Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Wheat We Can Eat

Sunset on Fields near CityHave you been wondering why is seems like so many people can't eat wheat all of the sudden?  If there isn't someone in your family who has stopped eating it, then there is likely at least someone you know of who can no longer eat it.  Why is that?

Since the 1950's nearly 5 times as many Americans have celiac disease.  Another recent study shows that the rate of celiac disease has doubled every 15 years since 1974. (source)

According to Christina Tennyson, MD of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, celiac disease is...
...a chronic autoimmune disorder triggered by gluten. When people with the disease eat foods that contain gluten, a damaging reaction occurs in the lining of the small intestines, blocking its ability to absorb certain nutrients. This can lead to vitamin deficiencies and malnutrition, even if the person is eating a seemingly healthy diet.
One reason why this autoimmune disease often goes undiagnosed for as long as 10 years is that symptoms can vary from person to person. Among the more common warning signs of celiac disease are abdominal pain, bloating, gassiness, diarrhea, constipation, lactose intolerance, nausea and fatigue.
Because celiac disease robs the body of vital nutrients, people who have it are at increased risk for anemia and osteoporosis. People who have celiac disease and don’t eat a gluten-free diet also face a higher threat of bowel cancer and intestinal lymphoma. The Air Force Base study found that during 45 years of follow-up, those with undiagnosed celiac disease were four times more likely to die.  (source)

There are still only theories as to why celiac disease and gluten intolerance occur to some people and not others.  One theory being that children are starting to eat wheat at a much younger age.  

I don't claim to have all of the answers, but I do have a few to offer.

First of all a person with gluten sensitivity can eat foods with gluten without a very serious reaction occurring, however a person with celiac disease can't tolerate any amount of gluten what so ever.

The form of wheat we most commonly eat in America is called durum wheat.  This wheat has been hybridized (which is where two different types of a plant- like wheat- are taken and mixed together to make a new type of wheat- which is different from GMO's).  The wheat has very likely been hybridized many times, so is this what's causing so much trouble?

According to the Wheat Foods counsel, durum wheat was hybridized over 10,000 years ago.  They have listed several similarites between our current wheat and past wheat...
There is very little difference between modern wheat and older varieties when it comes to protein content. Numerous peer-reviewed journal articles show that the composition of wheat has not changed. The proportion of protein and starch in wheat has remained stable. Wheat starch comprises around 65-75 percent amylopectin and 25-35 percent amylose. Modern durum wheat starch possesses a similar proportion of amylose as the starch of its ancient progenitor, emmer.  (source)
Some of our wheat supply has been genetically modified, however not the majority of it.  If wheat is bought organic then it's should be GMO free.  

More specifically than people being allergic to wheat itself, what they are usually truly allergic to, or intolerant to, is the gluten in wheat.

According to the Mayo clinic, gluten is in wheat, rye, barley, semolina, farina, matzo meal, graham flour, bulgar, durham, kamut, kasha, spelt, and triticale.

Two main issues raise red flags on the gluten problem.  According to a recent article in the National Geographic magazine (April 2013), we are consuming wheat in much larger quantities than we ever have before in history.  Most of our bodies haven't changed quickly enough to develop the the ability to properly digest this amount of wheat.

Second, gluten is being added to many processed products to be used as a thickener.  Items we might never guess to check for gluten in range from salad dressings to some generic prescriptions.  

Photo by Kati Garner
Some additional sources of where gluten is often added as a thickener are... soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, pasta sauce, BBQ sauce, marinades, tomato paste, licorice, seitan (or fake meat- vegetarian), sausages, hot dogs, lunch meats, coffee substitutes, anything barley and malt.  Then you add in toothpaste, postage stamps, medications made with gluten, play dough, lipstick, and lip balms.

These things in themselves are largely not harmful, but you can see how they can really add up.

As I mentioned above the wheat we commonly eat has been hybridized, however there is a wheat available that has never been hybridized.  Why is this great news?  Well let me tell you...

About a year ago we learned that our now 2 and half year old daughter is gluten sensitive.  

She developed a strange bump like rash on her stomach that over time started to spread all over her body.  At first I was able to control it assuming it was dry skin or something, but it kept getting worse.

We took her to the doctor who blew us off and gave us a prescription for some medicated ointment, assuring us that the medicated ointement would clear it up and we'd have no more to worry about.  

The ointment very likely had steroids in it, which totally makes me cringe no matter what any doctor tells me.  It worked, but then the rash kept coming back.

Having done research on food I knew that the root cause probably hadn't been dealt with yet, so I took her to an allergist.  She had a skin test which came up negative for any wheat reactions.

Long story short... after taking her off of wheat 3 different times we became totally convinced that she was definitely reacting to wheat.  I realized later that her bowel movements (which I had thought to be normal) were actually much too messy, the result having come from her bowels being inflamed by the reaction to wheat.  

The final piece of the puzzle was her moods.  She had always been a very happy child but now was frequently fussy.  When taken off of wheat she must have felt better because her moods showed a noticeable improvement.

I believe that many children out there, and adults too, are suffering from an intolerance and don't even know it.  If a persons bowel movements are regularly messy then there is something not right going on inside.

Back to wheat.  So where is the help you ask?  Great question!

A friend of mine who knew of my daughter's condition emailed me about a type of wheat called Einkorn.  I checked it out further in the comments section of a Nourished Kitchen post.  There many people posted that even though they were gluten sensitive they were able to eat Einkorn wheat.

Einkorn berries- courtesy of Nourished Kitchen
Einkorn wheat is wheat that has never been hybridized and that seems to make all the difference in the world.  

New versions of wheat have been hybridized to increase the amount of gluten, which yields better crops.

My usual skeptical self at first, I allowed the number of people commenting to convince me to try Einkorn on my daughter.  I ordered some organic Einkorn berries (unground wheat) from Tropical Traditions and gave it a try.  First, I had to borrow a friends grain mill and grind them, but that's another story.  Not to fear, they also sell it as straight flour too.  

I made two types of bread, both of which she ate, and I waited.  Usually a few accidental gold fish is enough to cause her bowels to be a mess.  The next day... no issues at all.  Gave her some more.  Still no issues.  Ran out of the bread and took a break for 2 weeks.  Made pizza dough out of the Einkorn flour.  My daughter was so excited to get to eat the pizza slices that we were also eating.  Still no issues!
Einkorn differs from modern hybridized wheat in a few fundamental ways: it contains just 14 chromosomes as compared to modern hybridized wheat which contains 42.  Further, the gliadin in Einkorn is functionally different from the gliadin contained in modern versions of wheat with some data suggesting it might be better tolerated by those with wheat or gluten-sensitivities.  As is often the case with older varietals, Einkorn is also richer in nutrients like beta carotene, B vitamins and antioxidants than its modern cousin. - source Nourished Kitchen (emphasis mine)

Sourdough Einkorn Pizza
Photo courtesy of Nourished Traditions
If you'd like to buy some Einkorn flour you probably won't find it in an American store, but maybe an Italian one if you are in Italy.  

The best source that I've found is Tropical Traditions.  They seem to be a trust worthy brand, and have a very good price on it compared to other sites.

Beyond the flour there are a variety of noodles that can be purchased, all made from Einkorn flour.  

Jovial foods (it Italy) sells Einkorn flour as well as cookies and noodles made from it.  They even carry an oven ready brown rice lasagna noodle.  I just placed an order with them and got free shipping by using the online code FREESHIP2013.   You can also like them on Facebook for a $1 Einkorn cookies coupon.  

Tropical Traditions carries the Jovial flour and berries.

For Vitacost lovers they also carry a few of the Einkorn noodles.

My favorite go to gluten free products are made from organic brown rice (organic has 1/4 of the arsenic in it, on average, compared to non organic rice).  It's sold in a variety of forms and is easily found in most grocery stores and online. The cheapest I've found the noodles has been $1.99 a pound at Trader Joe's.  I also love a bread they sell called Food For Life organic Brown Rice bread (best eaten lightly to heavily toasted).

For some awesome Einkorn recipes feel free to check out Nourished Kitchen where she has some amazing recipes like pizza, chicken turnovers, and even cookies with cream!

Let me know if you have any follow up questions and I'll do my best to help answer them.  

I hope this helps you and allows you to enjoy eating more!

Warning:  Those suffering from celiac disease should avoid Einkorn, as well as any other products with gluten in them, as they won't be able to tolerate them.  Not everyone who is gluten sensitive may tolerate Einkorn.


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