Holistic Approach to Wellness

What Exactly is Gluten?

With gluten being the “buzz” word these days, it’s important to understand what it is and isn’t. It’s also important to be aware of other food intolerances. It’s not uncommon to be intolerant to other foods when you have gluten enteropathy (intolerance).

Gluten is a family of proteins (Gluten is the composite of a gliadin and a glutenin) found in wheat, barley, and rye. The gluten proteins are found in the mature seed of these cereal grasses, which is what we refer to as the grain. The gluten in wheat flour gives kneaded dough its elasticity, allows leavening and contributes chewiness to baked products like bagels. Trust me, you will get over craving those hot crunchy rolls in due time.

Close relatives of wheat, such as spelt, triticale, kamut, farro, and einkorn, also contain gluten and must be avoided on a gluten-free diet. While you may hear the term “gluten” used to refer to rice (e.g., glutinous rice), rice protein does not have the gliadin protein and need not be avoided on a gluten-free diet. Conversely, while oats don’t technically contain gluten, they’re almost always cross-contaminated with wheat gluten due to processing methods in this country. As a result, unless an oat-containing product is specifically labeled “gluten-free,” one should assume it contains gluten. Gluten Free Oats are easy to find. Steal cut oats have gluten so all oats must be labeled gluten free regardless of their type.

Since gluten is a storage protein found in cereal grass seeds, it’s not found in the young, green grasses that sprout from these seeds. For this reason, wheatgrass and barley grass are technically gluten-free. However, to ensure that wheatgrass or barley grass juices are safe to consume on a gluten-free diet, you need to make sure that no seeds accidentally make their way into the juicer. For someone with Celiac I would avoid using the grasses in juicing.

Why the Problem with Gluten Now?

A study using frozen blood samples taken from Air Force recruits 50 years ago has found that intolerance of wheat gluten, a debilitating digestive condition, is four times more common today than it was in the 1950’s.

The findings contradict the conventional wisdom that the sharp increase in diagnoses of wheat gluten intolerance has come about because of greater awareness and detection. It now seems likely that dramatic changes in the American diet have played a role.

The researchers who conducted the study also found that the recruits who had the undiagnosed digestive disorder, called celiac disease, had a four-fold increase in their risk of death.

A lot has changed in the way we harvest food compared to 70 years ago. Some of the seed companies began engineering wheat kernels that could be more easily ground and produce fluffier flour to make the soft, delicious white bread for example have greater yields; it made more money for the farmer and increased sales.

Think of an eraser on a pencil tip. That is the amount of gluten that was in wheat before Hybridization. Now think of the actual pencil. That is the amount of the gluten protein in wheat now. Great visual right? Our body does not know how to digest that much protein. Subsequently it stores in our fat cells as toxin and you know what happens next. Here’s the scoop.

In 1943, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (IMWIC) wanted to help Mexico achieve agricultural self-sufficiency which grew into a world-wide effort to increase the yield of corn, soy and wheat. Hybridization took over and soon, many different strains of wheat were being planted and harvested. By 1980, thousands of new strains of wheat had been produced. These new varieties were geared toward:

  • Making the plant resistant to environmental conditions
  • Greater resistance to pathogens such as fungus
  • Increased yield per acre, tenfold greater than farms of a century ago

The results created top-heavy plants; grain losses occurred as plants could not withstand the weight. Continued manipulation produced smaller plants considered “dwarf” wheat. More than 99% of wheat crops are now “dwarfed,” growing to only 18” tall compared to Non-hybridized (organic in this case) wheat which grows naturally to 4.5 feet tall which by the way you won’t be able to find. Despite increases in crop yield, no animal or human safety testing had been conducted on these new strains of wheat.
Scary right? Tens of thousands of products were released into the food supply unquestioned. Assumption was that altered protein structures, enzymes and gluten content would have no human consequence. It was later discovered that wheat gluten proteins had the most significant changes. In one study, fourteen new gluten proteins were identified in the offspring and not present in either parent. These never-before-seen gluten proteins now being discovered are foreign to the body. Some estimates suggest that the hybridization and genetic engineering of wheat has resulted in an up to 500 fold increase in wheat gluten produced today. This may be one of the primary reasons behind the massive rise in incidence of wheat gluten intolerance, celiac disease and other autoimmune conditions in recent decades.

The New England Journal of Medicine listed 55 “diseases” that can be caused by eating gluten. Many of the diseases are neurological and psychiatric. Among them are depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, migraines, neuropathy, anxiety, dementia, and autism.

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