Evidence of cultivation of wheat goes back over 11,000 years to a region that is located in what is now the southeastern region of Turkey. Cultivation of early wheat varieties soon expanded to Greece, Cyprus, India, and Egypt, and later on to present-day Germany and Spain. The Egyptians were apparently the first to bake bread, and plows were introduced to the wheat planting process as long ago as 3000 BCE!
The ancient Egyptians were the first to bake bread.
So, are grains the “staff of life” as they are labeled in some religious traditions, or are they nutritional “crutches” that do an inadequate job of replacing nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, and seeds that were intrinsic to the Paleolithic diet? Most of today’s “diseases of affluence” like heart disease and type 2 diabetes are linked to consumption of a grain-heavy diet. It may be that the shift to the increased consumption of grains 20,000 years ago did not give the human digestive system sufficient time to fully adapt to a diet that includes large amounts of grains.
What Is Gluten Sensitivity and How Prevalent Is It?
Did you know that the word “gluten” actually comes from the Latin word for “glue,” and that some of the earliest glues were in fact derived from water mixed with wheat flour? In other words, gluten is sticky and hard to digest, and this is because it contains high numbers of disulfide bonds. And over the centuries, some varieties of wheat have developed up to a 50% increase in gluten content.
Celiac disease, an immune-related intestinal disorder that is triggered by consumption of gluten, is present in around 1% of the population of the United States. Gluten sensitivity may be present in up to 13% of the population. Considering how relatively new wheat is in the typical human diet, and how the human digestive system evolved for a diet containing much less wheat than people consume, it’s possible that an even higher percentage of the population has a sensitivity that doesn’t manifest as the characteristic digestive disturbances of those with full-blown celiac disease.
What We Eat Affects How Genes Are Expressed
The mapping of the human genome has largely put to rest the concept of one gene leading to one cellular behavior. Epigenetic factors, which are those not controlled by genes themselves, have a major influence over how DNA is interpreted and expressed. Factors like regulatory proteins and environmental factors determine which genes “turn on” and which remain silent, which is how a liver cell “knows” it is a liver cell and not a skin cell, for example.
Countless factors, including what we eat, affect how our unique genetics are expressed.
Epigenetic factors are in turn influenced by the nutrients we take in, as well as exposure to pathogens, chemicals, and other environmental factors. It may be that gluten sensitivity is actually a protective response to ingestion of a substance that the human body is not designed to use.
Ways Wheat Can Be Harmful to Health
Whether or not you are sensitive to gluten, you’re wise to limit the amount of wheat in your diet, because it can contribute to a number of different health issues. Here are some of the most common negative effects of wheat on health:
When you are able to get the nutrients in wheat from other products, like nuts, fruits, and vegetables, you avoid these potential problems.
Wheat has been a staple of the human diet for thousands of years, but
that doesn’t mean that it is ideal. Over time, wheat has evolved and
been bred to have higher levels of gluten. High gluten levels may not
just be a problem for people with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity,
but for people whose sensitivity to gluten isn’t evident in the form of
digestive upset. When you can replace wheat with more complex foods
like nuts, meats, vegetables, and fruits, you spare your digestive
system from gluten-related troubles and may find that your overall
health improves as well.