Published in The White Rock Sun February 2018.
Many of our foods today have been altered, through natural evolution and/or by human intervention: by hybridization, crossbreeding, grafting or budding which are not genetic modification (GMO or Genetically Modified Organisms). Wheat was crossed or hybridized with another grain (rye). Currently, commercially grown wheat is not genetically modified. Although that could change in the future.
Combining two plants, by any of the methods mentioned above (except GMO), can occur naturally and humans can do it as well – and a little faster than Mother Nature can. They involve combining two plants of a similar plant family (like modern wheat crossed with its distant relative, rye). These methods do not genetically alter a plant, because gene splicing is not involved. However, GMO does require laboratory gene splicing – and this can’t occur naturally. Genetic modification can also combine completely different plant/animal species – including viruses.
Practically all our foods today were changed by nature (it’s called evolution) and many were changed by humans using the various methods mentioned earlier other than GMO. That's why we have so many varieties of apples today. And remember, hybridization, crossbreeding, grafting or budding are not GMO.
Whether they were changed by humans or nature,
very few of the foods exist today that our prehistoric ancestors consumed . . .
Our early carrots were purple, red, yellow, and white, until the familiar orange colour was developed by Dutch growers in the 16th and 17th centuries. Oranges didn’t exist until we created them: We crossed a pommelo (it resembles a grapefruit) with a type of tangerine. Tomatoes and potatoes have changed. So has celery (it used to be a thin, herb-like plant – not the thick-stalked plant of today). The crab apple is the only true apple, but today there are many varieties of apples as well as pears that humans crossbred. And the wheat varieties of long ago (like Einkorn and Emmer wheat) were crossed with its distant cousin, the hardier rye grain.
Humans created/altered all these foods listed above (and many others) long before GMO was invented. Should we stop eating these as well as wheat? If you won’t eat wheat because you truly believe it's Frankenwheat, then why are you eating Frankencarrots, Frankencelery, Frankenoranges . . . ?
If you choose to avoid eating wheat or any type of grain, that's entirely your choice. However, despite what the Paleo diet advocates claim, there are no hard facts proving prehistoric humans did or did not eat grains, or that we shouldn't eat the modern forms of grains/grasses we have today. The debate that humans should not eat grains is a long-standing one, supported by credible, knowledgeable experts on both sides of the issue. Since one side of all these credible authorities aren't smarter than the other side, it obviously means there are no hard facts to support either side. There are only strong beliefs, based on individual opinions and interpretations of the research and evidence that has been collected so far. Therefore, keep an open mind and listen to both sides of the grain debate (and any nutrition debate). Then make an educated decision of what you want to believe.
But let's get back to the topic of wheat . . .
Wheat, like any food, should not be overeaten. In fact, humans can digest small amounts of the gluten in wheat and there may even be health benefits from it. But we ARE overeating wheat; in the form of flour . . .
It’s not wheat or gluten specifically that should be villainized – rather, the problem is refining wheat into flour. Flour is easily added to many other foods, and therefore we are overeating products that contain flour. We are overdosing on wheat in this way. Therefore, we are overdosing on gluten, which humans can’t properly assimilate in large amounts.
Ideally, before we grind our whole grains into flour, we should more often eat the grains in their hard berry or kernel form, cooked on the stove as you would cook rice (one part grain to two parts water, bring to boil, then simmer until all the water is absorbed).
It isn’t whole grain wheat berries or kernels that everyone stops eating when they go gluten-free – it’s the flour-containing products like breads and cereals. Because very few people eat whole grain wheat ( or other whole grains) cooked on the stove. Many don’t even know you can do that. And if we all did, there would be no complaints about gut health and gluten because you can’t overeat cooked whole grains; it takes forever to chew them, and a very small amount fills you quickly.
In my opinion, it’s flour we overeat because it is in everything. White flour, whole grain flour, its all the same: they are both refined from the 'whole.' We are a bread, pasta, cracker, cake, and cookie culture – and these refined foods are probably sabotaging your good health more than gluten is, which is more likely why you feel better when you go on a ‘gluten-free’ diet.
Incidentally, there are many kinds of whole grains besides wheat, from the more exotic quinoa, amaranth and teff, to the more common varieties such as barley, rye, oats, millet and buckwheat. And by the way, couscous is not a whole grain: It’s just a very tiny form of pasta.
We can benefit from the many nutrients and other properties whole grains offer, like magnesium, the B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, copper, zinc, selenium,
antioxidants, phytochemicals, and fibre – to name just a few of the nutrients we have so far discovered. And with their rich source of fibre, whole grains have been identified as valuable contributors to healthy gut microbiota. Grains act as prebiotics which feed probiotics. We just have to remember to eat them in their whole form, in small amounts. And, of course, we can choose to soak the grain before cooking it to better assimilate their nutrients and reduce any properties in them (phytates, lectins, etc.) that may interfere with the absorption of certain minerals.
Reduce the highly processed, nutrient-depleted foods like flour and refined sugars. Stick to minimally or non-processed foods: They retain their nutrient content and that’s what keeps us ‘healthy’!
Eve Lees is a Certified Nutrition Coach, a former Certified Personal Trainer, a Health Speaker, and a Health Writer for several publications. She has been active in the health & fitness industry for over 35 years.
Sources and more information:
Instructions and recipes for cooking whole grains: