Your Facebook questions answered: Is modern wheat toxic?

“Recently a dietitian friend of mine posted The Myth of Big, Bad Gluten by Moises Velasquez-Manoff on Facebook. One comment that came back to her was: “This article did not address the genetically modified wheat of today. That is why our bodies are recognizing wheat as a toxin/foreign substance, because it is not as natural as it was 100 years ago”. I thought I read somewhere recently that this is not the case at all (GMO wheat being recognized as a toxin/foreign substance), as well as reading this evening that wheat is not GMO (Dr. William Davis). I would really appreciate any comments! And once again, many thanks for being our watchdog.”, asks Enlightened Eater Facebook fan, Jennifer Burnham.

Thank you, Jennifer, for the compliment about being a watchdog!

This article does address some key questions about wheat, celiac disease and other auto-immune disorders.  Velasquez-Manoff  points out something that a number of scientists have recently reported: despite what the wheat-haters say, wheat has not changed much over the past century. The amount of gluten is very similar to what it has long been. And there,  absolutely, is no genetically modified wheat on the market.

In addition, he contradicts those who say we’re binging on wheat. He states,

Do we eat more wheat these days? Wheat consumption has, in fact, increased since the 1970s, according to the U.S.D.A. But that followed an earlier decline. In the late 19th century, Americans consumed nearly twice as much wheat per capita as we do today.

But the author brings up some key issues about  our immune systems and autoimmune disease.  This appears to be where the dramatic changes are occurring: the rates of autoimmune disease have risen sharply as  has have allergies and inflammatory bowel disease.

He ends with a profound question,

Maybe we should stop asking what’s wrong with wheat, and begin asking what’s wrong with us.

There are some experts who are looking for answers to this question.

At the  Whole Grains: Breaking Barriers conference last autumn, sponsored by Boston-based think tank Oldways and the Whole Grains CouncilDr. Alessio Fasano, a world-renowned celiac disease expert who is  director of the Center for Celiac Research at Mass General Hospital for Children, suggests that while our genetic makeup has not changed significantly, our environment has.

It may be responsible as the possible offender in what’s called gene expression (whether you get a disease you have the genes for).   And it is our environment that  plays a major role in the balance in our gastrointestinal microbiota.

The research on our microbiota- the balance of healthy bacteria in our gut versus less than optimal microbes – is pointing to an astounding impact on both our physical and emotional health. Factors such as the  overuse of antibiotics and less than optimal diets containing processed foods with too little fibre and a shortage of probiotic and prebiotic foods may leave beneficial bacteria in short supply, possibly increasing the risk for celiac disease and other forms of gluten sensitivity along with a host of diseases. Even the risk for obesity is now being linked to our microbiota.

It may be time to, instead of looking at foods we should avoid, focus on a healthy gut. While it may be easy to blame wheat and gluten for what ails us, a look inside may be a much smarter approach.

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Categories: Your Questions Answered

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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