The ancient texts of Ayurveda extol the virtues of wheat, as a nourishing, strengthening food. Its properties are heavy, oily, sweet and cooling. As it is fairly heavy to digest, it is best not to over consume. Looking at wheat from a modern perspective, this ‘heaviness’ is mainly attributed to the gluten content of wheat (the elasticity proteins), or more specifically the gliadin component of gluten. This is something we can digest in small quantities but causes difficulties in large quantities.
This is the wheat of several thousand years ago, or, more accurately, the wheat of up to about 1950.
What’s happened to wheat since then?
We wanted more from it. We wanted MORE of it. We wanted it SPONGIER. We wanted it EASIER. So we started to modify it so it was easier to farm, more resistant to adverse conditions, gave greater yields and gave ‘lighter’, spongier bread. We still call it wheat, but it is so different, it is almost an affront to advertising standards to call it so. If you were bringing this new grain to the market now, you’d have to have it tested on humans to prove it was safe. The insidious nature of the changes means this hasn’t had to happen and I do wonder how it would have fared if it had.
The result of this hybridisation is a grain which no longer has the nourishing, strengthening qualities. The result is a grain that our stomachs have not evolved to digest. The result is a grain with more and modified gluten in it.
The gliadin and thus gluten components have been altered over the years so that relative quantities of known ‘trouble maker’ sequences in it are much higher1. Other protein chains have been altered, creating new glutenin proteins, the great majority of which have never before been consumed by humans. This modern wheat has become very heavy, sticky and difficult to digest. It is often compared to chewing gum in the stomach.
So, while our grandparents’ generation ate wheat and didn’t suffer too much from it, in just a few generations, the grain has changed so much in so little time that our stomachs haven’t evolved quick enough to digest it. This begins to explain why suddenly there is so much more prevalence of wheat intolerance. It isn’t so much wheat per se, but MODERN wheat. People may find their digestion does funny things after eating wheat (bloating or changes to bowel movements for example) or that they develop a wheat coma (tiredness and lethargy after eating, sometimes like a hangover if you’ve ever experienced one of those…). It has been found to have even further reaching effects such as painful joints, swelling, inflammation, diabetes and obesity2 3.
Moreover, there is now wheat in EVERYTHING. Up until about 1960, wheat was in the bread, cakes, biscuits – the normal things you’d expect. Now, as more and more food is processed and designed to be made cheaper, easier and quicker, wheat is the added ingredient of choice. Not only are we finding it harder to digest, we have more of it, overloading our systems.
The great news is that there is a simple answer to this; eat ancient grains such as spelt, einkorn and kamut. These grains haven’t been altered out of recognition; they are essentially the same now as they were when the ancient Ayurvedic texts were written. Genetically, einkorn is the simplest and oldest; kamut is a little more complex and spelt a little more so. All are light-years away from the wheat we commonly eat now.
Spelt makes wonderful, tasty bread, can be substituted for normal flour in most recipes and doesn’t require drastic changes to the way you cook. In Richmond nearby, for example, there is a bakery which uses solely spelt flour for its baked goods – including croissants, pretzels, pizzas and pastries. It shows it can be done! You can buy both wholegrain and white spelt flour from mainstream supermarkets (Doves Farm for example). Einkorn and Kamut can be found in health food shops.
Give it a try. You’ll notice the difference.
Till next time, take care of yourselves.
Author: Kate Siraj, Ayurvedic Practitioner, BSc Ayurveda, MChem (Oxon), MAPA.
© The Ayurveda Practice
Photo thanks to FreeDigitalPhotos.net
1 Glia-α9. Absent from primitive strains of wheat such as einkorn. Also to three other fractions of gliadin.
2 Cordain L. Cereal grains: Humanity’s double-edged sword. Simopoulos AP (ed): Evolutionary Aspects of Nutrition and Health. Diet, Exercise, Genetics and Chronic Disease. World Rev Nutr Diet. Basel, Karger, 1999, vol 84, pp 19–73
3 Davis, W. Wheat Belly. Rodale, 2011. Pennsylvania, USA.