Another Look at Gluten

This post was written for Stacey Fokas’ Freshalicious website:

Many of you have been hearing lots about gluten, gluten “intolerance” and other health issues attributed to gluten.   Indeed, the book “Wheat Belly”, by Dr. William Davis, has almost created a divided camp between those who believe that cutting wheat out of your diet will make you healthier and lose weight, and those who believe it is a re-vamped Atkins Diet.  If you want to research the findings for yourself, I’ve heard it’s a good read.  You can even find an interesting review of it here.

flour

The quiche pastry I bake for the farmers’ market is made with a lower-gluten blend of corn, spelt, and Red Fife flour

I am actually not going to “take sides” on this issue, because I agree with nutritionist and author Julie Daniluk who says, “There are 7 billion diets for 7 billion people”.  That is, there is no one perfect diet that will be good for everyone.

Instead, I would like to focus on the back stories to this topic.  On our farm, we grow wheat every year, as part of our crop rotation plan.  Ralph belongs to the Grain Farmers of Ontario, which is an amalgamation of the former Wheat, Corn, and Soybean Boards.  At a meeting a few years ago, he stood up and asked why the wheat varieties today have higher and higher gluten levels, when the portion of the population which is “gluten intolerant” is also growing.  No one had a good answer.  The truth is, the processors (aka bakeries) want a high gluten wheat because it makes fluffier bread, and ultimately costs them less.

The history of wheat (and other flours) is a fascinating one, and I did a lot of homework to find out “How Wheat Became Toxic“.    You can read for yourself about the evolution of baking, from whole grains, such as rye, to the Wonder Bread that was introduced in 1930.

My first point is that different wheat varieties contain different amounts of gluten.  The varieties have come about through traditional, selective breeding practices.  Some of the old, heritage grains, such as einkorn and spelt have lower gluten levels, but they have hulls that need to be rubbed off, unlike the more modern varieties.   Also,  at the present time, there is NO GMO wheat being grown by farmers.  However, there are many GM varieties being grown in trials, just waiting for approval.

We are currently looking into growing more of the heritage grains, such as  our very own Canadian Red Fife wheat, rather than continuing with the newer varieites.

A second matter that needs to be discussed is the preparation of the flour, and the baking process itself. North American bakeries have refined their bread-making techniques to take as little time as possible.  This is radically different from the sourdough-style preparation once used for all baking.  Soaking and sprouting the grain also helps to break down the gluten, to make the nutrition of the wheat more accessible to our bodies.  Rapid or Quick Rise yeast may cut down on the preparation time for home bakers, but it also means the yeast has less fermentation time to break down the starches (gluten).  As well, how old is your flour?  Did you know that within 24 hours of milling, beneficial oils found in the kernel start to break down?  The fresher your flour, the healthier!

And then there are all the other additives, many of which may be genetically modified.  Soybean oil, lecithin, emulsifiers, corn starch, and glucose are all more than likely GMOs. Read your bread labels, and see for yourself.

My home-made bread is always a hit!  I even grind my own grain sometimes!

My homemade bread is always a hit! I even grind my own grain sometimes!

One last option is that, perhaps, your body’s immune system is not at an optimum level.  Sometimes, a detox program can help eliminate allergies or food sensitivities.

As you can see, the whole gluten conversation can get very complicated.  Having said all that, I know of two people who have removed gluten from their diet (mainly as bread and baked goods), and feel much healthier for it.  One woman had been experiencing severe abdominal cramping,  which is now gone.  The other friend simply feels better and has lost weight.

So what does it all mean?

speltI suggest that if you are experiencing some health concerns that may be from gluten, look closely at all the factors.  Maybe it is the way the bread is being baked, and a sourdough bread or sprouted grain bread will be a solution.  Perhaps it is other (GM) additives in the baked goods that are being harmful.  If you are thinking about baking for yourself, I highly recommend trying flours from K2 Milling, in Beeton Station.  Mark Hayhoe has pledged to buy local and organic grains and mill them into healthy flours.  He offers everything from Red Fife wheat, to spelt, to sorghum, with multigrain and specialty blends.  In fact, he mills our open-pollinated corn there.  Some of his flours can be found at Harmony Whole Foods in Orangeville, as well as at his storefront.

Dave’s Butcher Shop in Orangeville also carries local flours. These whole wheat and spelt flours are stone-ground and additive- free, milled by the Howick Community Farmers in Gorrie, Ontario.  It is wonderful that we can now source even our flour locally!

Hopefully, this has given you some food for thought.  I am not a nutritionist or a doctor.  This post was written from my own observations and research as a farmer and someone who loves to prepare food.  Before you eliminate wheat from your diet completely, take a closer look and maybe you won’t need to!  I’d love to hear back from you with your comments.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Great post and good food for thought…..all of which I agree with. We all have to try and figure these things out for ourselves, according to our own bodies but I’ve heard good things about the red fife wheat. Look forward to more of your thoughts…:-)

    Reply

    • thank you, Mary! I believe that many people are so quick to accept any health advice they hear – whether it’s from mainstream media, or a family member, or a new book – without really researching it and deciding on whether it is good for THEM. I see it with my own elderly relatives. We all need to listen to our bodies and do some of our own thinking, too.

      Reply

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