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How has wheat changed in the USA in the last 60 years?

by (10502)
Updated about 18 hours ago
Created September 17, 2010 at 2:38 AM

WSJ recently published an article about gluten. Read it and come back here.

[Try not to have any conniptions when they refer abstaining from wheat and dairy as "restricted".]

Anyhow, what jumped out at me was:

In a novel study, researchers at the Mayo Clinic tested blood samples taken from 9,133 young Air Force recruits in the 1950s and found that about 1 in 700 had undiagnosed celiac disease at that time. Tests on subjects exactly the same age now found that the rate was nearly five times as high today.

"Human genes haven't changed that much, so there has to be something pervasive in the environment that is making this disease more common," says Joseph Murray, a Mayo gastroenterologist who led the study, published in the journal Gastroenterology last year. It may be that people are more susceptible because we are eating much more wheat today???or that wheat is being processed or cultivated differently.

I think there is something to this argument. Namely, environmental factors have changed.

My totally-shoot-from-the-hip guess is that modern wheat has been bred for higher gluten content and therefore gluten's malicious effects are likely amplified.

Is there any evidence for this? If this is the case, why would this be?

Also, anyone know if there were/are substantive differences between European/American wheat? I have an inkling there is/was.

For bonus fun: Anyone have any data on differences in wheat between now and antiquity?

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144 · November 12, 2013 at 7:31 PM

I have read the same thing, that wheat now contains more gluten (intentionally bred this way to make cakes 'fluffier' etc). I also believe that people have way too much. Maybe it wouldn't be such a problem if people ate, say, one piece of sourdough a day (I personally may have a piece of sourdough once a week, apart from that no wheat), but people tend to eat it for every single meal. Bloody hell...talk about unhealthy.

F15e0bae42dbf0b8cfc71e62902497b4
2026 · October 09, 2011 at 6:18 AM

people generally gain weight after going gluten free. This is often celebrated as many are diagnosed when they are underweight and nearly all are malnourished. The weight gain is partially from increased absorption and partially from the amount of sugar in most gluten free "products"

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117
25467 · October 08, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Grace one of the clinical findings of the use of bromides and wheat is that is cause a very special skin flare up on the face and trunk. Often it is associated with atopic dermatitis and asthma too. I have seen it more in younger people than older and the Derms are missing it.

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117
25467 · October 08, 2011 at 9:20 PM

This is in his book Wheat Belly too.

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3703 · September 26, 2010 at 11:56 PM

The EU is also trying to not permit genetically modified crops as well. Here in the US we are overrun by GMO crops which are killing national and global biodiversity (tomatoes, potates, canola, soy, wheat, corn CORN CORN, etc). Nicole, we are ruining future generations by the bromides. I think of it this way... as I was pregnant gobbling bromides and wheat, my babies' DNA and epigenomes were formed. These epigenomes affect my daughters' children and even potentially their respective children. The damage? Who knows but many rare diseases have increased exponentially in 15yrs!

6eb2812b40855ba64508cbf2dc48f1b6
2119 · September 26, 2010 at 7:26 PM

I have to say that I was horrified to find out about bromides. I don't have the option of eating wheat anyway because of gluten intolerance, but yet another halide is not what people need. Thyroid problems are a growing epidemic! It's my understanding that bromated flour is illegal in the EU.

3864f9a2af09b1b447c7963058650a34
3703 · September 18, 2010 at 4:34 AM

Excellent link Kamal -- YOU ROCK!!

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1932 · September 17, 2010 at 7:58 PM

Slightly aside the topic, but I remember a few years ago, hubby asked me WHY I was putting "vital wheat gluten" in foods, and I told him, "what's the big deal - it's protein!" Argh....if we could only take back some words! But I have learned, and now I know better, I do WAY better.

B3c62d89cd47b7d7209b6a99243d0ded
10768 · September 17, 2010 at 2:28 PM

Corn sugar is the new evil! http://healthland.time.com/2010/09/14/high-fructose-corn-syrup-might-get-a-makeover/

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7
24523 · September 17, 2010 at 1:30 PM

Kilton: true, but the site says that wheat rose from a low in 1600 to a high around 1900, then fell. It would be interesting to see heart disease data per century, although controlling for other variables would be very difficult.

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2423 · September 17, 2010 at 11:55 AM

Actually it looks like wheat consumption is down compared to a hundred years ago: http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/wheat/consumption.htm

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20787 · September 17, 2010 at 6:08 AM

Patrik, yes, I am sure there are many other diffs that we don't yet understand, everything from fast rise yeast to GM mods to hormonones and chemicals, to soil depletion to PUFAs to lack of omega 3! One prob is there are so many likely culrits!

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3
20787 · September 17, 2010 at 6:05 AM

Nico, for a while now, I've had a sneaking suspicion that 'corn sugar' is the ultimate crap food. It does not even taste good yet people are slurping it down. Weird and creepy! Real sugar tastes much much better. A local sandwich shop is even importing sodas from Mexico because they are still made with real sugar and taste so much better. I can at least understand why poeple like sugar. it tastes good. But why are they eating the corn syrup? Must be some kind of addiction thing cuz it can't be the taste. PUFAs may be bad for you but I have never seen evidence of them as addictive.

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1793 · September 17, 2010 at 5:21 AM

I believe it's going to be 'corn sugar'.

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24523 · September 17, 2010 at 4:30 AM

Molberg Ø et al. "Mapping of gluten T cell epitopes in the bread wheat ancestors; implications for celiac disease."

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24523 · September 17, 2010 at 4:30 AM

Bonus fun: the below article explores cultivating ancient wheat varieties that are not toxic to celiac patients.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7
24523 · September 17, 2010 at 4:26 AM

He didn't specify :( This is his page; he is a grain science researcher with some good info: http://www.allexperts.com/ep/1425-24140/Food-Science/Carl-Hoseney.htm

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10502 · September 17, 2010 at 4:15 AM

I don't think it is a 'mystery' either - but am distinctly curious as to changes in the food landscape at the producer level in 20th century.

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10502 · September 17, 2010 at 4:13 AM

Interesting. What time-frame was the USDA scientist referring to with regard to Europe and USA?

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16 Answers

0242b468fe1c97997749db416c92e7ed
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4528 · September 17, 2010 at 12:11 PM

Dr. Davis (Heartscan Blog) did a couple of blogs about modern wheat v. neolithic wheat. Apparently, the three original varieties of wheat available to Neolithic man, have become over 25,000 varieties over the past 30 years, thanks to hybridization and genetic tinkering.

http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/emmer-einkorn-and-agribusiness.html

Dr. Davis did a little experiment using Einkorn wheat, which is supposedly one of the earliest cultivated varieties, and found dramatically improved blood sugar responses.

http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/2010/06/in-search-of-wheat-einkorn-and-blood.html

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117
25467 · October 08, 2011 at 9:20 PM

This is in his book Wheat Belly too.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3
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20787 · September 17, 2010 at 3:11 AM

Several things come to mind. First, the most obvious. It says right in the article, Americans eat more wheat now than they did in the past. More wheat equals more celiac. They probably answered their own question, at least in part.

Another potential issue:I read somewhere that in the recent past, like maybe one generation ago, yeast for making bread was all slow rise, which gave it more time to predigest the poisons in grains. So all the bread was probably more healthy than it is now, because it fermented for a LOT longer than it does now.

Another thing, the rest of our diet is much less healthy now. We have given up most saturated fat, which has been shown to be protective in a variety of ways. We have replaced it with PUFAs which has been shown to be just the opposite. And we are tanking up and tons of sugar and high fructose corn syrup (now called 'Corn syrup' if the manufacturers have their way). I suspect that if have a myriad of lifestyle changes that might further weaken general health and gut health, then you are more likely to develop leaky gut and celiac.

Our parents ate healthy real food. Many of them lived before tv dinners were invented. They ate meat and butter and lard and veggies and much less grains. Grain recipies back then had you soak the grains before cooking, cutting out much of the phytic acid and sometimes partially fermenting them which would have helped make them safer. Bread was made with slow rise yeast. Much less sugar was consumed making for different gut flora. High fructose corn syrup was not even yet on the map. Really, I don't see the reason for increased celiac rates as being any kind of mystery at all. Just about every change in diet from our parent's time has probably contributed to it.

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13
10502 · September 17, 2010 at 4:15 AM

I don't think it is a 'mystery' either - but am distinctly curious as to changes in the food landscape at the producer level in 20th century.

02736efa3fda31740e8890eed0cb663d
1793 · September 17, 2010 at 5:21 AM

I believe it's going to be 'corn sugar'.

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3
20787 · September 17, 2010 at 6:05 AM

Nico, for a while now, I've had a sneaking suspicion that 'corn sugar' is the ultimate crap food. It does not even taste good yet people are slurping it down. Weird and creepy! Real sugar tastes much much better. A local sandwich shop is even importing sodas from Mexico because they are still made with real sugar and taste so much better. I can at least understand why poeple like sugar. it tastes good. But why are they eating the corn syrup? Must be some kind of addiction thing cuz it can't be the taste. PUFAs may be bad for you but I have never seen evidence of them as addictive.

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5
2423 · September 17, 2010 at 11:55 AM

Actually it looks like wheat consumption is down compared to a hundred years ago: http://www.ers.usda.gov/briefing/wheat/consumption.htm

B3c62d89cd47b7d7209b6a99243d0ded
10768 · September 17, 2010 at 2:28 PM

Corn sugar is the new evil! http://healthland.time.com/2010/09/14/high-fructose-corn-syrup-might-get-a-makeover/

62ed65f3596aa2f62fa1d58a0c09f8c3
20787 · September 17, 2010 at 6:08 AM

Patrik, yes, I am sure there are many other diffs that we don't yet understand, everything from fast rise yeast to GM mods to hormonones and chemicals, to soil depletion to PUFAs to lack of omega 3! One prob is there are so many likely culrits!

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7
24523 · September 17, 2010 at 1:30 PM

Kilton: true, but the site says that wheat rose from a low in 1600 to a high around 1900, then fell. It would be interesting to see heart disease data per century, although controlling for other variables would be very difficult.

8e3782b68e033763485472f414f507a5
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2423 · September 17, 2010 at 12:02 PM

One thing is for sure -- soil quality has decreased dramatically over the last 50 years or so. This affects wheat and everything else we grow. We should expect some repercussions.

Per http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19013359 :

"The concentrations of zinc, iron, copper and magnesium remained stable between 1845 and the mid 1960s, but since then have decreased significantly, which coincided with the introduction of semi-dwarf, high-yielding cultivars."

3864f9a2af09b1b447c7963058650a34
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3703 · September 18, 2010 at 4:41 AM

For the ground wheat (e.g. flour) to flow bromides are used -- these affect thyroid and autoimmunity.

To prevent pests, wheat and other grain crops are GMO (which has its own host of issues and toxicity) and pesticide-soaked.

Wheat flour is bleached -- again changing the food and oxidizing vitamins, minerals and organic components in horrible ways. Chlorine, peroxides and other nasties are employed. Again, reactive halides like chlorine will fill in for iodine which is necessary for thyroid, adrenals and many of our vitally functioning glands and detoxification systems. Yeah. Testes and ovaries INCLUDED! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flour_bleaching_agent

There are MANY factors why Western (and now Eastern) civilizations ruin their health on wheat grains...

Russia is now moving toward GMO wheat after their recent drought. Sad.

6eb2812b40855ba64508cbf2dc48f1b6
2119 · September 26, 2010 at 7:26 PM

I have to say that I was horrified to find out about bromides. I don't have the option of eating wheat anyway because of gluten intolerance, but yet another halide is not what people need. Thyroid problems are a growing epidemic! It's my understanding that bromated flour is illegal in the EU.

3864f9a2af09b1b447c7963058650a34
3703 · September 26, 2010 at 11:56 PM

The EU is also trying to not permit genetically modified crops as well. Here in the US we are overrun by GMO crops which are killing national and global biodiversity (tomatoes, potates, canola, soy, wheat, corn CORN CORN, etc). Nicole, we are ruining future generations by the bromides. I think of it this way... as I was pregnant gobbling bromides and wheat, my babies' DNA and epigenomes were formed. These epigenomes affect my daughters' children and even potentially their respective children. The damage? Who knows but many rare diseases have increased exponentially in 15yrs!

Ed71ab1c75c6a9bd217a599db0a3e117
25467 · October 08, 2011 at 9:24 PM

Grace one of the clinical findings of the use of bromides and wheat is that is cause a very special skin flare up on the face and trunk. Often it is associated with atopic dermatitis and asthma too. I have seen it more in younger people than older and the Derms are missing it.

6eb2812b40855ba64508cbf2dc48f1b6
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2119 · September 26, 2010 at 7:27 PM

Did anyone catch this towards the end of the article?

"Fruits, vegetables and meat are naturally gluten-free, so experts advise loading up on those rather than relying on packaged products."

Yay!

F15e0bae42dbf0b8cfc71e62902497b4
2026 · October 09, 2011 at 6:18 AM

people generally gain weight after going gluten free. This is often celebrated as many are diagnosed when they are underweight and nearly all are malnourished. The weight gain is partially from increased absorption and partially from the amount of sugar in most gluten free "products"

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7
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24523 · September 17, 2010 at 2:48 AM

With respect to European vs. American wheat, a USDA scientist says there is little difference:

"The gluten content of flours is related to the amount of protein they contain. Because of growing conditions European wheats are often lower in protein when compared to North American wheats. However this is not always true. Also it is a common practice in Europe to add gluten to flour at the mill. Thus the protein and gluten content of flours is very similar on both sides of the Atlantic."

A recent paper (Van den Broek 2010) found higher gluten content in the wheat of today vs the wheat of 100 years ago. The paper is called "Presence of celiac disease epitopes in modern and old hexaploid wheat varieties: wheat breeding may have contributed to increased prevalence of celiac disease"

But I wonder how much of the increased celiac is due to wheat differences vs just wheat dominating the grain landscape these days.

21fd060d0796fdb8a4a990441e08eae7
24523 · September 17, 2010 at 4:26 AM

He didn't specify :( This is his page; he is a grain science researcher with some good info: http://www.allexperts.com/ep/1425-24140/Food-Science/Carl-Hoseney.htm

93f44e8673d3ea2294cce085ebc96e13
10502 · September 17, 2010 at 4:13 AM

Interesting. What time-frame was the USDA scientist referring to with regard to Europe and USA?

145d4b0f988af15acc6b26eccc1f4895
1932 · September 17, 2010 at 7:58 PM

Slightly aside the topic, but I remember a few years ago, hubby asked me WHY I was putting "vital wheat gluten" in foods, and I told him, "what's the big deal - it's protein!" Argh....if we could only take back some words! But I have learned, and now I know better, I do WAY better.

B3c62d89cd47b7d7209b6a99243d0ded
1
10768 · September 18, 2010 at 12:23 AM

http://www.kew.org/science/ecbot/papers/nesbitt2001wheat.pdf Is the core of the review I am putting together, but it is a great historical read to start with!

Bad3a78e228c67a7513c28f17c36b3cf
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1387 · November 12, 2013 at 11:50 PM

A completely different hypothesis re increases in celiac disease is the widespread and frequent use of antibiotics has so messed up our gut microbiomes that food intolerances have greatly increased.

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1262 · November 12, 2013 at 7:42 PM

Very nice topic. Wheat, as we know it today, is really a poor food. But our ancestors ate better wheat for sure, and the Roman Army conquered the world on white bread (they did not add CLO to their diet until they reached the Atlantic, some 700 years after the founding of the Republic). I do not think it is a soil mineral problem. The two problems are that Borlaug and Co. developed strains based solely on profit motives. The second is that until 1860 at least there was only sourdough bread. My mother only ate sourdough.

Borlaug killed 5000 years of wheat evolution towards more digestible strains (granted digestibility was only one of three evolutionary forces, together with hardiness and nutrition), and chemical leavening did the rest. But you have to realize that if you had a lighter wheat, any visitor to your village would give you a cow for a bag of it to plant at home. It necessarily spread, people were very in tune with their health and were always looking for ways to get stronger. The paleo culture is all about recognizing evolution to make informed choices. I have met someone whose digestive problems eased when she started buying wheat from the Amish, who still grow their own varieties.

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0 · November 12, 2013 at 7:19 PM

European wheat and North American wheat are different. My father is a baker. We immigrated from Germany in the early 80's, he still talks about how he struggled to create a perfect loaf of bread in those first five years. He said the bread would over proof and be to light in weight or texture. European breads are heavier; which is partially due to the fact that most European breads use a mixture of rye and wheat with sourdough. My own personal experience with the wheat issue was when we took our youngest daughter to Europe after her second birthday. Since she started eating regular food she has suffered from really loose stools. We were trying everything to help her retains some of her nutrients. During our trip we were going dairy free at the suggestion of our naturopath. I noticed a difference right away. She was eating bread all the time. (Europeans actually eat more bread on average than we do), and her digestive system was loving it!. Then as expected we came back to Canada and everything went back to the old way. Since then I have switched her to the 100% spelt and 100% rye breads that my dad makes. It took a while for the family to get used to these breads as they resemble bricks and are not as soft as wheat or wheat mix breads but we are all feeling much better. Ps. My daughter is okay with dairy. On the same trip to Europe she tried one of my father in laws soy yogurts ( because she was going dairy free); the soy went right through her. It was the only hiccup that we had with her on the trip. Since then I make sure all of our food is also soy free. Quite an impossibility in North America. Soy is used as a filler in absolutely everything!!!

,

European wheat and North American wheat are different. My father is a baker. We immigrated from Germany in the early 80's, he still talks about how he struggled to create a perfect loaf of bread in those first five years. He said the bread would over proof and be to light in weight or texture. European breads are heavier; wich is partially due to the fact that most European breads use a mixture of rye and wheat with sourdough. My own personal experience with the wheat issue was when we took our youngest daughter to Europe after her second birthday. Since she started eating regular food she has suffered from really loose stools. We were trying everything to help her retains some of her nutrients. Durring our trip we were going dairy free at the suggestion of our naturopath. I noticed a difference right away. She was eating bread all the time. (Europeans actually eat more bread on average than we do), and her digestive system was loving it!. Then as expected we came back to Canada and everything went back to the old way. Since then I have switched her to the 100% spelt and 100% rye breads that my dad makes. It took a while for the family to get used to these breads as they resemble bricks and are not as soft as wheat or wheat mix breads but we are all feeling much better. Ps. My daughter is okay with dairy. On the same trip to Europe she tried one of my father in laws soy yogurts ( because she was going dairy free); the soy went right through her. It was the only hiccup that we had with her on the trip. Since then I make sure all of our food is also soy free. Quite an impossibility in North America. Soy is used as a filler in absolutely everything!!!

86ed4b24503cbccdd3660e32c097effa
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0 · April 19, 2013 at 6:23 PM

I lived in Algeria for 6 years, then France for 12 years. I returned to the U.S. and immediately began to have IBS symptoms which are somewhat relieved by avoiding wheat. Is it the GMO's? what is different between US and European wheat (or food in general)? Watching my diet helps but it doesn't entirely irradicate my difficulties. I would love to find out exactly what makes me sick. I eat very little processed foods as a result.

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0 · October 08, 2011 at 6:14 PM

take a look at this article printed in McClean's magazine (Canada). Sept. issue, 2011

http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/09/20/on-the-evils-of-wheat-why-it-is-so-addictive-and-how-shunning-it-will-make-you-skinny/

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826 · December 02, 2010 at 2:06 AM

I dont know how its changed in the last 60, but VTech and Monsanto are going to ensure it changes over the next 60

http://www.grainnet.com/articles/Virginia_Tech_and_Monsanto_Partner_to_Develop_Better_Wheat_Varieties-101498.html

Fd37874a51a3e2b269fbcfbf35d6f4c8
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0 · December 02, 2010 at 1:35 AM

Meat isn't always gf. Some companies use fillers that contain wheat to plump up their product...:(

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5516 · September 17, 2010 at 12:29 PM

I read somewhere that when humans first cultivated wheat there were only two strains. The same source said that during the 20th century scientists started trying to produce higher yield strains so now there are over 10,000 differing types. So they said you really never know what you're eating any more.

I can't come up with a link though... So take that with a grain of sea salt.

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