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Natural Awakenings Metro Phoenix & Northern Arizona

What is it About Wheat?: Dr. Harlan Sparer describes how wheat has been modified over the years and its overall impact on one's health

Aug 05, 2014 09:42AM ● By Dr. Harlan Sparer

Let’s face it, wheat is ubiquitous in almost everyone’s diet. It is in all kinds of food, from vegetarian brats to soy sauce, candy, Bloody Mary mixes, lunchmeats and even wine coolers, as a thickener and as a whole grain. White or whole wheat, everybody seems to be eating this “staff of life.” This appears to be a problem.

Cereal grains brought us out of the hunter/gatherer phase historically. Back then, wheat had 14 chromosomes and made a very crumbly sort of bread, with far less gluten and 30 percent protein content. In Biblical times, wheat (emmer) was crossbred with other cereal grains, graduating to 28 chromosomes, an increase in gluten (particularly the more reaction-causing types), and a decrease in protein content as a consequence. Further hybridization and “modernization” occurred over the centuries until the 1940s, when Dr. Norman Borlaug lead a team that genetically redesigned the plant.

Borlaug’s work seemed seminal at the time, increasing wheat harvest dramatically and winning him medals and a Nobel Prize. Essentially, a four-foot-tall cereal grain with spread-out grains became a 1.5-foot grain with a tightly packed grain ball, which made it dramatically easier to mechanically harvest. The cost to human health was unknown at the time for the most part. Topping the charts at 42 chromosomes, this bruiser is made up of a whopping 10 percent protein in its “whole wheat” form and chock full of gluten, particularly the variety which causes irritation to the 40 percent of humanity that has the genetic marker for gluten sensitivity.

Dr. William Davis covers these issues well in his bestselling book, Wheat Belly. He speaks of how wheat is now added in to most processed food because of its appetite-stimulating property and its opiate-like properties. It essentially makes us want to eat more than we need by creating chemical signals to our brain, acting as both an addictive and mild drugged state. This combination stimulates obesity. In fact, the typical celiac disease profile has switched in the last few decades to morbid obesity when it most commonly was found in very skinny folks in the past.

Typically, wheat-related obesity is primarily in the belly, the most common location for fat in adults. The fatty part of the belly, when large enough, begins to act as a gland that inhibits healthy biochemical function. It changes several key metabolic functions, increasing the likelihood for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, dementia and rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. The visceral fat “organ” also increases estrogen production, creating hormonal imbalances in both men and women. Additionally, it increases standing levels of triglycerides and small LDLs, causing more arterial plaque deposition.

Many folks have resorted to a “paleo” diet full of complex animal protein without grain to respond to this. The problem here is that the meat and dairy animals are typically fed with genetically modified feed laced with pesticides, thereby defeating the purpose of increased health.

Sadly, a crop of gluten-free products have turned up that create other health problems due to their extremely high carbohydrate count. These products are often loaded with genetically modified corn and its derivatives (Google GMO corn derivatives for the complete list), so search for non-GMO verification or USDA Organic labels.

This is admittedly a bleak picture. The solution is to eliminate modern wheat from our diet, or at least limit it to a meal or two a week. It is possible to eliminate foods that use it as an additive and switch grain consumption to a small amount of ancient grains such as spelt, kamut and einkorn, if you are not gluten sensitive. There are pastas available made from beans that taste equivalent enough to be acceptable. Minimize bread consumption. Eat organically when possible and be creative when you can or look for wheat-free recipes on the Internet. Contact a health professional for help if you are stumped by how and where to begin.

Dr. Harlan Sparer is a DNFT chiropractor practicing in Tempe. He can be reached at 480-245-7894 or [email protected]. For classes, recipes and videos, visit or

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