The Myths about Wheat

  • 13 Mar 2015
  • Reading time 11 mins
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The ‘convention’ is that wheat, and whole grains, should be a major part of our diet and that a small fraction of people, one in three thousand, are intolerant to a protein in wheat called gluten (coeliac disease).

Every part of this sentence is wrong and I’d like to explain why. Firstly, the wheat you eat today bears little resemblance to the wheat mankind has eaten for thousands of years. Not surprisingly, for reasons that will become clear, many of us do badly on this food, with varying degrees of intolerance.

It is now clear that coeliac disease, which can be fatal, is much more common than thought, and on the increase, and affects something like one in a hundred people. It is vastly under-diagnosed, with the average length of time to diagnosis taking 11 years! The first manifesting symptoms are not uncommonly depression (not all sufferers originally report gut problems) or gastrointestinal cancer, by which time it is often too late. One in ten coeliacs go undiagnosed.

Now the medical journals are finally starting to acknowledge the existence of ‘non-coeliac wheat sensitivity’. Common symptoms include bloating and abdominal weight gain, depression and other forms of mental illness, eczema, asthma, aching joints, headaches, sinus problems, IBS and various digestive problems, carb cravings and chronic fatigue. If you suffer from any of these you need to take the possibility of wheat intolerance seriously.

While many so-called experts have often dismissed these apparent signs of wheat intolerance recent research has found distinct evidence that non-coeliacs with wheat sensitivity actually do have immune reactions to wheat, with increased antibodies against wheat (both IgG and IgA), both in their gut and bloodstream. Yorktest.com offer a home test kit for IgG antibody sensitivity and there’s a Coeliac test kit you can buy that measures IgATT, which is the specific antibody, the presence of which means you have coeliac disease.

One very likely reason for this ever growing problem, which I estimate affects between one in ten and one in four people, is that the wheat we eat today, which in some products has a higher glycemic index (GI) than white sugar, bears little resemblance to the wheat mankind has eaten for thousands of years.

The history of wheat

One of the first wheat varieties our ancestors ate, going back to 3300BC, was called ‘einkorn’. It’s in a very simple category of wheat genetically speaking called diploids (having one set or pair of chromosomes from each parent), with a total of only 14 chromosomes. Shortly after it began to be cultivated, it mated, so to speak, with ‘goatgrass’ giving rise to a more complex wheat category called tetratploids (2 sets or pairs of chromosomes from each parent) with a total of 28 chromosomes. In this category we find durum (normally used for pasta) and the ancient grains, known as ‘emmer’ and ‘khorosan’ (Triticum Turgidum) wheat, now sold under the trademark of Kamut. That is what mankind basically ate for the next few thousand years. For example, Einkorn was found in the pharaoh’s tombs while emmer and Khorasan were eaten by ancient civilizations originating in Mesopotamia. The ancient Kamut brand khorasan wheat is the only wheat I like to eat and comes down to us unchanged from ancient times. (The Kamut trademark is a guarantee that this wheat is 99.9% ancient grain and also exclusively grown organically in much the same way it would have been cultivated thousands of years ago.)

At some point tetraploid wheat mated with a grass called Triticum tauschii to form Triticum aestivum, a category of wheat known as hexiploids (3 sets or pairs of chromosomes from each parent) with a total of 42 chromosomes. Examples of wheat known today in this group are spelt, and its close cousin vulgare which is common bread wheat. However, the original bread wheat is fundamentally different to the modern bread wheat you are likely to eat today. The modern wheat has undergone thousands of hybridisations to increase yield (making the wheat plentiful and cheap), and also to increase and change the quality of the gluten content. (The change in this gluten, the sticky protein in wheat that allows baked products to rise when activated with yeast, has made it possible for bread to rise more thereby producing more loaves of bread with the same amount of wheat which is commercially extremely profitable). This explains why today’s wheat has a whole lot of gluten proteins that were never present in original wheat strains. In one hybridisation experiment 14 new gluten proteins were identified. Now imagine what the chemical difference is when today’s wheat has been through thousands of hybridisations? It has been extremely modified or changed for reasons of profit rather than health. This madness is now continuing at a new level as biotech companies strive to create and then introduce strains of GMO wheat that can both be patented and compatible with specific pesticides and chemical treatments. The net result, even before GMO wheat is perfected and introduced, is that the gluten proteins in today’s wheat are substantially different to the gluten proteins as well as other compounds found in the earliest forms of wheat, such as Kamut khorasan.

The two main families of gluten proteins are called ‘gliadins’ and ‘glutenins’. Oats, for example, contain no gliadins and, probably consequently, are a much less allergenic food. A particular form of gliadin, called alpha-gliadin, inflames the intestine, causing abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. Gliadin is particularly tricky because it has a unique ability to get through the intestinal wall. It triggers the release of a protein called zonulin, which literally opens up gaps between the intestinal cells, increasing gastrointestinal permeability. This, in turn, means whole food proteins can cross the gut barrier, triggering the immune system to react, which is the basis for developing food intolerances. Good allergy testing laboratories, such as Yorktest, measure the presence of not only IgG antibodies to a wide variety of foods, which means ......

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