Like most kids in America, I grew up eating sliced bread. Around the time I entered middle school, my lunches were packed with a turkey or ham sandwich with mustard on white bread. (It sounds boring and awful now, but at the time I found it quite delectable) Whole wheat bread entered the scene when my mom started hearing more about the importance of feeding your family whole grains and ensuring they get the correct amount of fiber for optimal health. The whole-wheat obsession of the late nineties followed: breads, crackers, cereals, wraps, even cookies were now made with “whole grains”. “How wonderful!” I thought, “I can still eat the things that I want, as long as I buy the whole grain version, and I’ll be the healthiest kid on the block!” Unfortunately, the wheat of our ancestors and the wheat of today are very distant relatives. In order to meet demand and increase productivity, the food industry has, for decades, used cross-breeding and hybridization to create a kind of wheat that has been lovingly named Frankenwheat.
This term is used to describe modern wheat that generally all Americans eat today. These modified crops have undergone serious genetic modifications to produce a “dwarf stalk” that is about 2 ½ feet shorter than a stalk of 50 years ago. It’s stockier so it can support a heavier seedbed and grow faster. This makes the crops very high-yield which is exactly what we need in order to meet the ever-growing demand for wheat; so what’s the problem? According to William Davis, a cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly, it’s the extreme techniques used to produce these dwarf stalks that should be cause for concern:
“New strains have been generated using what the wheat industry proudly insists are “traditional breeding techniques,” though they involve processes like gamma irradiation and toxins such as sodium azide. The poison control people will tell you that if someone accidentally ingests sodium azide, you shouldn’t try to resuscitate the person because you could die, too, giving CPR. This is a highly toxic chemical.
Well that sounds unappetizing. So how about if I buy organic wheat, is that better for me? Apparently not, according to Davis, who says despite that organic sticker on the label, the plant is still the same. Not only do we need to worry about ingesting toxic chemicals, wheat also has the potential to make us fat. Well that’s just great. But hasn’t it been drilled into our heads that complex carbohydrates are essential for a healthy body, and even that the consumption of good whole grains can help us lose weight or keep it off? Let’s look at how this works:
The dangers of Frankenwheat are three fold:
- It contains a long carbohydrate molecule called amylopectin A, a “super starch” that is converted to blood sugar faster than almost any other carbohydrate, even table sugar, which causes the belly to swell and give you that delightful bloated sensation. This also causes your blood sugar to spike, leading to a crash, which prompts you to eat more wheat, which continues the cycle on and on until you go to sleep at night. Shockingly, Davis claims that, “Two slices of whole wheat bread increase blood sugar to a higher level than a candy bar does.” This directly links Frankenwheat to obesity and diabetes. But don’t make that a legitimate reason to reach for a Snickers bar!
- It contains twice the number of chromosomes as traditional wheat, meaning it has a much larger number of gluten proteins, creating a “super gluten”. The rise in Celiac disease, the body’s inability to process gluten, has been attributed by numerous medical professionals to the consumption of Frankenwheat. But even for those who don’t have Celiac disease, super gluten causes inflammation in the body, a precursor to a long list of chronic diseases including heart disease and some cancers.
- Finally, Frankenwheat is an addictive appetite stimulant. Because it causes such an extreme spike in blood sugar, a mild rise in euphoria is created after eating something made with whole wheat. This creates a neurological response to desire that euphoria more and more which leads to food cravings and binge eating. Not to mention serious withdrawal symptoms when consumption is halted.
I have to say I was very disheartened by this information. Humans have been eating whole grains for thousands of years and we know it’s an essential component to a healthy diet. If I want to continue eating whole grains, how can I avoid consuming this Frankenwheat and get the real stuff? Unfortunately, I don’t know the answer to that question right now, but I want to continue to investigate this problem and would value any input from you, my health-savvy readers. Please leave your comments below and feel free to share your struggles with finding good quality foods to feed yourself and your family.
If you’re interested in more information on Frankenwheat, I suggest you read this interview from William Davis http://www2.macleans.ca/2011/09/20/on-the-evils-of-wheat-why-it-is-so-addictive-and-how-shunning-it-will-make-you-skinny/