Should you Avoid Wheat?
Two percent of the population has celiac disease, a genetic, intestinal autoimmune disease. These individuals should absolutely avoid gluten to avoid a myriad of problems including lymphoma. Another 6% of the population is intolerant to wheat-containing foods, experiencing digestive symptoms, joint pain, rashes, headaches, and mental disorders after eating these products. But are they reacting to the actual wheat protein, otherwise known as gluten, or the herbicides sprayed onto the wheat during its cultivation?
Wheat breads, baked goods, and pizza all contain gluten, the plant based protein that gives bread its elastic, chewy quality. But non-organic wheat containing products also contains glyphosate-a weed killer known for its’ toxic effects on the microbiome. This begs the following question: in non-celiac wheat-sensitive individuals, is the problem gluten or glyphosate?
Can Gluten be Beneficial?
A small clinical trial showed that gluten from organic wheat did not cause digestive issues in healthy, gluten-sensitive individuals.
Gluten is present in many whole grains including barley, oats, rye, farro, and spelt. Whole grains provide plant-based protein, nutrients, and prebiotic fiber. Regular intake of these grains may prevent the onset of chronic diseases.
Sprouted gluten digests more slowly in your body. This allows for a less rapid conversion to sugar, and for vitamins and minerals to be more easily absorbed.
What is Glyphosate?
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is the most commonly used herbicide for the commercial farming of wheat, soy, and corn.
Glyphosate was classified by the WHO as a probable carcinogen. It is also a known endocrine disruptor, acting at very low doses. It is also a chelator of minerals. This means that it strips nutrition from the plant itself.
What is less known about glyphosate is that it may cause a dysbiosis of the gut microbiome. Dysbiosis occurs when pathogenic or harmful bacteria accumulate and outnumber the beneficial bacteria. Dysbiosis has been associated with digestive problems, autoimmunity, mental health disorders, as well as obesity and metabolic syndrome.
Perhaps gluten-sensitivity is related to glyphosate-induced gut dysbiosis, not sensitivity to gluten itself?
If you have celiac disease, you must avoid gluten. If you are sensitive to wheat, avoiding gluten may be a good idea. But recent studies highlight the role of glyphosate, not the gluten itself, as the possible offender. More research is needed to figure this out.
In the meantime, if you would like to eat less gluten but still enjoy baked goods, choose organic whole grain or legume flours over heavily processed gluten-free products.
The recipe below highlights the use of chickpea flour in a savory, oven-baked pancake popular in Provence. Both crispy and rich with olive oil, it is typically served warm from the oven as an afternoon snack, or combined with salad for a light meal.
Socca Chickpea Pancake
Socca Chickpea Pancake-adapted from Mark Bittman’s recipe for Farinata, from the New York Times
One cup of chickpea flour
One cup of filtered drinking water
1 teaspoon of sea salt
½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
One medium red onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons of chopped fresh thyme leaves
Grated zest of one organic lemon
4-6 tablespoons of olive oil
Preheat the oven to 450°, and place a 10 inch cast-iron skillet on the middle rack. Combine the chickpea flour, water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sea salt, and ground pepper in a mixing bowl, and whisk until smooth, thin batter forms. Set aside. Pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil into another sauté pan, and heat over medium flame. Sauté the onions for 8 to 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Stir in the thyme leaves and lemon zest, and then scrape the onion mixture into the batter. Carefully pour the batter into the hot cast iron skillet, and bake for 10 minutes. Brush the top of the pancake with the remaining olive oil. Broil for 2 to 3 minutes, or until browned and crispy on top. Cut into wedges, and serve warm.
Store organic and legume-based flowers in the refrigerator. Unlike commercial white flour which has been stripped of fiber and minerals, these organic alternatives are full of nutrition and can easily go rancid.
Processed gluten-free products often have excessive sugar, food additives, and saturated fats. Read the labels carefully to see what you are actually eating.