To eat wheat or not to eat wheat…. That is the question! I find that the two most controversial foods today are dairy and wheat. This is interesting because they also have two of the most well funded lobby groups focused on convincing us that no matter what, we need to consume them to be healthy. Have you taken a look at the Canadian Food guide lately? It’s overloaded with these two food products. I find this interesting since some of the healthiest people I know don’t eat either!
While I was on vacation in Florida a while back I spent my holiday reading an incredible book called Wheat Belly. If you haven’t read it yet, CLICK HERE to get your copy today. It’s an awesome book, one that I found to be very informative and transformational.
Thanks to my good friend Julie Daniluk, I actually had the opportunity to have dinner with the author Dr. William Davis last week and had a fascinating conversation about the current state of our wheat system and the various health implications involving wheat.
So What’s The Big Deal With Wheat Anyways?
You may be sitting there thinking, “I get it Briana, eating processed white wheat isn’t good because the processors have stripped away the fiber and nutrients, but what about whole wheat, it’s a whole food, it must be good!” That’s exactly what I thought too!!! Imagine my surprise when I found out that the whole wheat isn’t really so ‘whole’ after all and that scientists have been using wheat as a clever science project to benefit the wallets of big agribusiness.
Let’s undress this issue to see what’s been going on.
A Quick History Lesson That Will Blow Your Mind!
The very first wild wheat was called einkorn, it dates back to 3300 BC and contained only 14 chromosomes. Shortly thereafter einkorn and goatgrass more or less ‘mated’ and created a wheat plant called emmer that contained 28 chromosomes (when humans mate, our babies end up with the same number of chromosomes that we have, however, when wheat mates their chromosomes actually get added together resulting in twice as many as before!) These two varieties (einkorn and emmer) remained popular for thousands of years.
One day emmer got a bit horny (frisky little devil) and naturally mated with another grass called Triticum tauschii which now resulted in a 42 chromosome offspring called Triticum aestivum – a grain that genetically is closest to what we now call wheat. People liked Triticum aestivum because it resulted in higher yield and was better for baking. This version of wheat changed very little over the next many centuries.
The year everything went to hell in a handbasket – or should I say ‘breadbasket’!
Everything was going great until 1943. At this time, in a town east of Mexico City, scientists at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, in collaboration with the Mexican Government and Rockefeller Foundation, started messing around with wheat. The goal was to generate greater yield and wheat that was resistant to heat, drought, and disease.
The attempts were successful however, we have manipulated wheat so much that it can’t even survive on it’s own in the wild anymore without human support (nitrate fertilization, pest control, etc). In addition, because the yield was increased, the plant was too top heavy. It was at this time that wheat was further manipulated by a geneticist named Norman Borlaug. His efforts yielded a shorter plant that wouldn’t topple over (referred to as “dwarf” and “semi-dwarf” varieties). For this discovery he won many awards including a Nobel Peace Price in 1970.
Today, Allan Fritz, PhD, professor of wheat breeding in Kansas State University, estimates that more than 99 percent of the wheat grown worldwide is of the dwarf and semi-dwarf variety.
So why is it bad for our health?
The question I often get from people at this point in the story is: “So what’s the big deal? Aside from the fact that wheat can’t grow without our assistance, most of these changes seem like a good thing.”
According to Dr. William Davis, when we create a hybridized version of the plant, approximately 95% of the proteins in the new plant are the same, however, roughly 5% of the proteins are completely unique. When you continue to hybridize the plant over and over again, the resulting product can actually be entirely different from it’s original parents. This is important because the new forms of wheat actually contain higher amount of gluten, which is a protein that has been causing a number of health concerns recently. Most likely because we are consuming WAY more of it than we ever have before. This is due to the increased amount in our wheat, in addition to the increased consumption of wheat. To find out more about the problems with gluten check out my article: Is gluten bad? Is it really the devil it’s been made out to be.
Hybridization vs Genetic Modification
One interesting thing to mention here is that all these manipulations to wheat were not done using the current techniques of genetic modification. These changes took place before that science existed and were created using hybridization methods. The difference is that with hybridization you manually cross breed two plants together and cross your fingers that their offspring will have the characteristics that you are hoping for. Imagine two parents who continuously had children until they birthed a child who met the specific characteristics they wanted. In this method there is a lot more “crossing the fingers” and hoping for the best.
With genetic modification scientists actually have the ability to insert a very specific gene into a chosen place. This is a more precise method, however, a large number of studies are indicating that modifying foods in this way may result in a food product that is harmful to humans.
Unfortunately, with hybridization the assumption has been that since you are taking to plants and forcing them to mate (without the use of the more abrupt genetic modification techniques) it is healthy for humans. Since this was the assumption, studies were not conducted to determine if these new wheat varieties had a negative impact on human health.
For me, I find this topic fascinating. At The Naked Label we focus a lot on undressing the food people eat. Often times this involves stripping off the fancy marketing messages on product labels to show people how bogus they are. It is generally assumed that if we are eating whole foods we are healthy. When we hear stories like this we realize that we need to open our eyes up even further to really undress what is going on in our food system.
Has wheat let you down? Do you feel better when you say no to wheat? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. Plus, let’s share this information so more people are informed about what has happened to our beloved wheat. Share away my friends, using the social media links below.
Fresh Bread Basket Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap / FreeDigitalPhotos.net