Paleo is that it is expensive, both for the environment and the pocketbook. It might work for some affluent few who enjoy food shopping and preparation and can ignore hunger pangs for “feel-good-feeling” grains, but it does not work for global sustainability. Carbohydrates, mostly as grains, account for more than half the calories consumed in our country and for as much as 80% of the energy requirements of people in less-developed countries of the world.
A diet devoid of energy-dense carbohydrates must implicitly rely more upon animal proteins and fats. But many animal-based sources of protein are dwindling, because we have over-harvested fish and trimmed beef herds: Since 2008 global beef production has declined by 7.5 billion pounds while the world population has expanded by 300 million. And, in view of the 2012 drought, beef supplies will shrink even more as the poor 2012 harvest forces farmers to further liquidate herds.
Wheat Belly. Like the modern Paleo Diet, Wheat Belly has come along at a fortuitous time to raise awareness about the health risks associated with genetically engineered staple seed crops like wheat, corn, and soybeans. Many people experience ill effects from the high-gluten, high-starch, mineral-deficient dwarf wheat developed by Norman Borlaug in the 1960s, for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. We often hear stories of how much better individuals feel and how much weight that they lose when they stop eating modern dwarf wheat—the wheat that now represents 99% of the wheat grown worldwide.10
We are fortunate to have Dr. Davis’ research to make us weary of modern dwarf wheat and the many staple and convenience foods on grocery store shelves in which it appears—from canned soups to Twizzlers. Like the Paleo Diet, Wheat Belly will convince many to become food-label readers. We can also be grateful for Dr. Davis’ contribution that links the third set of wheat genomes to wheat allergies and celiac disease (see discussion that follows). At the same time, his effort to “tar and feather” wheat without distinguishing between traditional wheat and dwarf wheat is myopic. The three main sections of Wheat Belly are titled “WHEAT: THE UNHEALTHY WHOLE GRAIN; WHEAT AND ITS HEAD-TO-TOE DESTRUCTION OF HEALTH; and SAY GOODBYE TO WHEAT.”
In bad-mouthing wheat with a broad brush, Dr. Davis makes no equal effort to broadcast the virtues of traditional wheat—for example, Einkorn and Emmer with their simple chromosome structure and more traditional starch and gluten makeup—nor the fledgling, ongoing efforts by some few suppliers to restore traditional wheat varieties (discussion follows). Dr. Davis also fails to recognize that not everyone has the same metabolic response to wheat.
In addition, Dr. Davis singles out wheat when, as mentioned earlier, there are many other factors at work—antibiotics, refined vegetable oils, HFCS, and lifestyle—that have grown and changed in parallel with dwarf wheat and are themselves major contributors to wheat intolerance, celiac disease, obesity, diabetes, and other chronic disease.
To sum up: Any diet that omits wheat and other whole grains cannot be the universal and sustainable answer to feeding the world. There are other factors to blame beyond wheat for the modern epidemic of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular and other chronic disease. And, there are traditional forms of wheat prepared with care that civilizations have relied upon throughout time to support development, growth, and well-being that do not come with the health price tag of mutant dwarf wheat.
Comparing Wheat: Dwarf, Einkorn, Emmer, and Other Traditional Varieties
Mutant dwarf wheat is a distant cousin to Einkorn and Emmer that have been consumed for centuries to support growth and development, emotional well-being, and general health and vitality. In the past, some wheat hybridization occurred naturally, either through cross-pollination in the wild or in cultivated fields of yore, thus explaining the evolution of some varieties, for example, from Einkorn to Emmer.
Einkorn is thought to be the oldest variety of wheat, with its wild variety (Triticum boeoticum ) first harvested around 15,000 BC. The first cultivated strain of Einkorn (Triticum monococcum, meaning “single grain”) dates back 5,000-10,000 years to regions of the Tigris-Euphrates. Cultivated Einkorn thrives in poor soil and is best suited to cool regions with little moisture, like the Montana Great Plains.
Table 1: Genome of Wheat11
|Rye*||Secale cereal L.||Diploid||RR||
|Emmer||Triticum turgidum, dicoccum||Tetraploid||AABB||
|Durum||Triticum turgidum, Durum||Tetraploid||AABB||
|Kamut||Triticum turgidum, turanicum||Tetraploid||AABB||
Einkorn is a “diploid” wheat, because it has only two genomes, AA, each with seven chromosomes, 14 in all. Einkorn is nutrient-dense, with protein content equaling durum wheat and some 35%- 50% higher than hard red wheat. Einkorn is also high in essential fatty acids, vitamin E, phosphorous, potassium, pyridoxine, and beta-carotene. And, of all wheat, Einkorn has the greatest amount of lutein, an important antioxidant. Einkorn flour is high in ash; it is savory in flavor; and its gliadin to glutenin ratio of 2:1 compares favorably to the 0.8:1 ratio of durum and hard red wheat, leading some to believe that Einkorn is non-toxic to people with celiac disease.12
Emmer (Triticum turgidum) appears to be an early hybrid of Einkorn. It is a tetraploid wheat, having four genomes, AABB, each with seven chromosome, 28 in all. Emmer can be grown in a wider variety of climates and geographic areas than Einkorn, a fact that helped it become, until around 1,000 BC, the predominant wheat throughout Europe, the Near and Far East, as well as northern Africa.
Spelt (Triticum spelta), a hybrid of Emmer, is the oldest of the hexaploid grains and a precursor of our modern wheat. With six genomes, AABBDD, each with seven chromosomes, spelt has a total of 42 chromosomes, like modern wheat. Spelt is even more adaptable to diverse climates than Emmer, a fact that led to its early popularity. From its Near East origin, spelt was grown widely during the Bronze Age (4,000-1,000 BC) throughout Europe, the Balkans, and Asia.
Einkorn, Emmer, and spelt are known as “covered wheat” because their kernels do not thresh free of the glumes (outer coverings), making them harder to mill. Hybrids have been developed through time to make wheat easier to husk and process and to raise the starch and gluten content. The modern result is our present-day mutant dwarf wheat that has supplanted traditional varieties to be the dominant wheat grown worldwide. It has gone through a variety of hybridizations. The high-starch, high-gluten wheat developed by Norman Borlaug in the 1960s was too top-heavy for its four-foot stalk and had to be “dwarfed,” leading to the hybrid grown widely today.
“For every front, there is a back.” In recent decades science has focused energy on hybridization efforts to genetically modify wheat to increase yields, resist pests and fungus, facilitate milling, and adapt grains to high-speed, high-temperature, chemically-treated commercial processing/baking methods, while spending little time and energy exploring the potential implications of GMO grains on health. As Katherine Czapp states,
“…even before the latest GMO changes, it appears that recent forced and accelerated hybridizations have changed wheat nutritionally in ways that no one seems to have considered, while research into the health effects of these transformations has barely begun.”13
The DD Manipulated Chromosome Set—One Slant on Celiac Disease
Gluten proteins in Einkorn, a simple AA, are fewer and different in structure from Emmer, AABB, whose gluten proteins are, in turn, fewer and different in structure from modern AABBDD wheat—simply because hexaploid wheat’s three sets of genomes and 42 chromosomes code for a greater number and variety of gluten proteins. Moreover, in the last 50 years, plant scientists have altered in a variety of ways gluten-coding genes, mostly in the DD genomes of Triticum aestivum, in part for improved baking, such as a lighter texture and loaf volume.14 But, as we know from systems theory, altering a single gene can trigger a cascade of unpredictable and untoward results.15
As described by Katherine Czapp:
“Recent genome mapping of modern bread wheat with an eye to its toxic influence in celiac disease has isolated a small chain of peptides on a portion of the gluten protein which is directly responsible for stimulating the reactions in those with the celiac genetic inheritance. The plant genes responsible for contributing these peptides in wheat gluten are located on the third set of chromosomes that the hexaploid variants inherited from their wild parent. It is very interesting to note that neither the diploid nor the tetraploid cereal grains contain this genetic material.”
And, Dr. Davis in Wheat Belly comments:
“It is…the D genome of modern Triiticum aestivum that, having been the focus of all manner of genetic shenanigans by plant geneticists, has accumulated substantial change in genetically determined characteristics of gluten proteins. It is also potentially the source for many of the odd health phenomena experienced by consuming humans.”16
Beyond the DD set of chromosomes and their manipulation, other factors in the chemistry of wheat may also be at work to trigger allergic reactions and celiac disease. A potential culprit is the way that wheat is commercially processed and bolstered with additives to create processed foods, bread, and snacks.
Wheat Processing and Baking Methods
One of the earliest and most dramatic shifts to convenience foods in the United States was ushered in shortly after the turn of the last century by cereal companies like Post and Kellogg, as well as by baking companies such as Continental. The Continental Baking Company commercialized bread baking, transforming it from an artisanal art to a high-speed industrial process. In 1890, of all bread consumed in the United State, 90 percent was baked at home, with the remainder purchased from local neighborhood bakeries. By 1930, the year that Continental Baking Company introduced sliced Wonder Bread nationwide (and unveiled Twinkies), these ratios had totally flipped.17 Baking a nutritious, easy-to-digest, delicious loaf of bread with nuanced flavors from the slow development of proteins and carbohydrates requires time, usually by sprouting and/or souring, such as soaking with sourdough. Modern processing methods used to turn out “instant” bread by the millions of loaves can itself be a factor triggering allergic reactions to commercially-baked bread.
This is easy to imagine from the three major assembly-line bread production methods described by Katherine Czapp in “Against the Grain:”
- The continuous mixing method was first used in the 1950s to create bread (think Wonder Bread) that is soft, cake-like in texture with no holes, no fermentation, and hence no flavor or aroma. The process calls for all ingredients to be mixed together from the beginning and the “slurry of flour and yeast and ‘improvers’ travels via conveyors without pause (and proofing) to the oven.” This method explained 60% of all bread baked in 1970 but has since been virtually abandoned due to the tasteless end product.
- The “No-Time” Chorleywood Bread Process (CBP) developed in 1961 uses high-speed mixers, chemical oxidants, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and large amounts of yeast and water to produce a loaf in three and one-half hours. CBP is popular in countries where wheat has been bred to tolerate commercial CBP machinery by which “wheat is milled under tremendous pressure to force open starch cells so that the flour will absorb the maximum amount of water during processing.” Hydrogenated oils are used to prevent loaves from collapsing when baked.
In CBP, “flour, chemical oxidants and ‘improvers,’ water, yeast, fat and salt are pumped into vast computer-controlled mixers and the dough is violently shaken for three minutes.” This energy overheats the dough, requiring computer-controlled cooling systems. Air pressure is also carefully controlled to create a partial vacuum to control gas bubbles that might otherwise escape the surface of the dough. This method, well-suited to soft wheat but not the high-gluten wheat of the United States, produces 80 percent of the bread in the U.K., Australia, and India.
- The conventional batch mixing method is the process most often used in commercial bakeries in our country today. The majority (60%) of ingredients are mixed and allowed to ferment for two-four hours, after which the complement of ingredients are added and loaves are then baked. This method also adapts to “no-time” methods. It requires chemicals to “condition the dough during mechanical processing, as well as impart anti-staling and moisture-retentive properties to the finished product.” This is the process used not only for commercially baked bread, but also hamburger and hot dog buns, as well as frozen loaves for on-site baking.18
I come away from these descriptions wondering not only about the quality and character of wheat that has been genetically modified to withstand the abuse of our modern commercial “no patience” commercial bakeries, but also about what might happen even to the best of wheat varieties subjected to these treatments. Might we wonder about the health implications of wheat abuse associated with these industrial processing methods?
Chemicals and additives. Chemicals and other additives used in bakery products and snack foods are another part of the wheat allergy, inflammation, chronic disease story. Commercial baking companies resort to chemicals and additives, including extra gluten, to fill gaps in flavor and texture that result from “no-time” methods.
For fun on a recent trip to the store, I purchased a loaf of the healthiest-sounding bread that I could find: Arnold’s “Whole Grains—100% Whole Wheat Bread, From Grains to Glory.” Reading the label from the top after whole wheat (dwarf) flour, water, and sugar, other sweeteners, and bran, we find, in order of importance…
- Wheat gluten—even more gluten must be added to compensate for the lack of proofing time; this is of course gluten derived from mutant dwarf wheat;
- Soybean oil—from GMO soy; for volume and a softer crumb;
- Monoglycerides/Diglycerides—softeners, emulsifiers, used to keep bread tasting fresh for days;
- Calcium propionate—a mold inhibitor linked to irritability, insomnia, and attention issues;
- Calcium sulfate—to control moisture;
- Datem—dough strengthener to keep the dough from collapsing from, in this case, the addition of bran;
- Citric Acid—a preservative; provides a “faux” sour flavor to enhance taste;
- Soy lecithin—from GMO soy; an emulsifier; for freshness and uniformity;
- Whey—a milk product; powdered whey is a denatured product (see July/August 2012 Newsletter).
There are many other chemical additives to be found in “less healthy” breads. One ingredient missing above that is often used in commercial bread is potassium bromate, a recognized carcinogen that makes dough more elastic to endure the abuse of high-speed mixing. You might find it interesting to research the chemical additives not only in bread, but also any packaged, processed food created for a long shelf life.
Conclusion. Wheat intolerance, obesity, and chronic disease have many causes. Science may ponder these for some time; meanwhile Big Agriculture and Big Food will continue to roll out new products while many more people experience “mysterious” wheat allergies and intolerance little known a century ago. Blaming wheat with a broad brush is easy: Einkorn and Emmer, Red Fife and Dapps have no powerful constituency or lobby on Capitol Hill. They need our recognition and appreciation.
Ben Atlas, “From Einkorn to the Mutant Dwarf Wheat on Your Table.”
Tara Cochrane, “Rare Varieties of Wheat.”
Katherine Czapp, “Against the Grain,” The Weston A. Price Foundation.
William Davis, M.D., Wheat Belly
Daily Lipid, “Wheat Belly—The Toll of Hubris on Human Health”
G.F. Sallkneckht, K.M. Gilbertson, and J.E. Ranney, “Alternative Wheat Cereals as Food Grains: Einkorn,
Emmer, Spelt, Kamut, and Triticale”, Center for New Crops & Plant Products; Purdue University.
Contemporary Sources of Heirloom and Quality Grains: Everything Old is New
Hopefully, Wheat Belly and the Paleo Diet will inspire you to try more heirloom grains and support the farmers and suppliers who are investing time and money to revive grains from the past. Some of these are available through local health and specialty stores, while others require ordering by phone/email .
Anson Mills in South Carolina, under the leadership and inspiration of Glenn Roberts, is a leader in the movement to revive heirloom grains. Anson Mills has brought back traditional varieties of wheat (including Einkorn), rye, oats, buckwheat, corn, and rice. For sourdough bread baking, I depend upon Anson Mills’ Red Fife Whole Wheat flour and Abruzzi Rye, as well as Fiddlers’ Green Farm’s Whole Wheat flour made from Dapps.19 You will find your own favorites, either at your local specialty store, or perhaps by trying some of the following sources:
Sources familiar to me:
Anson Mills, for a wide variety of heirloom grains that are stone-milled and hand-sifted. As mentioned, I like their Red Fife and Abruzzi Rye. www.ansonmills.com 803-467-4122
Fiddler’s Green Farm, for Whole Wheat Bread Flours from Dapps, a wheat flour particularly good for
sourdough bread. www.fiddlersgreenfarm.com 800-729-7935
King Arthur Flour, for First Clear, a high-ash flour well-suited for feeding and growing sourdough starter.
King Arthur is also a good source of baking supplies. www.kingarthurflour.com 800-827-6836
Other sources recommended by Maria Speck in Ancient Grains for Modern Meals include:
Bob’s Red Mill, www.bobsredmill.com 800-349-2173
Arrowhead Mills, www.arrowheadmills.com 800-434-4246
Bluebird Grain Farms, www.bluebirdgrainfarms.com 888-232-0331
Wild Hive Farm, www.wildhivefarm.com 845-266-5863
Gustiamo, www.gustiamo.com 877-907-2525
Alter Eco, www.altereco-usa.com 866-972-6879
Enjoy exploring these websites for a variety of eating pleasures. Most offer gluten-free grains like the delicious black quinoa from Alter Eco. If you wish to stay away from gluten and want to explore alternative grains, there are many to enjoy from this list.
Cookbooks Featuring Grains…
Whole grains are the most economical source of energy and, if processed with care, are a rich source of B vitamins, vitamin E, and minerals such as magnesium, zinc, potassium, iron, as well as calcium, phosphorus, copper, and selenium. Some cookbooks to try…
Barbara Grunes and Virginia Van Vynckt, All-American Waves of Grain
Joanne Saltzman, Amazing Grains
Maria Speck, Ancient Grains for Modern Meals
Rebecca Wood, The Splendid Grain
Traditional Bread Baking—A Note on Sourdough, the Time-Tested Way of Preparing Wheat Flour:
Long before modern science, traditional cultures seemed to appreciate the magic wrought by using a soaking/souring medium combined with patience and time. They relied upon sourdough as a leavening agent to enhance taste and digestibility and to act as a preservative. Science now confirms much of what our forebears seemed to know intuitively. Sourdough:
- boosts lysine, an essential amino acid, to make wheat flour a complete protein;
- diffuses phytic acid, which is a nutrient and enzyme blocker;
- reduces the glycemic effect of wheat flour, since the yeasts and bacteria in sourdough consume much of the carbohydrate that can otherwise spike blood sugar;
- enhances flavor and texture; and
- acts as natural preservative.
In addition, research on sourdough and celiac disease suggest that soaking with sourdough may neutralize the chain of peptides associated with gliadin proteins that are linked to celiac disease.20
In exchange for a donation to Island Grown Schools, I offer sourdough bread baking classes on Martha’s Vineyard. Baking sourdough bread is a skill taught me some years ago by my good friend Ellen Arian, www.ellensfoodandsoul.com . My habit of baking and eating sourdough makes me truly appreciate why bread is “the staff of life.” I plan to write more about sourdough, the subject of my dissertation, which I may write as a newsletter, or at least on the “Slow Food” section/Recipe tab of my website.
Copyright 2012 and 2014 Pathways4Health.
- Refined flour, two simple glucose molecules, is broken down by the body more rapidly than sugar, a more complex molecule of glucose and fructose, to foster insulin resistance. [↩]
- JD McClelland, The Grain Divide [↩]
- Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods, 481. [↩]
- “Starches that are high in amylopectin are digested and absorbed more quickly than starches with a high amylose content and produce larger postprandial glucose and insulin responses.” See Bynes, Miller, and Denyer, “Amylopectin Starch Promotes the Development of Insulin Resistance in Rats.” [↩]
- See William Davis, M.D., Wheat Belly, particularly page 38. [↩]
- As pointed out in The Daily Lipid, “Wheat Belly—the Toll of Hubris on Human Health,” refined flour is often “chemically deamidated, to mimic the inflammatory process within the intestines of a elCiac patient.” [↩]
- See http://pathways4health.org/2009/07/01/julyaugust-2009-fermenting/ and http://pathways4health.org/2011/12/20/janfeb-2012-vitamin-d-in-winter-and-throughout-the-year/ [↩]
- See http://pathways4health.org/2011/07/23/managing-inflammation/ [↩]
- Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, Gut and Psychology Syndrome. [↩]
- Ben Atlas, “From Einkorn to the Mutant Dwarf Wheat on Your Table.” [↩]
- Derived from Stallkneckht, Gilbertson, and Ranney, “Alternative Wheat Cereals as Food Grins: Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt, Kamut, and Triticale.” I have also included rye, not a wheat, of course, but to show its simply structure and its link to triticale. [↩]
- Stallkneckht, Gilbertson, and Ranney. [↩]
- Katherine Czapp, “Against the Grain,” 2,3. [↩]
- PR Shewry, NG Halford, PS Belton, AS Tatham, “The Structure and Properties of Gluten: An Elastic Protein from Wheat Grain,” qtd. in Davis, 38. [↩]
- http://pathways4health.org/2010/04/11/foods-as-systems-physics-fractals-and-food/ [↩]
- Dr. William Davis, Wheat Belly, 39. [↩]
- Aaron Bobrow-Strain, White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf. [↩]
- Czapp, 5,6. [↩]
- Dapps is a conventional-height, hard red spring wheat, a cross between Kitt, Amidon, Grandin, and Stoa, grown in North Dakota. Red Fife dates back to 1840 when David Fife brought it from Scotland to Canada. [↩]
- R. DiCagno, et Al. “Sourdough bread made from wheat and non-toxi flours and started with selected lactobacilli is tolerated in celiac sprue patients,” AEM, Februrary, 2004, 1088-1096, 70:2, qtd. in Czapp. [↩]