So let’s start off with a question: Did Gramma eat wheat in her day?
If we were to travel back to the 1900’s you would find that people in the United States ate quite a variety of foods. According to Feeding America a typical Sunday menu would look something like this:
- Breakfast Melons, sago, vegetable hash, broiled veal cutlets, fried tomatoes, coffee
- Dinner Broiled prairie chicken, baked sweet potatoes, green corn, cauliflower, plum sauce, cabbage salad, peach pyramid, ice cream, coffee
- Lunch Sliced ham, biscuit, baked pears, cake, tea (1)
Spring of 1908
- Breakfast Grape Fruit, Cereal, French Omelet, Rice Cakes, Maple Syrup, Coffee
- Dinner Oysters on the Half Shell, Olives, Radishes, Roast Veal with Dressing, Mashed Potatoes, Fried Egg Plant, Endive Salad, Rhubarb Pie, Cheese, Black Coffee
- Supper Baked Bean Salad, Devilled Eggs, Whole Wheat Bread and Butter, Lady Baltimore Cake, Custard, Tea (2)
Did people suffer from Celiac Disease or Gluten-Sensitivity back then? Were there possibly less sensitive diagnosis tools than today? Were they just eating much less gluten-containing grains & wheat than today? Somewhere between now & then gluten became an issue. What changed?
Why so much controversy?
There are 2 different ‘warring’ camps when it comes to the belief in whether humans should consume ‘grains’, especially wheat, rye & barley or not. I won’t take too much time talking about this because all you have to do is get on the internet, put ‘gluten’ in your search bar and you can spend days and days and days reading articles against the human consumption of gluten-containing grains and wheat in particular.
But I’ve asked myself many times ‘why didn’t societies throughout the ages suffer from celiac and gluten sensitivities? What changed? And during my lifetime, within about 50 years?
There are all sorts of explanations as to why we shouldn’t eat wheat. Most articles I’ve read state that humans have only been consuming wheat for a ‘relatively short period of time’. Part of the belief is based on the theory that humans evolved over millions and millions of years. And even though I am not in agreement with that belief, the relatively short period of time that humans have been consuming wheat is for at least 7-8,000 years! This ‘relatively short period of time’ should have been long enough to have developed diseases, such as Celiac or gluten sensitivity. But could there be more recent events that have contributed to an ‘adulterating’ of the original grain products contributing to this sudden rise in gluten sensitivity and Celiac disease??? Maybe so!
“In its over 8000-year history as a domesticated food, wheat continues to be the major grain consumed by humans, although it has not been the same wheat for all of those many centuries.”
“Modern wheat has had a very long history of hybridization, starting with ancestral grasses in the wild and also occurring naturally in farmers’ fields in antiquity.”
“Humans have continued the process chemically in the last century, and especially during the last 50 years in order to increase yields, resist fungal diseases and pest attacks, improve ease of mechanical harvesting and meet rigorous demands of industrial milling and mechanized baking methods.”
“It appears that recent forced and accelerated hybridizations have changed wheat nutritionally”.
“It is through the story of modern wheat’s pedigree…that some light can be shed upon gluten intolerance and celiac disease.” (3- italics added)
Has Celiac Disease & Gluten-Sensitivity Increased?
“Research studies in the United States and Europe show that celiac disease is significantly more common now than it was a few generations ago…this shift reflects an actual increase in prevalence, not merely a new awareness of the disease and more accurate diagnostic tools…blood samples collected 50 years ago from more than 9,000 young adults, mostly men…compared with current samples from age-matched men…celiac disease is four times more common today than a half-century ago. It’s far more probable that the increase is due to an environmental change, and the most likely factor is a change involving the grain in our diets,” Murray said. “Consumption of wheat has increased steadily over the past 50 years, but it still is less than what it was a century ago, so the issue is not simple consumption…more likely…the wheat itself…undergone extensive hybridization…dramatic changes during processing that involves oxidizers, new methods of yeasting, and other chemical processes. We have no idea what effect these changes may have on the immune system.” (4)
The History of Wheat…And Who Ate It? (4, 5)
First we’ll explore the history of wheat.
Triticum: There are 3 related groups within the Triticum species of wheat: Einkorn, Emmer and Spelt.
The Einkorn group is classified by plant geneticists as a diploid. Their DNA contains two sets of chromosomes. Einkorn was cultivated until the last century in isolated regions of France, India, Italy, Turkey and Yugoslavia. Very nutritious and capable of cultivation even on the thin soil of the mountainsides.
A variant of wild Einkorn called Wild Emmer contains 4 sets of chromosomes and is classified as a tetraploid cereal. Wild Emmer wheat eventually gained in popularity due to its ability to thrive in more diverse environments. Emmer became the predominant wheat throughout the Near East and Far East, Europe, northern Africa, south-central Russia, Ethiopia and a minor crop in Italy and India.
Cereal geneticists theorized that Spelt, (T. spelta, a hexaploid wheat variant with 6 sets of chromosomes) eventually found its way to where T. tauschii, or goatgrass, was an indigenous species in southern Russia, western Iran and northern Iraq. Spelt, although an adaptable grain, was even more adaptable with the contributed characteristics of its wild grass parent, goatgrass.
Common bread wheat, T. aestivum, is a hexaploid as well (from the same ancestry as spelt). Requiring much less effort to remove the grain from the hull than Einkorn, Emmer or Spelt, this is the preferred wheat. In addition, the high gluten content of T. aestivum, made it an excellent choice for the development of leavened bread (believed to have originated in Egypt with its favorable wheat growing conditions).
At about the same time, Rye, a diploid grain closely related to wheat and barley, was gaining popularity among Slavic, Celts and Teutons people in the north. These areas had shorter, cooler growing seasons, making T. aestivum. not a suitable option in these regions.
Now this is where the story gets interesting!
As you know scientists have pretty recently been able to map the human genome. They have also isolated a small chain of peptides in wheat gluten, located on the third set of chromosomes, which the hexaploid variant inherited from their ‘wild’ parent. People with the HLA-DQ genes (more below) react to these peptides.
It is very interesting to note that neither the diploid grains nor the tetraploid grains contain this genetic material. Cultivated diploid einkorn, tetraploid emmer wheat, certain durum pasta wheats, durum variants such as T. turgidum or T. turanicum (brand name Kamut®) and T. polonicum (Polish wheat) do not contain this genetic material.) These ancestral grains have been shown to be superior to the modern hybrids in their mineral, vitamin, protein and fat content. The idea of reintroducing some of these wheat ancestors with greater diversity from the more commonly available varieties opens up exciting possibilities, however, caution is advised for those with celiac disease, wheat allergies and/or gluten intolerance. Additional constituents in the wheat varieties and/or their close relatives may yet to be identified as factors that may cause reaction in those sensitive to gluten or in Celiac patients. (3)
In people with Celiac disease, antibodies in the small intestine respond to the specific chain of peptides, gliadin, in the wheat protein by launching an attack on the ‘supposed enemy’. The continued attack creates chronic inflammation which leads to the destruction or flattening of the microvilli which are responsible for nutrient absorption. The genes for both Celiac and gluten sensitivity have been identified, (either the HLA-DQ2 or HLA-DQ8 for celiac disease. And these plus several other HLA-DQ genes increase the risk for non-celiac gluten sensitivity). These genes don’t determine if your body will consider gluten as a friend or a foe. But when the body has recognized gluten as a foe the immune system is tricked into recognizing other patterns of events mimicking a microbial infection.
Under what conditions, then, are the immune systems of many people with the pre-disposing HLA-DQ genes tricked into believing that gluten is a microbial invader? Being as no one knows exactly under which conditions the immune system is tricked into considering these peptides as foes the following have been considered possibilities:
- There may be an unidentified gene/s causing the immune system to think an undigested fragment of the gluten protein looks like a microbial invader
- Dysbiosis may be present in the gut (damaged gut flora) caused by antibiotics usage or eating foods that cannot be digested. Feeding infants grains before they are able to digest them thus increasing the risk of dysbiosis. Low-nutrient dense diets may interfere with the body’s ability to suppress immune cells capable of attacking harmless proteins.
Food Preparation & Celiac
But as we are awaiting the scientific community regarding whether people with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease will indeed be able to tolerate these old-new wheat varieties hope is not all lost! There may be another option! Why not try sour dough?
Did you know that Gramma was preparing her bread dough in such a way that even those with full-blown Celiac disease would probably have been able to tolerate it? That’s right. In a study entitled “Sour dough bread made from wheat and nontoxic flours and started with selected lactobacilli is tolerated in celiac sprue patients” scientists were able to do just that! (7)
What was Gramma doing? It has to do with fermentation, over a period of at least a 24 hour, but not using the conventional quick rising yeasts but rather the bacteria found naturally on the grain. (3, 7)
“Certain lactobacilli in a sourdough culture acting on wheat flour for a 24-hour period achieved nearly complete digestion of the peptides. When bread made with these species was fed to recovered celiac patients for two days, the patients showed no signs of increased intestinal permeability that were found among recovered celiac patients who consumed the same amount of regular bread over the same time period.”
“Ongoing research in cereal microbiology is investigating some preliminary evidence that the traditional sourdough method may also sever the bonds of the “toxic” peptides in wheat gluten responsible for the celiac reaction and neutralize them as well”. “Commercial baker’s yeast, on the other hand, is a monoculture of just one single variety of yeast, grown to be a consistently fast and vigorous replicator and producer of carbon dioxide, but incapable of developing grain flavors (the lactobacilli are best at that).
“Certain lactobacilli in a sourdough culture acting on wheat flour for a 24-hour period achieved nearly complete digestion of the peptides.”
This makes sense to me. How could people during thousands of years have been eating gluten-containing grains with impunity? Why are Celiac and Gluten-Sensitivity on the rise and especially during the last 50 years? Why are there still people eating gluten-containing grains & living into their 100’s? That takes us to the final point:
The finding of the Blue Zones
If you haven’t heard of the Blue Zones, here's a quick summary. Originally, four areas in the world were identified as areas where an exceptional number of people lived into the hundreds. Circled in blue on a map, they were labeled ‘Blue Zones’. When their diets were examined and compared it was revealed that they shared foods in common. And yes, you guessed it: In some areas the people eat gluten-containing grains! So how do the Sardinians prepare their flat breads? Sour-dough!
Sometimes the obvious answer lies right before our eyes. We have the benefits of science to confirm what was instinctively done by ancient societies. So I recommend, before you jump on the bandwagon of any ‘controversial’ subject ask yourself:
What did Gramma know & Science Confirm?
*** In the April 2015 Blog I stated that my goal would be to post one blog each month & maybe more depending on my T.I.M.E. So for those sitting on the edge of your seats waiting to know what this stands for:
T: Time, My priority will always be God, family, friends, me & then business
I: Interest, My priority will always be God, family, friends, me & then business
M: Moolah, money: Work to live not live to work! simple living means less financial burden!
E: Energy, I have the same number of hours in the day. Remember the Blue Zone? They took time each day to renew their energy. My priority is allot time each day to do the same!
Thank you for joining simple 7 nutrition and for your interest in the:
Get ready for the June 2015 Blog Post
· Protein, Fats, Fruit, Vegetables & ‘Carbs’: How much do we really need?
Get ready for the July 2015 Blog Post
· What foods should we really avoid and why?
· How to make it ‘simple’?
· How to choose ‘clean’?
1. (Woman's Exchange Cook Book, Mrs. Minnie Palmer [W.B. Conkey:Chicago] 1901 p. 505-506) http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/coldfusion/display.cfm?ID=ency&PageNum=606
2. (New York Evening Telegram Cook Book, Emma Paddock Telford [Cupples & Leon:New York] 1908 p. 207-209)
3. http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-diseases/against-the-grain/ Against the Grain, Posted on July 16, 2006 by Katherine Czapp
5. http://www.schools1.cic.ames.cam.ac.uk/pdfs/Food%20at%20Pompeii%20-%20Wheat.pdf How important was wheat in feeding the Roman Empire?
6. http://www.celiac.nih.gov/prevalence.aspx A Changing Environment and the Increasing Prevalence of Celiac Disease
7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14766592 Sourdough bread made from wheat and nontoxic flours and started with selected lactobacilli is tolerated in celiac sprue patients.
8. http://www.bluezones.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/Nat_Geo_Longevity.pdf Secrets of the Blue Zones