Monday, February 16, 2015

Is the wheat to day radically different from that produced 50 years ago? What is the truth?

Wheat is an ancient food grain that existed even 1000 years ago and the explosive growth of gluten free foods in the United States with no rhyme or reason is sending scientists on a leather hunt to fix the real culprit which creates the so called demand pull for gluten free food products. It has become fashionable to day to blame wheat for every ailment one can think of! This is reminiscent of a similar situation years ago when fat was the villain on which blame was placed for all human ailments. This leads us to question the logistics of opinion creation that makes a particular food constituents look dangerous to many people. Logically one must ask regarding the role played by scientists in this opinion making? Unfortunately some scientists themselves are responsible in creating fictional notions regarding risks posed by certain foods to the health of the consumer and this is compounded by physicians who rides this bandwagon by advising their patients to avoid these ingredients to overcome their physical discomforts for better health. 

A typical example is the so called gluten allergy which rightly or wrongly has spawned a multibillion dollar industry making fortunes right, left and the center, hawking hundreds of products containing no gluten. According the data put out by the US government there are hardly about 3 million people in that country who are really afflicted by celiac disease for whom gluten consumption can be lethal. As against this the gluten free foods are bought by more than 30 million people and annual turnover of this industry has almost doubled to $ 15 billion in 5 years time since 2009! While it is good going for the industry so far, what is intriguing is why the government is not frowning upon such happenings which may have far reaching implications. Not even a single scientific study has been able to pinpoint that gluten is bad for health and avoiding it in the regular diet may be a wiser option. What is the role of scientists in this whole sordid happenings?

It is not that scientists are not doing any thing to unravel the mystery of gluten free foods and their popularity in the US. There are many studies that attempted to bring to a conclusion regarding any bad effect gluten, contained in wheat, might have on human health. As usual scientific community is not capable to arrive at any unanimity on any controversial subject and gluten free food is no exception. One of the theories floating around talks about the genetic changes wheat must have undergone, creating a "bad" grain that causes allergy to some people. But this has been rebutted unambiguously by geneticists who confirm that wheat hundred years ago was same as it is to day and the fault may lie some where else. Modern agricultural practices have not done any harm to the wheat vis-a-vis wheat gluten. Naturally against such assertions backed up by irrefutable data are forcing the scientists to look for the cause of gluten allergy in other areas.

A culpable culprit was identified in the socalled FODMAPS components present in wheat. These are fermentable carbohydrates like oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols which are present in wheat and which after fermentation in the large intestine produce gas and pull in more water creating stomach discomfort experienced by many people after consuming wheat products. Some isolated studies do pont out to such a possibility but it is doubtful whether such an interpretation can be realistic universally looking at those avoiding wheat. Even if rue it is practically impossible to create wheat flours free of FODMAPS. Who knows next "fad" may be FODMAPS free wheat products if the industry smells money in this area! 

Bread was made earlier days using whole wheat flour before the advent of the modern "white" flour and there were no reported cases of gluten allergy to normally healthy consumers 50 years ago. It is only since 2011 that gluten free food industry has been seeing a boom though the trend was perceptible beginning the year 2000. Modern day bread is made using many ingredients which were never used during the preparation of the traditional bread. Among the ingredients used now include vital gluten, bleached flours and a variety of dough conditioners so that an absolutely white bread with "highly liked" features like texture, chewing quality and taste is obtained. Why these ingredients are not being blamed for the allergy for which the wheat grain alone is being blamed? Is this not an anachronism? In the name of "good" bread vital gluten is routinely added to the recipes that ensures good "raising" and texture. Do we know any thing about the ill effects of vital gluten that is routinely added during dough making? Is vital gluten as digestible as natural gluten formed from gliadin and glutenin during slow kneading and fermentation? Could vital gluten be a culprit in stomach discomforts caused by modern wheat products?

What is lost in this gluten free food "Circus" is the long term consequences of more and more people switching over to these foods for imaginary reasons though they really do not need them? In the place of gluten the product formulations contain carbohydrates like starch and effectively reduce the protein content of the formulated final product. This is analogous to the situation 3-4 decades ago fat free food was a "fad" and these fat free or low fat products were richer in carbohydrates, which we know to day is not healthy as per to day's thinking. Gluten free foods like bread becomes a junk food adding to the health problems Americans are already facing currently. 


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