If modern high-yield semi-dwarf wheat is the source of so many health problems, just how bad are the older forms of wheat?
Recall that modern wheat is an 18-inch to 2-foot tall strain bred primarily for exceptional yield. It is the combination of three unique genetic codes from three different ancestral grasses, the so-called A, B, and D genomes. The D genome has been the primary recipient of much of the recent genetic manipulations and the source of unique glutens and gliadins that make modern wheat such a nasty creature for unwitting humans who consume it.
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., traditional strains of 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 without the contribution of the D.
- 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, then purposefully cultivated, and the source of the 14 chromosomes of the A genome.
Obviously, modern experience with the various forms of wheat, particularly ancient wheats, is limited. But we do know a few things:
Hunter gatherer humans who first incorporated wild einkorn into their diet experienced a downturn in health, including an explosion of dental decay, knee arthritis, nutrient deficiencies (especially iron), and probably atherosclerosis and cancer. Likewise, modern hunter gatherer cultures who do not consume wheat or grains in any form are spared these conditions.
Although the incidence of celiac disease has quadrupled since the introduction of these new forms of gliadin protein, 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 traditional Triticum aestivum, 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 60% lower risk for lung cancer than conventional cigarettes, would that be something you’d consider?
Beyond changes in genetic code for gliadin, recall that wheat is also a source of wheat germ agglutinin that is a bowel toxin and inflammatory factor in the bloodstream, amylopectin A that raises blood sugars to high levels and thereby contributes to insulin resistance, phytates that bind minerals (especially iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium) and prevent absorption, and others. Modern wheat has also been cultivated for higher wheat germ agglutinin and phytate content, as these two components are helpful against pests.
In other words, the deleterious changes introduced into a plant that was toxic to begin with were made not to screw with you, but for agricultural advantages. Oddly, questions were never asked about whether such changes were appropriate for humans.
Older traditional strains of wheat are therefore less harmful than modern high-yield semi-dwarf wheat, but they are not harmless. Given what we know about these older forms of wheat, my advice is to steer clear of all forms of wheat, new and old, and thereby be certain you have great health and nutrition minus all the health deterioration triggered by consumption of wheat.