Upper Crust

If modern high-yield semi-dwarf wheat is the source of so many problems, just how bad are the older forms of wheat?

Recall that modern wheat is a 2-foot tall strain bred primarily for exceptional yield. It is the combination of three unique genetic codes, the so-called A, B, and D genomes, with the D genome the recipient of much of the recent genetic manipulations and the source of unique glutens and gliadins that make modern wheat such a nasty creature.

In other words, say you, me, and Sherman accompany Mr. Peabody in the WayBack Machine and we sample the wheat of bygone ages. If we go back in time, we would encounter:

Wheat of the early 20th century–i.e., Triticum aestivum with the ABD genome prior to the extreme breeding and mutation-generating interventions of the latter 20th century, with the D genome relatively untouched.

19th century and previous landraces–These are the strains of wheat that develop unique to specific climates and terrains, similar to wine grapes’ terroir. Strains adapt to a location’s humidity, temperatures, soil, and seasonal changes.

Spelt–Wheat from pre-Biblical times up until the Middle Ages that, like its successors, contained the ABD genomes, but this D genome predates genetic changes introduced by geneticists. Spelt flour is higher in protein content than modern Triticum aestivum flour.

Kamut–Probably a contemporary of emmer wheat, kamut is an AB genome wheat.

Emmer–The ancient cross between einkorn (A) and a wild grass (B), emmer is likely the wheat of the Bible.

Einkorn–The great granddaddy of all wheat, the stuff first harvested wild, and the source of the 14 chromosomes of the A genome.

Obviously, experience with the various forms of wheat, particularly ancient wheats, (each of the above categories, especially Triticum aestivum, contains thousands of subtypes) is extremely limited. But we do know a few things:

Hunter gatherer humans who first began to incorporate wild einkorn into their diet experienced a downtown in health, including more dental caries, bone diseases, and probably atherosclerosis and cancer. Likewise, modern hunter gatherer cultures who do not consume wheat are spared these conditions.

We also know that celiac disease is not unique to modern wheat, but has been described as early as 100 AD and many times since, meaning it likely occurred with consumption of emmer, spelt, kamut, and Triticum aestivum landraces, though the relative frequencies may have varied.

How much better does a wheat strain have to be in order to be acceptable to most people: 50%, 70%, 80% . . . 100%? What level of risk are you willing to accept in order to consume foods made of this grain? If I had a cigarette that posed 80% lower risk for lung cancer than conventional cigarettes, would that be something you’d consider?

There are no right or wrong answers. It will be something to consider in the coming years as information and experience with the older forms of wheat grow. In the meantime, given what we know (and don’t know) about these older forms of wheat, my advice is to steer clear of all forms of wheat, new and old, and be certain you have great health and nutrition.

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68 Responses to Upper Crust

  1. David Robbins says:

    Does spelt contain gliadin?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yup, though a less harmful form.

      But be careful, David: Just because something is less bad, doesn’t necessarily mean it is good.

      Spelt is less destructive for health, but not necessarily healthy.

  2. Katie says:

    So at the beginning of your book you say that our grandparents and great-grandparents were slim even though they did not exercise. You basically state that this is because of the kind of wheat they consumed. But what you’re actually saying here is that just because they were thin does not mean they were healthy?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Thin is healthier than fat but, as you likely know, thin people can still express health problems, perceived or not.

  3. Bonnie says:

    Where can I purchase the ancient wheats such as emmer or einkorn?

  4. “Hunter gatherer humans who first began to incorporate wild einkorn into their diet experienced a downtown in health, including more dental caries, bone diseases, and probably atherosclerosis and cancer. Likewise, modern hunter gatherer cultures who do not consume wheat are spared these conditions.”

    How do you know this? Can you give me a reference?

    Thanks!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      The archaeological studies documenting these findings are all referenced in the appropriate place in the Wheat Belly book.

      Alternatively, search pubmed.org for “Cordain,” “hunter-gatherer” or other relevant search terms.

      • Heather says:

        Other than evolutionary hypothesis, is there any proof that the ancient wheat, Einkorn, was malicious. As an avid follower of the 1930′s Dr. Weston A. Price’s work throughout the world, I have to wonder about the validity of the evolutionary info re: this compared to the living subjects he observed.

  5. Thanks. I found this:
    “Ground stone mortars, bowls, and cup holes first appeared in the Upper Paleolithic (from 40000 y ago to 12000 y ago) (29), whereas the regular exploitation of cereal grains by any worldwide hunter-gatherer group arose with the emergence of the Natufian culture in the Levant ≈13000 BP (30).”
    http://www.ajcn.org/content/81/2/341.long

    13,000 years does allow some evolutionary response doesn’t it?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Hardly. Imagine us humans 13,000 years from now: hardly any different.

      Recall that, from an evolutionary perspective, 13,000 years is but the blink of an eye.

  6. Ragaberto says:

    In her well-written book, “The Diet Solution,” nutritionist Isabel De Los Rios only advocates eating Food for Life’s brand’s Ezekiel 4:9 organic sprouted whole grain products; if one is to eat wheat at all.

    Among its benefits she says that ” … sprouting breaks down the complex sugars responsible for intestinal gas and transforms a portion of the start into sugar. It also inactivates aflatoxins, which are toxins produced by fungus and potent carcinogens often found in grains … ”

    She does caution, however, that if one is intolerant of gluten or wheat, you should avoid their products (breads, cereals and muffins.) She details symptoms of gluten intolerance (which I don’t think I have), lists foods to be avoided, and then goes on to recommend other gluten-free foods such a amaranth, arrowroot, etc., not to mention lean proteins, veggies, fruits in moderation, raw nuts, water, olive and coconut oils, etc., etc.

    For example, its 7 Sprouted Grains Bread is made from: organic sprouted wheat, filtered water, organic malted barley, organic sprouted rye, organic sprouted barley, organic sprouted oats, sprouted millet, organic sprouted corn, organic sprouted brown rice, fresh yeast, organic wheat gluten and sea salt.

    What is your take on Food for Life’s Ezekiel 4:9 sprouted grain products?

    BTW: I am recovering from quadruple coronary artery bypass surgery in early July, at the ripe age of 57. Prior to my surgery, I usually worked fairly regularly (high intensity interval cardio and mostly bodyweight resistance routines; that is until I started having chronic migraines about 12 years ago; then my 5-6 cardio and weight workouts diminished substantially. Over 12 years, I probably gained about 20 or so pounds. Still: I don’t eat or drink junk food, kept my carbs to a minimum (or so I thought) and otherwise tried to live healthfully. But here I am–still needing to get my BMI lower (doc wants me down to near 180 pounds), still have a wheat belly, love handles, “man glands” and … am recovering from surgery. Can’t really aggressively workout until mid-October again.

    Thanks in advance for your expertise, time and consideration.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      I urge you to read the book, Ragaberto.

      You will find that:

      1) Sprouted wheat is . . . still wheat with all its problems. Just because it contains a bit less carbohydrate and aflatoxin does NOT mean it is now healthy.

      2) The number one cause for coronary artery disease, such as that leading to bypass surgery, is an excess of small LDL particles. The number one cause of small LDL particles? The amylopectin A of wheat!

      “Healthy whole grains” . . . cause heart disease!

  7. candy says:

    I’ve read several different opinions on “wheatgrass” – some say not a wheat but a grass others say it is a sprouted wheat.
    What are your thoughts about including wheatgrass in my “wheat-free” diet?
    Thank you!

  8. RK Dingman says:

    Doc,
    I have your book and I know it will help me to de-program over 40 plus years of whole grain propaganda. That is 1/2 the battle. The other battle is finding practical substitutes for the ubiquitous foodstuffs like bread.
    Do you have a short list of permitted breakfast cereal?

    Thanks,

    RK D

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Yes, easy: None.

      I don’t know of ANY commercially prepared breakfast cereal that is not, in effect, junk.

      Have you tried the Grainless Granola recipe on this blog? Top with some coconut milk and it is delicious.

      • Tanya says:

        I actually tried the idea from the Quick & the Dirty pt2 page of using flax meal as a hot cereal the other day: I expected it to be gross but it wasn’t bad! I heated some almond milk (commercial, unsweetened), and added in a sprinkle or two of cinnamon and a dash of turmeric and nutmeg for taste. It got thick & goopy but ok, was a perfect warm bedtime snack. I would have added in some chia seeds for added fibre but I’ve just moved and haven’t unpacked them yet!

  9. cab says:

    Is it okay to eat old fashioned rolled oats? Are you condemning all grains? We must substitute coconut flour and ground nuts (flax seeds okay?) — and what about the Diamond D yeast products for animals that we’re told are good for people too — and if you add this to your kefir or milk it ferments it and makes it taste cheesy, and is supposed to be good for you, makes it have a beery taste. Not good?

    I bought a lot of organic spelt wheat to plant a time ago. Is there anything at all I can do with it, other than sell it?

    Thank you for your good information I heard on Kim Greenhouse’s show.

  10. Escabeche says:

    I enjoyed reading your book and agree with you on most points, and especially the point that eating wheat that’s mass-produced in the US (whether “organic” or “sprouted”) is not to be trusted. I already don’t eat–and haven’t ever really eaten–many of the wheat products (including bread) that’s made in the US.
    However, I am curious if it’s ok to eat products containing wheat that’s EITHER produced in the US that ISN’T mass produced (such as Organic Sprouted Wheat Kernels grown by One Degree Organic Food–it says it’s grown on a “family farm”), OR the following products produced in other countries (mainly in the EU) that strictly regulate/don’t allow GMOs:
    –Organic Italian Pearled Farro (Earthly Choice)
    –Finn Crisp crackers (Finland)
    –Wasa (Germany)
    –RyCrisp (England)
    –Walker’s Shortbread Cookies (Scotland. On Walker’s website they indicate all the wheat used in their products is grown in Scotland and is GMO free)
    –Cookies and baked products from France (which strictly regulates/doesn’t allow GMOs)
    Many thanks in advance and look forward to your response. I will be perfectly happy giving up the junk produced in the US such as Nabisco, Kraft, etc), but I love the European (and one American) product listed above and don’t want to give them up if I don’t have to.

  11. Sandra says:

    The lectins in corn are not good for many people. It helps to add the mineral lime, as some of the first users of corn, did, as it modifies lectin damage–according to Dr. D’Adamo, an expert on lectins. (He also advises against wheat, especially for blood Type O’s, and against gluten for many.)

  12. Boundless says:

    I’m researching various kinds of consumption and disease trends, and am wondering if the wheat (flour) consumption chart shown here:
    http://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/wheat/wheats-role-in-the-us-diet.aspx
    is reliable.

    The narrative says “flour”, so I’m wondering if it includes whole-wheat products and/or wheat-contaminated processed foods.

    It also indicates that per-capita wheat (flour) consumption was higher prior to the introduction of semi-dwarf hybrid wheat in 1960. The peak is around 2x today’s levels in 1879. The bottom is 1972.

    If that’s total per-cap wheat consumption, it certainly implies that heirlooms were more benign. But I’m inclined to think that the data is grossly incomplete, and omits modern processed foods that aren’t obviously and principally wheat flour.

  13. Marianne says:

    Hello Dr. Davis and WB community! WB is not entirely new to me, three family members followed the diet and saw rapid weight loss with improved weight distribution. I’ve worked at a gluten-free lifestyle since 2009, when 3 doctors refuted my suspicion of gluten allergy/intolerance, but after 5 minutes of electrodermal testing, a naturopath diagnosed me with gluten & gliadin allergies. Recently I found no overt, adverse reaction either to a dish cooked with locally-grown, organic/heritage Emmer wheat berries, or to bread made with a custom-milled, organic/GMO-free flour, a natural starter, and 24-hour fermentation. After a couple months of euphoric bread consumption, someone shared “10 Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance” with me, which in turn led me to your 50-minute video scientifically explaining why modern dwarf wheat, is the root (stalk?) of virtually all modern health ills. I visited the blog looking for information supporting moderate consumption of organically grown, GMO-free ancient grains. Did I misunderstand… do you advocate no grains whatsoever, no matter their provenance or preparation? Thanks in advance for your reply (or replies from others)!

    [Info below copied/pasted directly from the baker; would appreciate your thoughts on these statements]

    * long fermentation time gives the natural levain time to work on the bran of the grain, breaking it down to make it more digestible, and neutralizing the phytic acid that can be difficult to metabolize.
    * with naturally leavened bread, complex carbohydrates are broken down into more digestible sugars and protein broken down into amino acids. Not only does the natural leavening process aid in breaking down components into more readily digestible parts, it also contains healthful bacteria that restores the functioning of the digestive tract and enhances the entire immune system.
    * the 24-hour fermentation imparts the health benefits and depth of flavor that come only through time. The starter removes the need for outside leavening agents. (ingredients: custom-milled, GMO-free, organic flour, purified water, natural levain starter, sea salt.

  14. Luisa says:

    Could you please give me a link where I can find a list of products or food that can replace wheat stuff. I want to start a diet, not because I am sick ( I know), if not I’d like to keep me healthy.