The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

"Modern" wheat?

  • Pin It
jl-lb.ms's picture
jl-lb.ms

"Modern" wheat?

i just started baking recently, and coincidentally, my spouse has come across articles online that propose that wheat has been so modified in the last 40 years that it is (my words) virtually poisonous.  Here's one such example 

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/09/your-addiction-to-wheat-products-is-making-you-fat-and-unhealthy/245526/

What is your collective understanding, is this the scientific consensus, or is this yet another niche of pseudo-science?

 

Many thanks,

 

John

clazar123's picture
clazar123

The article is really about the book written by the man they interviewed. He is a professional cashing in on a fad and the latest fear.  I refuse to name him or the book so this thread does not pop on a search for the same and give any association with this site.

Wheat is like any food-too much is not good for anyone. We are not fat because we eat wheat-we are fat because we eat too many calories for the energy we expend. Just like money. If we take in more than we spend we are rich. If we take in more calories than we " spend" we are rich in fat.

Everything in moderation. We are biological machines designed to live on a variety of fuels. Some fuels work better than others and some that work well for you may not work well for me. Find out what works for you and depend on YOUR gut feelings. Don't live in fear and don't let someone else make you afraid. 

Enjoy the variety of all the wonderful grains on this earth-wheat,spelt,rye,oats,teff,amaranth,rice,buckwheat,quinoa,barley,etc. This website (TheFreshLoaf) is a great place to explore some of that.

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

Let's quickly take this idea to its furthest conclusion. If wheat is bad because it's modernized, then all food is bad, and you should just stop eating. We humans have been modernizing our food for thousands of years. Every time someone found or created a variety of crop, or food animal, that they perceived as better in some way, they neglected the rest in favor of the newer, better model. The modern food always wins out, ultimately. So, the next question is: What is different about wheat being "modernized" versus other foods?

If you believe everyone who has ever demonized a certain food or food group, you'd never eat again. Even vegetables were thought unhealthy at one point in our history. Tomatoes were thought to be poisonous before we knew what they were. Some people still think they are. But, science has shown that they are full of vitamin C and lycopene, among other things. I suppose the least dangerous food to eat would be green, leafy vegetables. Yep, good ole spinach! That is, until you get salmonella! Oops, forgot to sterilize the manure before using it for fertilizer!

As you can see, this kind of thinking leads to extremity without end. The truth is that there are some people who should never eat wheat, just like there are some people who should never eat peanuts, or some people who can't drink milk. There was one suggestion in the comments to the article you linked that I think would be great advice. The poster said that there would be no harm in trying a wheat-free diet. If it helps you, fine, if not, you haven't lost anything. I've gone a month without wheat before. I don't remember feeling any better during that time, and really I've suffered nothing by returning to my daily bread. I've also been a month without meat before. I felt tired all the time and lacked energy. I guess I need the protein.

Oh, one more thing about bread. I can't remember where I first saw it, it may have been on this site. But, I've read that long fermented bread has more nutrients available to your body than short fermented breads and quick breads. Essentially, the long fermentation process unlocks the natural nutrients in the flour that were there all along. Long fermentation is considered to be 12 hours or longer. Sourdough cultures have this built in. The yeast in the sourdough is slower to raise the dough, so slow fermentation is expected. Not to mention that the sourdough itself is fermented for usually 12 hours or more before even being introduced to the bread recipe. If you want the best tasting, and the most nutritious bread, let it ferment for at least 12 hours before baking. Even when using commercial yeast, this isn't hard to do. Simply put the dough in the fridge for half a day during the bulk ferment. Overnight is what people around here usually do. You'll be amazed at the depth of flavor you can get from just flour, water, yeast, and salt, if fermented for a long enough time. 

TheNettlePatch's picture
TheNettlePatch

I read the (not) afore-mentioned book. I thought it was a little extreme. Having said that, I have largely cut modern wheat out of my diet. I try to eat and bake only with ancient wheats. They are easily findable online.

On occasion, when I am out at a restaurant for example, I will give in and have the bread - who can resist freshly-baked warm bread? Not me - at least not every time. One time I got quite ill after eating it, but most times, I just get a stuffed up nose - like I am about to get a cold or something. It passes within a day. I don't get that reaction when I eat emmer, einkorn, khorasan (kamut) or spelt. Spelt wheat does seem to create a craving for more and more bread, but I don't feel ill.

As the posters before me have implied, there has to be some balance in life. The author of that book compares modern wheat to smoking - I think that's extreme. I did what clazar said and found out for myself what works and what doesn't.

Do I feel better when I don't eat modern wheat? Honestly? Yes, I do. And my husband, who is super skeptical about most things, does as well. So at home I try to stick to the old grains, and when out I try to avoid modern wheat, but once in a while I give in and while I do feel the effects, like too much wine on a Friday night, sometimes the fun is worth it ;)

 

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

I'd call it science-fiction.

TheNettlePatch's picture
TheNettlePatch

And I also love science: the ancient wheats are more nutritious. That's a scientific fact - not science fiction. Do I think that they are practical on a widescale commercial level? Probably not. I am just grateful for the people growing them. 

When we were in Italy last fall we found farro pasta (emmer (Triticum dicoccum)) - and also kamut - and filled a suitcase to bring back to England. It is astonishing how after eating farro pasta I feel satisfied but not stuffed and bloated like I did after a regular pasta meal. I have spoken with numerous people with similar experience.

I guess the only way to know whether you feel healthier eating the old grains compared to the new ones, is to actually try it. And if you don't feel any difference, at least you will have discovered new flavours, textures and granary delights and supported small growers and family businesses. And that's always a good idea.


Floydm's picture
Floydm

It isn't scientific consensus, that much is certain, though there is a growing group of people raising concerns.

The fact is that for the last hundred years wheat has been bred for disease resistance and ability to hold up to machine harvesting/milling rather than anything like appropriateness to the soil/climate where it is being grown or any characteristics of the grain such as flavour or healthfulness. Some folks believe such breeding had led to high concentrations of unhealthy compounds in modern wheats; others disagree. 

The good news is that folks like Dr Stephen Jones WSU are working with local farmers, millers, and bakers to bring back some of the older wheat varietals. See this article by Stephen Jones for info on their effort.  Whether one believes there is anything wrong or unhealthful with modern wheats, all bakers should applaud efforts to expand the number of options we have available to us.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes the nutritionist told me to stop eating bread entirely because she claimed 1 slice of store bought sandwich bread was equal to 1 full teaspoon of sugar to me.  That really did it for me.  Now, after finally getting serious about losing the extra 70 pounds I was carrying around for years, my sandwiches are just one slice of bread cut in half, that are heavy on the whole grains with lots of veggies, mustard instead of mayo..

Through hybridization, the plants are stockier and able to handle the heavier seeds tat are packed with all the same things that older grains had in them  - only more of it including, minerals enzymes, protein and starch.  They are more drought, wet, salt, cold and heat resistant too and are developed to perform better in all poorer environmental conditions ans all these are all great things. 

What has really made a huge difference in wheat crops today, as opposed to those 50 years ago is the advent of well designed commercial fertilizers.  Basically today, the real difference between a 12 and 15% protein wheat crop is how much fertilizer it received and when it received it.  Farming is way more based on science than ever before -rightly so and a good thing.   Farmers aren't trying to make a buck, like so many others, on the backs of the poor folks who are easily fooled and m,anipulated by the latest food and weight loss fad - and those promoting them..

It isn't what is in the grain that is bad, but eating too much of it is bad depending on if you are a celiac, diabetic or bound by the universal law of couch potatoes.

 But hey, I'm a food libertarian and you want to stop eating wheat I say good for you and glad that current society still allows you the freedom to do so. 

 

breadbabe's picture
breadbabe

Loving this discussion.

John (OP), please read the article carefully, as it displays the pattern for the book. Most of the proving points start with the word 'whole wheat', then the example/chart/graph/whatever changes to say, english muffin (as the article actually quotes), or processed white bread, or white rice, etc. His scientific proof is seriously flawed.

Like the other encouraging words - It looks like you are finding your own path to eat well. I would include modern wheat among those choices.

Maureen

 

 

jl-lb.ms's picture
jl-lb.ms

I suspected that this may have been sensationalized pseudo-science, and I'm not surprised to hear your responses.  As usual, it appears that moderation is the key in any case.

All the best,

John

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

can't read it.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

There is a little box on top of the spreadsheet with 82.2%-just increase that until you can read it. Hard to read the whole thing but you can scroll around..

I just got handy-dandy computer glasses-that helps,too.