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)?