Did you know research has shown our present day wheat contains less reactive proteins than heirloom varieties? Gluten intolerance and sensitivities appear to be on the rise. But is it really gluten causing the reaction? Science says maybe not in the way we thought. Wheat contains several types of proteins. Within the gluten group are glutenins and gliadins.
Gliadins are more likely to be responsible for celiac disease and some types of wheat allergy. Modern wheat is not bred for higher gliadin content. It's been bred for high-molecular weight glutenins, essential for bread baking quality (light, fluffy) but carrying low risk of causing celiac disease or wheat allergy. So, why are people reacting to bread?
Traditional methods of sprouting and fermenting are largely removed from industrial bread making. Sprouting grains activates enzymes within the grains to breakdown hard to digest proteins. Sourdough fermenting also breaks these proteins. Add to this the industrialized methods for processing wheat (milling vs. stone grinding) and we have completely changed the flour used in baking.
Milled white flour lacks enzymes to break down gluten. Those enzymes are in the lost bran. Whole grain bread contains bran to cut though gluten but is extremely dense. Because people wanted whole grain bread that was light and fluffy, wheat gluten or vital wheat gluten has been added to industrial bread making. However, no added enzymes are available to break down that extra gluten. Vital wheat gluten use has tripled in the last three decades. Keep in mind vital wheat gluten is also a protein source for many vegetarian and vegan products, adding to the amounts found in some people's diets.
While bread is being blamed for many things, it is interesting to note the results of a 2012 study. Published in "Nutrition Reviews," evidence from 38 epidemiologic studies found dietary patterns including whole grain bread didn't contribute to weight gain. What to do? If you do not have or have family history of celiac, then choosing breads that are sprouted without added vital wheat gluten should be okay within moderation.
For those with celiac disease, it remains best to avoid gluten, especially sources of added vital wheat gluten. Those with this condition lack the enzymes to break down these proteins. Perhaps in time, development of non-reactive wheat will become common and used in commercial baking.
Dianna Richardson of the Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center in Jefferson City has served communities as a wellness practitioner for more than 20 years. She has her doctorate degree in naturopathy, a master's degree in health and wellness, a bachelor's degree in public health education and is a certified wellness specialist. Core to her practice has been the use of nutrition to enhance health and improve vitality.