What's Up With Wheat & Gluten? Facts Vs. Myths

Many of you by now have probably seen the  classic Jimmy Kimmel Show segment from last year. His  Woman-On-The Street Interviewer asks young Los Angeles gym goers if they're  on a gluten-free diet. When they say they are ( as many do), she asks them  ““What is gluten?” “This is sad,” responds the first young guy, bare-chested under a Kansas City baseball cap: “But I really don’t know.” The next bare-chested guy tells her, “It’s a flour derivative, yeah, like bread, like pastries. “ Pressed for a specific answer, he adds, “It’s a grain, right?”  The last guy tells her, “ It is a part of the wheat, that…” he shakes his head. “Dunno.” Nobody seems to know, exactly. 

In case you’re approached, gluten is the elastic protein package in wheat, rye and barley that enables bread to swell and hold its domed shape without collapsing. Its bead-like gliadin molecules form a film that traps the gas that creates the rise. Its rod-shaped elastic glutenins hook up to form an extensive network that allows bread to maintain its shape after it rises.

That doesn't sound too scary, but after reading Wheat Belly and the several million blog posts denouncing gluten as the devil's spawn, guilty of destroying our intestinal walls, our joints, our brains and bloating us up like balloons, it's understandable that you might be dazed and confused, if not alarmed..

A few facts help to clear the air.

  • Gluten myth: In the past fifty years, with the introduction of a new strain called dwarf wheat —shorter stalks, with larger heads—the gluten molecule was engineered to become more potent and more dangerous to our health. In other words, its genes have been altered for higher yield,  Fact: Not true. The percentage of gluten in wheat—about 9 to 13 % depending on the kind of wheat—is the same as it's been for at least 120 years if not longer. And the percentage of gliadin has not changed, either. William Davis in Wheat Belly  claims there are more than 14 new gluten hybrids. But the method used for creating them exists only in a lab. No wheat grown in the U.S. is cultivated using that approach.
  • Wheat myth : GM ( genetically modified)  wheat is grown across the U.S. Fact: Not trueThere is no genetically modified wheat grown anywhere in the U.S. A GM plant contains DNA from an external source—for example, genes that resist RoundUp, so that they can safely withstand the herbicide when it is sprayed on surrounding weeds. As much as 88 % of  corn and 93 % of soy grown in the U.S. is GM according to the USDA. The percent of GM wheat: zero. That won't change anytime soon. Much of our domestic wheat is sold to companies in Asia and Europe, where GM products are banned. In the U.S., consumers have no way of knowing what and what isn't a GM product, since industry lobbyists have cajoled Congress and state legislatures into eliminating identifying labels on packaging.
  • Gluten and Wheat myth: The gluten in wheat binds to  opiate receptors in the brain and causes addiction, another frightening Wheat Belly  assertion. Davis claims you need to eat 400 more calories daily to satisfy the craving. Fact: Not true. The research used to support this claim—that the carbs and gluten in wheat create compulsive hunger—has been thoroughly rebutted  by the scientific community. It is based on a 35-year-old study that also claimed the same addiction held true for spinach, rice and milk. No humans were tested. Pure opioids were fed into mouse organs. A later gut-brain study came to  precisely the opposite conclusion.