Wheat is everywhere and in everything. There is no food store that doesn’t have at least several isles with foods containing wheat!
In my practice, it’s interesting to observe the reactions people have when we talk about wheat and I recommend to eliminate it from their diet. I often get answers like:
– “I can’t do that, I’m too attached to my bread and my whole family eats it!” (addiction)
– “I don’t think I really have a problem with wheat!” (denial)
– “What if I reduce my intake and buy organic?” (negotiation)
So what is behind this food and its voracious consumption?
The Fluffy White Bread
You've probably been a consumer of this type of bread. Most of us were at some times of our lives, and many still are! But it’s time to face reality. White, fluffy breads and pastries are a result of significantly altering modern wheat, while no questions have been asked about whether those man-made changes are compatible with human health.
Modern commercial wheat production techniques are designed to deliver features such as increased yield, decreased production costs, and large-scale production of a consistent commodity; another cheap and profit-making man-made food to feed to the masses.
The sad reality is that people have become accustomed to the mass-produced, gooey, devitalized, and nutritionally deficient breads and baked goods that are sold today in stores, and they have little recollection of how real bread should taste. Chemical preservatives allow bread to be shipped long distances and to remain on the shelf for many days without spoiling and without refrigeration.
Flour was originally produced by grinding grains between large stones. The final product, 100 percent stone-ground whole-wheat flour, contained everything that was in the grain, including the germ, fiber, starch and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Since grinding stones are not fast enough for mass-production, the industry uses high-speed, steel roller mills that eject the germ and the bran. High-speed mills reach 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and this heat destroys vital nutrients and creates rancidity in the bran and the germ. Dozens of dough conditioners and preservatives go into modern bread, as well as toxic ingredients like partially hydrogenated vegetable oils and soy flour. (2)
When grown in well-nourished, fertile soil, whole wheat is rich in vitamin E and B complex, many minerals, including calcium and iron, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Proper growing and milling methods are necessary to preserve these nutrients and prevent rancidity. Unfortunately, due to the indiscretions inflicted by contemporary farming and processing on modern wheat, many people have become intolerant or even allergic to this nourishing grain. These indiscretions include depletion of the soil through the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals, high-heat milling, refining and improper preparation, such as extrusion.(2)
The pesticides used function as xenoestrogens, foreign estrogen that disrupt hormonal balance and may be a contributing factor to a number of health conditions. Cycocel is a synthetic hormone that is commonly applied to wheat. Add to all this irradiation to control insects and genetical manipulation to achieve “desirable” changes, such as regulated germination and an increased ability to survive in cold weather. Heat damage is also a serious problem that results in denaturation of the protein in grains.
The Whole Grain Bread
So you moved on, haven’t you? Whole grain is better. Or not? Commercial varieties are still quite “fluffy” due to all the gluten and additives. Pesticides on the grains are still present. Many times caramel is used to give breads a “natural whole grain” dark color and so hide the actual low quality, processed product. Germ and fiber are present (if your producer is honest and doesn’t color his bread artificially), but it’s still not enough to make it a decent food, not even close!
Did you know that whole grain bread has a higher glycemic index of 72 than sucrose (table sugar) at 59? That doesn’t mean you can eat sugar instead but it just gives you an idea of how “healthy” whole grain bread actually is. And why is this so important? The higher the blood glucose after consumption of high glycemic food, the greater the insulin level and so the more fat is deposited. Blood sugar regulation involves the participation of more elements of metabolism than any other function in the body. When the diet fails to maintain blood sugar within an optimal range, the hormonal system must compensate. This can lead to endocrine exhaustion (particularly adrenal) and a whole host of serious of health issues, including cancer, diabetes, arthritis, anxiety and depression.
How about fiber I hear you say? In reality, you can get far more fiber from vegetables and raw nuts. For example, two slices of bread containing 138 calories replaced by the equivalent of almonds or walnuts (approximately 24 nuts) will match or exceed the 3.9 grams of fiber from the bread.
Organic Makes The Difference?
Now that you feel more educated about the matter, you go shop for your breads at the health food stores and look for the “organic” labels. You feel safe now, you avoided the bad parts. Or not? In reality, you still have a long way to go. The only thing that is better with this kind of bread is that it lacks the pesticides and most of the harmful additives in conventional breads.
But phytic acid is a real problem with all such commercially available breads, since this interferes with mineral absorption like zinc, calcium and iron. Phytic acid contained by grains gets reduced only by germination (sprouting) of the grain or by fermentation as it’s used in sourdough breads.
Sprouted Wheat: Now You're Talking! Yes?
Theoretically and generally speaking, yes, using sprouted wheat is a big step forward. Most sprouted bread varieties are also organic and so you can now avoid pesticides, harmful additives, extra starches and phytic acid, which is substantially reduced through sprouting.
Additionally, people with gluten sensitivities will still feel the negative effects of sprouted wheat.
And how about if you are not gluten reactive or allergic? People with neurological inflammation (like ADHD and autism) and people with disfunctions in the the gastrointestinal system will still have to suffer. This is because the negative effects including the ones that affect the nervous system(through the opioid effect that wheat has) have nothing to do with the immune system, which is involved when we talk about reactivities and allergies.
Einkorn and Emmer: Two Brothers?
Botanists have identified almost 30,000 varieties of wheat. But with the advent of modern farming, the number of varieties of wheat in common use has been drastically reduced. Today, just a few varieties account for 90 percent of the wheat grown in the world.
Einkorn is the great-granddaddy of all subsequent wheat. It has the simplest genetic code of all wheat, containing only 14 chromosomes. Circa 3300 BC, hardy, cold-tolerant einkorn wheat was a popular grain in Europe. Einkorn and its evolutionary successor emmer wheat remained popular for several thousand years, despite their relatively poor yield and less desirable baking characteristics compared to modern wheat. Over time, the higher yielding and more baking compatible Triticum aestivum species gradually overshadowed its parents einkorn and emmer.
Today, einkorn, emmer and the original wild and cultivated strains of Triticum aestivum have been replaced by thousands of modern human-bred offspring of Triticum aestivum, Triticum durum (pasta) and Triticum compactum (very fine flour to make cupcakes and other baking products).
In the hybridization process, the gluten wheat protein goes through a significant structural change. This way the modern species, compared to the ancient ones, present a bigger quantity of genes for the gluten protein which are related to celiac disease. This doubled in the last 20 years and becomes more difficult to diagnose.
Research has shown that modern wheat presents low levels of zinc, iron, copper, and magnesium compared to ancient varieties. Similar trends have been found for phosphorus, manganese, sulfur, and calcium. Even for wheat grown in parallel during the same years, regardless of fertilizer, semi-dwarf whole wheat had 18-29 percent lower mineral content than traditional whole wheat. The phytate content didn’t decline as much as the mineral content, so the minerals in semi-dwarf whole wheat are not only fewer and far between but probably less bio-available as well.
Eliminate Wheat Altogether?
Wheat triggers a cycle of insulin driven satiety and hunger, paralleled by the ups and downs of euphoria and withdrawal, distortions in neurological function, and addictive effects, all leading to fat deposition. William Davis, MD
“But it tastes so good!!” If you’re an avid or even regular wheat bread eater, you might say this a lot. The addictive characteristics of wheat expressed through uncontrollable cravings and “obsessions” are generated by substances with a narcotic effect – opioids contained in wheat. They don’t have anything to do with the gluten in this grain, but with the exorphins, a specific class of opioid peptides, resulted after digestion of wheat.
Considering all this, a big question arises now:
If we talk organic, sprouted wheat or sourdough, if we talk Einkorn wheat, are these good for me and my unique metabolism?
Over thirty years of research and clinical study in metabolic individuality helped us understand today that the answer is genetic. If our genes are like the indigenous Swiss, then grains are not bad for us and we can thrive on them. But if we have genes like the Eskimo, then we’ll feel terrible on a high carb diet even if it is organic, whole, natural food and we may even develop cancer, diabetes, arthritis by eating that kind of diet. But the reverse is also true. If we have genes like the high carb eating Quechuas – 80% primarily from potatoes, wheat, corn, quinoa, barley, then omitting grains and eating like the Eskimo will be devastating.
In an era where we literary live in a “genetic melting pot”, where different cultures coalesce, the concept of metabolic individuality or variation becomes more important than ever.
In conclusion, modern dwarf and semi-dwarf wheat should not be consumed as a major portion of the diet, even as a “healthy whole grain.” Either wheat itself, the way it is processed, the way we mix it with other foods, or our sensitivity to it has changed over time. Many people today are very reactive to either modern wheat and/or gluten, the pesticides non-organic wheat contains, and wheat products that are improperly prepared, without reducing phytic acid content. But to the end of it,it comes to the individual requirements for nutrition to decide how much one metabolism is affected by wheat and how important it is to eliminate it from the diet.
Safe and Healthy Ways to Consume Grains
Considering our modern clinical reality, I have now a set of general rules that I recommend to be followed, in order to minimize negative effects of grain consumption:
1. Learn about and experiment with ancient grains like: einkorn, quinoa, amaranth, spelt, kamut, teff, buckwheat, millet. These haven’t undergone the “insult” that other grains like wheat have, as far as processing and manipulation. Choose organic and sprouted varieties.
2. If you suspect you have negative reactions to gluten, and you can’t test to know for sure, it’s better to avoid it completely. Most of the times you will do a benefit to your body.
3. If you want to still use wheat, ideally, you should buy the einkorn type of wheat and/or organic whole wheat berries, sprout them and grind them fresh to make fresh flour and home-made breads and other baked goods. Or you can buy ready made, organic sprouted flour! Sprouted flour also taste so much better than regular flour in my opinion.
4. If you do not make your own bread, there are ready made alternatives available. Look for organic sourdough or sprouted breads freshly baked or in the freezer compartment of your market or health food store.
5. Sprouting, soaking and genuine sourdough leavening “pre-digests” grains, allowing the nutrients to be more easily assimilated and metabolized. This is an age-old approach practiced in most traditional cultures. Sprouting begins germination, which increases the enzymatic activity in foods, inactivates substances called enzyme inhibitors and neutralizes phytic acid, a component of plant fiber found in the bran and hulls of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds that reduces mineral absorption.
Remember, there is no “bad” or “good” food, unless it’s “bad” or “good” for your unique metabolism and your individual genetic requirements for nutrition. But when we talk about processed food, including commercial processed wheat breads, then there is no “good” for you, no matter how hard you're looking for it.