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It's not the gluten! There are many issues with grains that are making us sick

An increasing number of Americans are sensitive to wheat and other grains. Symptoms of these grain sensitivities range from a variety of gastro intestinal issues to headaches, brain fog and fatigue to muscle soreness and more. Because of this, a $10+ billion industry has grown up promoting "gluten free" products. Only about 1% percent of the population is thought to have Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by the gluten in grains that damages the intestines, but the number of people with Celiac is on the rise.

Gluten, which is a group of proteins that give bread its elasticity and chewiness, is often blamed for the non-Celiac wheat sensitivities. This is in part because when wheat products, which naturally contain gluten, are removed from the diet, symptoms often reduce or disappear. However, is gluten really to blame for all these symptoms? It may not be as simple as that. A look at the processes we use to grow, harvest, mill, refine, enrich, and even bake our wheat products in the United States point to a number of alarming practices which individually or together may be compromising our grain products and our health. Let's start at the beginning.

Growing Process

Plants produce natural pesticides in order to protect themselves from insects. A few generations ago, wheat breeders began to select for higher insect resistance. Ultimately, wheat developed that had about the same amount of gluten as always, but many times the amount of these natural pesticides, known as Amylase Tripsin Inhibitor (ATI). This ATI is known as a major wheat allergen and it is possible that Celiac disease actually starts as an allergy to the ATI in wheat flour and evolves into an inability of the intestines to handle gluten. Link: cooling inflammation blogspot

Harvesting Process

Approximately 7-10 days before harvest a majority of non-organic wheat in the United States is treated with Round-up, or another glyphosate containing herbicide. This is done to kill the plant, allowing for an earlier harvest and makes the wheat crop bigger and easier to harvest. According to the USDA, 99% of durum wheat, 97% of spring wheat and 61% of winter wheat is treated with these herbicides. Unfortunately, some amount of this herbicide stays on the wheat and makes its way into our digestive systems through the bread, pasta and other wheat products we eat. What wrong with that? The glyphosate in Round-up can disrupt the functioning of beneficial bacteria in our guts, and therefore can contribute to autoimmune disorders such as Celiac disease, certain cancers and other inflammatory health problems. The real reason wheat is toxic

Milling/Refining Process

Most conventional wheat products are made using a process called superfine milling. The inedible bran and the germ are first removed, then the remaining endosperm is ground so finely that the starch granules are broken. This superfine milling is done to lengthen the shelf life of wheat products. The problem with Superfine milling is the flour is readily digested in the intestines instead of feeding gut flora in the form of soluble fiber. This starves our gut flora and makes us more susceptible to allergy and inflammation. We are taking out vitamins and nutrients and making the product less nutritious and more inflammatory to our bodies. Other questionable processes at this stage include bromating the wheat, which means adding potassium bromate in order to strengthen gluten development and bleaching the flour to make the bread lighter colored. Link - cooling inflammation blogspot


A critical consequence of all this refining is that we lose our taste for foods that don't contain certain vitamins. In other words, when we consume low nutrient food, our appetites lessen or down regulate, and we find other sources of food to get our nutrients. The government and the grain industry realized this many decades ago and found that if you add certain B vitamins back into the grains, usually at much higher levels than the grains had in the first place, our appetite for these breads and cereals will increase and we will buy and eat more. Of course, we are told that breads and cereals are "enriched" for our health, but in reality it has nothing to do with health. This addition of unnaturally high amounts of iron, thiamine, niacin, etc. increases our appetite and encourages us to eat more food that we would not normally have a taste for. There is a current theory that this is what has caused our current obesity epidemic. How food enrichment promotes obesity. It is interesting to note that France and several other countries do not enrich their bread (in fact there are laws against it) and they have significantly less obesity even though they eat 40% more grains than Americans. Vitamin supplementation and obesity.

Baking Process

Most current wheat crops do not have much more gluten than in past generations. However, modern baking practices increase the gluten in the end product in several ways. First, instead of traditional bread making which uses sourdough starter with naturally occurring bacteria and yeast from the surrounding air, commercial bakers use fast rising yeasts. An additive called "Vital Wheat Gluten" is frequently added to allow bread to rise better in this environment. Rising in just minutes instead of the traditional hours does not give the yeast and bacteria enough time to digest all the gluten in the flour. This can lead to a variety of problems in our guts. Why there is more gluten in our bread today.

What can we do? What can we eat?

It is amazing what has happened to our wheat products in a few short decades. In efforts to increase yield, improve shelf life, and enhance our appetites, modern food producers have taken a staple of our diet (breads and grains) that humans have consumed for millennia with little or no health issues, and turned it into a "Frankenfood". Bread, which was a cheap, nutritious way to fill our stomachs for thousands of years, is now potentially the cause of obesity and a variety of inflammatory diseases.

So, should we swear off all bread and pasta? Go gluten free in order to avoid the risk of all these health problems? The answer for me is no. Now I know that gluten, which is a natural part of wheat and other grain products, is not intrinsically unhealthy. Now I know the processes we have developed in recent decades to bring wheat from farm to plate have made these foods a health risk and lacking in proper nutrition. Now I can take steps and make choices to get better, more nutritious wheat products in my diet. However, we have to be very careful of what we consume. Much like other food in our diets, we need to consider both the source and the process by which it is made.

I recommend a few key practices when buying or making bread or other wheat products (ex. flour, crackers, pasta, etc.):

Look for 100% whole grain as the only ingredient. If it says "Enriched" don't buy it. If the ingredients include folate, iron, thiamine, etc. that also means it has been enriched.

Favor organically grown bread, pasta, flour. Organic wheat products have not been coated with Round -up just days before harvest. Even my local Food Lion has organically grown bread with 100% whole wheat in the bakery section.

Several brands of Italian pastas are grown organically and without any of the practices I mention in this article. Read the labels carefully. These pastas are about twice the price of regular enriched pasta but for me, the $3 vs the $1.50 for a box of pasta is well worth it for such a superior product.

Make your own bread or pasta. I have started buying King Arthur brand flour, which is not enriched, bleached, bromated or otherwise adulterated. I use my old bread machine to knead the dough then let it rise for a few hours and bake in a traditional bread pan. One loaf per week is great to have with dinner, for lunch sandwiches and even with some honey on top at breakfast.

Look for bakeries that make bread in the traditional manner, with 100% whole wheat and sourdough starter. They are few and far between but I have found a few in my area.

When you vacation in France, Italy, or various other countries, enjoy the bread and pasta without guilt!

At first glance, these suggestions may seem like you have to jump through a lot of hoops to get high quality, unadulterated wheat products. Remember, however, I recommend very similar discriminating practices when it comes to buying and eating eggs, beef, fruit and vegetables and other food. For example beef from factory farms have less healthy omega-3 fatty acids and more omega-6's because the cattle are fed corn instead of the grasses they evolved to eat. Because of this unnatural diet, the cattle must be injected with antibiotics to keep them gaining weight. Therefore, whenever possible we should be buying and eating beef from organically grown, grass fed cattle.


Gluten has been cited by many well-meaning, health conscious people, including myself over the years, as being something to avoid. Something that can and will make you sick, and generally miserable. However, with the exception of those few who have unfortunately developed Celiac Disease, gluten per se should not be a problem for most of us. However, wheat and wheat products that are bred for super pest resistance, drenched in Round-up just prior to harvest, milled into oblivion, hyper-enriched, and baked unnaturally fast can and will cause many of us problems to our health. Avoid conventionally grown and commercially made wheat products and stick with organic, artisanal, and home made and you can enjoy a long and healthy relationship with bread, pasta and other wheat products for years to come!

Posted April 16, 2017 by Tim Rankin