Is wheat the culprit?

Leavened loaves of bread. "FD 1" by Original uploader was Klaus Höpfner at de.wikipedia(Original text : Helge Höpfner) - Transfered from de.wikipedia(Original text : Fotoarchiv Höpfner). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FD_1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:FD_1.jpg
Leavened loaves of bread. “FD 1” by Original uploader was Klaus Höpfner at de.wikipedia(Original text : Helge Höpfner) – Transfered from de.wikipedia(Original text : Fotoarchiv Höpfner). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FD_1.jpg#mediaviewer/File:FD_1.jpg

 

Wheat has a bad reputation right now, and it’s getting worse. Websites like “Wheat Belly” claim that modern wheat is intrinsically a problematic food. Gluten-free products have been embraced by movie stars and are now widely available in markets and restaurants. Having grappled many years with wheat problems, I have a few thoughts on the supposed evils of gluten.

Note: I do not have classic celiac disease, nor does my son. Instead, following our illness ten years ago with human parvovirus B19, we recovered to find the parvo had left us with a wheat sensitivity that caused our muscles and joints to ache painfully within hours of eating wheat. Since both of us have identical symptoms, this probably indicates a shared mystery-gene being activated by the parvo.

1. Claim: ancient heirloom wheats such as einkorn and emmer are supposedly safer than modern hybrid mutant varieties. Not so, in my experience. I sent off for a bag of einkorn flour and made a loaf of bread from it. Terrible body aches followed.  Interestingly, when I interviewed a man who grows his own wheat and bakes his own bread, he sent me home with half a loaf that was freshly milled and baked from the modern grain he grew in his garden. I ate the whole thing without even a twinge.

2. Claim: wheat is intrinsically bad for us. If so, then mankind has been poisoning itself for ten thousand years. Wheat is undoubtedly more wholesome than the majority of GF foods in terms of nutrition. Corn- and tapioca- based GF pastas and breads are almost devoid of nutritional value and are by no means “health food.” Those who seek better health by eating GF products should be aware that many such foods are virtually all starch and contain minimal amounts of vitamins.

3. Claim: wheat sensitivities and celiac are skyrocketing in the population. This is not necessarily the case. I have personally seen an 1835 American cookery book that includes recipes for rice bread intended for infants and “those unable to eat wheat.” Obviously, problems with wheat were already recognized at that early time.

4. Claim: the problem is not the wheat, but the speed at which the yeast rises. Supposedly, old-style slow-rise sourdoughs are better for us than commercially-forced fast yeasts because they lack high amounts of gliaden and vital wheat gluten. That said, for years I baked my own sourdough, and it inflamed my joints anyway.

I’m not a scientist but judging solely from my own experience I offer two hypotheses.

Hypothesis 1: because I was able to eat the freshly-milled loaf that I was given by the man I interviewed, problems with wheat are perhaps caused by not using freshly milled flour at the time of baking. Perhaps flour in the bag oxidizes and/or develops toxic micro-fungi or bacteria as it sits on the shelf waiting to be used. That would explain why my own homemade sourdough bread caused joint pain: I used commercial flour.  Who knows how long that flour had been sitting in its bag? The fact is, the freshly-milled bread did not cause any problem.

Hypothesis 2: The growing number of people who have wheat problems might be not be due to an inherent problem with wheat itself. Instead it might be due to autoimmune problems triggered by an infection, like my own experience with parvovirus. Autoimmune illness forces the body to attack its own tissues, including the digestive tract, and such disorders are increasing in number. Instead of wheat being the causal agent in illness, it could be that autoimmune illness causes the problem with the wheat.

More research is obviously needed for the wellbeing of millions of people. Do any readers have feedback about my two hypotheses (freshness of flour, and/or autoimmune disease)?

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6 thoughts on “Is wheat the culprit?”

  1. It was interesting to hear that you couldn’t eat wheat after contracting parvo. I didn’t know other diseases could induce it, which seems silly since my wheat intolerance came on due to systemic candidiasis. It’s caused by too many antibiotics killing your good intestinal flora, allowing the candida yeast to turn into a fungus and lead to all sorts of problems.

    So, to add to your hypothesis, I’d say the overuse of antibiotics contributes to an increase in wheat intolerances. The increased availability of doctors in many parts of the world also increases the likelihood that someone will be diagnosed as wheat intolerant or allergic.

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    1. It sounds quite reasonable that antibiotics could be one of the causes of wheat intolerance. After all, not all wheat intolerances are the same (this generally gets overlooked in the “blame wheat” articles). Best wishes to you for a full recovery! Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

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  2. I’ve been looking at my canister of old, good flour, but my own suspicions about freshness will cause me to throw it out. I don’t do much baking, so I should just get a mini bag when I want to bake a loaf, but then I’m eating less bread. It’s an important subject, so thanks for addressing it. Also, what do you know about European strains of wheat.

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    1. If you’re not having any adverse effects from eating wheat, there’s no need to worry. But that said, it’s always best to use fresh flour when baking, rather than old flour. You can smell the difference: one is fresh and toothsome while the other has rancid overtones.

      I don’t know much about modern European wheat breeds, but they’re probably very similar to American commercial varieties. Europeans do tend to use more of the old heirloom varieties, which are often employed in Italian baking. These include einkorn, emmer, spelt, and farro, and you can learn more at http://nourishedkitchen.com/good-questions-einkorn-spelt-heirloom-wheat-ancient-grains/.

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  3. Thanks for the info, Carrol. I’ve been wondering if I should eliminate wheat from my diet…but it’s not pain…it’s pounds!! I’ve gained more weight in the past year than ever before in my life and I surely would like to shead some.

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    1. Although it goes counter to the official food pyramid, I have found that when I eliminate ALL grains and simple carbs, leaving meat, veggies, nuts and fruit, i lose weight. Atkins and the Paleo capitalize on this tendency that many people have.
      Thanks for reading!
      Carrol

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