Is gluten on the increase?

I often hear people say that the reason that there more problems today with consumption of wheat products is because the gluten content has increased.

I always wondered where that argument came from. I am obviously no defender of wheat nor gluten, but I also don’t like attention diverted by issues that have no basis in truth.

So this paper written by a USDA scientist entitled Can an Increase in Celiac Disease Be Attributed to an Increase in the Gluten Content of Wheat as a Consequence of Wheat Breeding? I believe helps settle the issue. After surveying analyses of various wheats of the 20th century, he concludes:

I have not found clear evidence of an increase in the gluten content of wheat in the United States during the 20th century, and if there has indeed been an increase in celiac disease during the latter half of the century, wheat breeding for higher gluten content does not seem to be the basis.”

Interestingly, analyses of emmer wheat (the 28-chromosome form of the Bible, for instance) demonstrates much higher gluten content than modern wheat.

The astounding list of problems we have with modern wheat is not due to an increase in gluten content. It is due to other changes, including:

–Altered structure of the gliadin proteins. The Glia-alpha9 sequence, for example, that is associated with triggering the changes of celiac disease in HLA DQ8/2-positive people, has been enriched in modern wheat, though nearly absent from the wheat of 1960 and earlier.
–Change in the structure of wheat germ agglutinin, the indigestible protein of wheat that exerts direct toxic effects on the small intestine and may block leptin, the hormone of satiety.
–Unique antigens (allergy- and immune-stimulating proteins) posed by new forms of alpha amylase inhibitors and other proteins.

Wheat consumption has been a problem for humans for 10,000 years. It’s been made much worse by the genetics changes introduced over the past 40 years . . . but it is not due to an increase in gluten.

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48 Responses to Is gluten on the increase?

  1. Pip Power says:


    What are grains?

    Do eating seeds contribute to our Health Problems?

    What about Flaxseed, Sunflower & Pumpkin seeds?

    How does the removal of wheat from our diet help sore joints in our body?

  2. Pip Power says:

    What Foods Are in the Grains Group?

    Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.

    Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, Whole Grains and Refined Grains.

    Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm.

    Examples include:

    whole-wheat flour
    bulgur (cracked wheat)
    whole cornmeal
    brown rice

    Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins.

    Some examples of refined grain products are:

    white flour
    de-germed cornmeal
    white bread
    white rice

    Most refined grains are enriched. This means certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron are added back after processing. Fiber is not added back to enriched grains. Check the ingredient list on refined grain products to make sure that the word “enriched” is included in the grain name. Some food products are made from mixtures of whole grains and refined grains.

    Commonly eaten grain products
    Whole Grains
    brown rice
    bulgur (cracked wheat)
    rolled oats
    whole grain barley
    whole grain cornmeal
    whole rye
    whole wheat bread
    whole wheat crackers
    whole wheat pasta
    whole wheat sandwich buns and rolls
    whole wheat tortillas
    wild rice
    Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals
    whole wheat cereal flakes
    Refined Grains
    corn tortillas*
    flour tortillas*
    white bread
    white sandwich buns and rolls
    white rice
    Ready-to-eat breakfast cereals
    corn flakes
    * Most of these products are made from refined grains. Some are made from whole grains. Check the ingredient list for the words “whole grain” or “whole wheat” to decide if they are made from a whole grain. Some foods are made from a mixture of whole and refined grains.


    The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP), an organization of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was established in 1994 to improve the nutrition and well-being of Americans. Toward this goal, the Center focuses its efforts on two primary objectives

  3. Robert Wm Smith says:

    Hello. I have decided to give up wheat products though the majority of my diet is organic. In the past seven weeks I have noticed small changes, though in my view, not enough to be clear of the benefits of my decision. One area of confusion is the relationship to barley, particularly non genetically modified barley. The main product that I am missing greatly is beer. Most of the craft beers in Alberta Canada on several other provinces do not use genetically modified products as far as I know.

    Cutting to the chase…aside from the obvious calorie content, why must I give up craft beers and ales?

    What is “wheaty” about spelt , millet, flax and similar grains?

    Please steer me in a comfortable direction.

    • TInaC says:

      They do make gluten free beer that is pretty good. It’s made from sorghum, which I believe is free from GMO’s.

  4. Donna Eberwine says:

    I used to eat a heaping tablespoon of wheat germ with my yogurt every single morning–for years. After reading about wheat germ agglutinin and its effects in the human body (it clumps your red blood cells together), I gave it up. I had developed basal thumb arthritis that was so bad it had deformed my hand, debilitated my grip and caused such chronic pain that I was planning to have hand surgery. Within three weeks of giving up wheat germ, I had no pain anymore. Within a year, I regained nearly 100% of the strength in that hand. Wheat germ is not a health food. It is toxic!

  5. Pingback: Who’s Health? « paleolates

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  7. john downes says:

    I disagree with the scientist. Bakers are the ones who know. It would be really difficult for a scientist to answer that question, and it draws into question his data source(s). and how he sourced relevant historical information. Apart from that, the culinary history of flour clearly reveals that European flour is of quite low gluten it is called “soft”. It does not maintain a substantial rise in bread.. The highest gluten flour came from the Ukraine as part of the Austro-Hungarian empire…this good wheat enabled Viennoiserie and “French bread”. We bakery historians know that the modern bread industry started with this higher gluten wheat…this then started coming from Canada after Ukraine wheat was planted there, now we have the famous hard/strong Canadian wheats which kick started bigger bread. It caused a sensation in Europe because it absorbed more water because of the higher gluten and produced more bread than the “home” wheat. The availability of this higher gluten wheat varied a lot and it wasnt available regularly as a high or sole grist ratio until the post WW2 era. Prior to that, bakers used the softer wheats which were cheaper and more available…its talked bout all the time in the bakery parlance of the era…and they mixed the softer wheat with the high gluten wheat. Reference to millers grist codes also supports this.
    So its the availability of high gluten wheat which has changed…now everybody can get it and in turn, consume more gluten.
    Your comment re the Gliadin fraction is really interesting, and as Gliadin is part if the Gluten structure, doesnt this mean in fact that the Gluten HAS changed?
    The experience of baking with anvient-type wheat flour and modern wheat flour is visceral evidence. The old wheat doesnt produce as much of a rise, but is very delicious and edible. Modern strong wheat tastes like cardboard but produces huge bread. There is also often more “bloom” on bread mde from old wheat…colour/aroma/attractiveness.
    Even if the the gluten content has not increased it seems it is more of the protein fraction of wheat than before. The water soluble proteins have largely been bred out of bread wheat, leaving the gluten fraction more dominant than before. The old wheat sometimes has a very high protein score, but these arent gluten proteins, they re the easily assimilable water soluble proteins. The wheat has changed, no doubt and you allude to that , but i reckon the sientist didnt see there are many angles to the question.
    Thanks for your informative site