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These Ain’t the Same Grains!

by Sean Croxton

Last night, I cracked open my copy of Wheat Belly by next Tuesday’s Underground Wellness Radio guest Dr. William Davis. I’ll admit that after reading hundreds of health-related books, I’m becoming quite the book snob. If the author can’t get my attention within the first ten pages, I’m done. Moving on!

Wheat Belly had me hooked from page one. This guy can write! The information is scientifically backed, written in plain English, and absolutely spot-on. I even let out a giggle here and there. Can’t wait for our interview!

You know a book is good when you’re carrying it around the house with you – which is exactly what I was doing around dinner time. While cooking up a lamb burger (no bun), I recommended Dr. Davis’s book to my very fitness-minded roommate Jennifer. She and I have talked about the evils of grains several times before. Despite our discussions, she’s still not sold.

It’s cool. She’ll come around. :)

To her credit, my roomy brandished what I consider to be the most powerful dogma-defeating weaponry in the entire arsenal: logic.

When confronted with the erroneous misgivings of saturated fat and cholesterol by Real Food skeptics, I routinely respond by wondering aloud how an old school food (or nutrient) can cause brand new diseases. To her credit, Jennifer threw that very same logic right back at me. She wondered how grains – which have been around for at least ten thousand years – can all of a sudden cause so many health problems.

How can something that The Bible refers to as The Staff of Life be the source of so much modern illness? Didn’t God nourish the Israelites with the bread (manna) from Heaven? Well, according to gluten expert Dr. Thomas O’Bryan, seven out of ten people are sensitive to gluten, the toxic protein found in most grains! Were the Israelites somehow exempt from gluten’s wrath? Or was the all-knowing God just a little behind on his research?

The truth is that we are not eating the same grains that Moses may have snacked on as he hiked up Mount Sinai. In fact, we’re not even eating the same grains our grandparents ate! In just a mere 50 years, grains – wheat, in particular – have become a mutant species crafted by the hands of human intervention in the name of increased crop yields, resistance to drought, disease, and heat, as well as an end to world hunger – all of which are honorable causes and tremendous scientific achievements. However, the accelerated evolution of wheat through hybridization – a feat that would make Gregor Mendel proud – has been to the detriment of human health.

To understand how wheat has gone from a comparatively innocent wild grass to what the New England Journal of Medicine recently declared the cause of 55 diseases, we have to go back.

Way back.

Its origins dating back to the year 8500 BC, modern wheat’s eldest ancestor einkorn grew wild in what we now call the Middle East. The Natufians – a semi-nomadic tribe – harvested the wild grain and may have been the first to store its seeds and cultivate it.

This ancient form of wheat was nothing you’d want to bake with, as its genetic makeup was fairly simple with only 14 chromosomes and very poor pliability. In other words, even if the Natufians knew how to bake bran muffins, they would have turned out flat and crumply. Instead, einkorn was ground by hand and served as a porridge.

After a rather long monogamous existence, the now-cultivated einkorn got itself a girlfriend – goatgrass – and made a baby. They named it emmer. According to Dr. Davis, “plants such as wheat have the ability to retain the sum of the genes of their forbears.” The 12 chromosomes of goatgrass combined with einkorn’s dozen, making for a more complex emmer plant containing a total of 24 chromosomes. For thousands of years, einkorn and emmer went unchallenged as the most popular forms of wheat. The latter is likely the grain referred to in biblical texts.

Due to their poor baking characteristics, chances are your lips have never touched either of these ancient crops.

You’re eating something else.

At some point – likely just before Biblical times – emmer wheat hooked up with another grass, Triticum tauschii, and made a 42-chromosome baby named Triticum aestivum, genetically closest to what we call wheat. (Davis, 20) Due to its genetic complexity, this heir to the wheat throne was more bakery-friendly than its predecessors.

For many centuries, Triticum aestivum went fairly unchanged. That is, until science recently caught up to it and elected to exploit its “genetic pliability” to develop literally thousands of varieties – only 5 varieties existed in the mid-18th century.

As mentioned earlier, while the reasons for altering wheat strains through man-made intervention is both understandable and commendable, no studies were ever conducted to confirm their safety when consumed by humans. It was assumed that wheat was, well, just wheat. This, too, is understandable – in my opinion – since the research on gluten-related illness was in its infancy at the time.

To understand just how much wheat has changed in just a mere half-century, I suggest you put your thinking cap on, and let Dr. Davis preach the gluten-free gospel!

“The gluten proteins produced by einkorn wheat, for example, are distinct from the gluten proteins of emmer, which are, in turn, different from the gluten proteins of Triticum aestivum. Because fourteen-chromosome einkorn, containing the so-called A genome (set of genes), has the smallest chromosomal set, it codes for the fewest number and variety of glutens. Twenty-eight chromosome emmer, containing the A genome with the added B genome, codes for a larger variety of gluten. Forty-two-chromosome Triticum aestivum, with the A, B, D genomes, has the greatest gluten variety, even before any human manipulation of its breeding.

“Hybridization efforts of the past fifty years have generated numerous additional changes in gluten-coding genes in Triticum aestivum, most of them purposeful modifications of the D genome that confer baking and aesthetic characteristics of flour. Indeed, genes located in the D genome are those most frequently pinpointed as the source of glutens that trigger celiac disease.

“It is therefore the D genome of modern Triticum 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.” (emphasis is mine)

In other words, today’s wheat contains more destructive gluten than ever before. We have derailed Mother Nature’s natural order and seemingly created the trans fats of the grain family, trading our health for better baking.

But as Dr. Davis acknowledges, it’s not your fault.

Tune in tomorrow when we’ll discuss how the government’s recommendation to eat more whole grains has been a disaster, and how a slice of whole wheat bread may be worse than consuming table sugar.

I’m out.

Good talk, Jennifer.

Sean
Host, The Thyroid Sessions
The Thyroid Sessions

Comments

comments

20 thoughts on “These Ain’t the Same Grains!

  1. Diane @ Balanced Bites

    Imagine how destructive the high-gluten flours are based on how much higher the gluten content in REGULAR flours are today than decades ago? That’s what my dad had been using for the last 10 years to make pizza dough and bagels. Ugh. Now his gall bladder is gone and I found out he’s on blood pressure meds. At least he made a realization last night at the dinner table when I talked about fructose that he should reduce his sugar intake to help out his liver… and my parents are probably mostly gluten-free now- much to my dad’s (the skillfully crafted baker) dismay.

    Looking forward to the show, Sean. :)

    D

  2. Darren-Acupuncture Points

    Good article Sean. I was diagnose as sensitive to gluten earlier this year and I am so glad I caught it. I like everyone else thought my sleepiness and fatigue after eating pizza was the “itis” and nothing more until I was diagnosed. It has made a world of difference knowing that there was an underlying cause… I am now on quest to see if my gut has been affected by it. On a different note, I keep educating people to the dangers of baked goods and breads… more notably how it makes them fat and retain weight.

  3. Josh Frey-Vitamin Source

    I might have to pick up this book. I basically stay away from grains, but considering I don’t seem to have a noticeable adverse reaction to them, I’ll still eat them when it’s convenient (we’re having shrimp and garden-vegetable tacos tonight!), because sometimes making substitutes seems like most trouble than it’s worth.

    I’ll definitely tune in for the interview though. Maybe I’ll be convinced to spend some extra time in the kitchen to get that last 5% out of my diet.

    Keep up the good work Sean!

    Josh

  4. Peter

    Gluten is literally glue. Why on earth would I want to put glue in my mouth?!
    Also don’t forget about it being alcohol soluble. Jesus told us to eat bread with wine. I believe that the bad digestibility of gluten and casein is responsible for the rise of alcohol as a digestif in western cultures.

  5. Brendan

    I heard this guy on Robb Wolf’s podcast, I’ve gotta get this book, sounds like he drops some serious truth bombs! Can’t wait for the show next week!

  6. Garland

    In the book, Dr. Davis talks about finding old wheat brought over from the Middle East and grown on a small farm somewhere in the Northeast US. He did some personal experiments to compare how his body reacted to that wheat vs. the stuff you can buy at the store. Find Wheat Belly on Facebook and post your question there. Dr. Davis is very good about responding to most posts.

  7. Yuzo Yamada

    Sean,

    So can you give us a good estimate as to when your book will come out?? I’ve been waiting patiently for so long now and I’m about to EXPLODE!

  8. Annette

    Just listened to your podcast with dr Davis. I must get this book. My son was born with eczema. I was given steroid cream and told it would go away by age 4. Well, as he grew eczema covered more and more of his skin. By age 4 he was 90% covered with no signs of healing. Anyway, we took wheat out of our diet and within 24 hours his eczema was nearly gone (hubs also lost 20lb and many annoying digestive issues). That was 3 hrs ago. Everytime school starts he breaks out a bit on his arms. Thinking this must be from contact in the lunch room. Anyway awesome show.

  9. William

    You can tell your roomie that 10 000 years is a blink on the evolutionary scale!! We’ve been around for milions of years!

  10. Kate

    Italians still eat emmer (farro), it’s in every supermarket. I didn’t realize what it was until I read the first chapter of Wheat Belly last night! I’m not sure how widespread its use is in the average Italian’s diet, but it’s easy to buy here, and easy to prepare. (I cooked it like rice, and it was delicious! Recipe was in “Everyday Italian” cookbook, by Giada DiLaurentis.) I’ll miss it when I move back home to the states. :-(

  11. Kelly

    I’d just like to know why the distinction isn’t made that it’s modern wheat that some people have issues with?

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