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5 Ways Modern Wheat Processing Has Changed and How It Affects Gluten Sensitivity

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In my previous article, I introduced the idea that modern changes in wheat processing may change the makeup of wheat, making it more immune-stimulating.

Here are five key ways modern wheat processing has shifted from traditional methods:

Using ungerminated grain — Naturally, wheat, rye and barley contain enzymes that break down difficult to digest wheat proteins (including gluten) after germination. However, allowing the grain to germinate greatly reduces shelf-life of products made from it, making germinated grain less useful for commercial applications.

Replacing long and diverse fermentation with fast-acting baker’s yeast — Fermentation breaks down the proteins of wheat, making them easier to digest. As noted in this study, a double-blind trial using bread made from 30 percent highly fermented wheat flour, celiac patients did not experience increased intestinal permeability and research indicates that sourdough fermentation can reduce celiac immunoreactivity. And while fermentation is also thought to enhance the flavor and shelf life of baked products, fermented dough compromises baking properties of the dough, making it less than ideal for bakers. While this study shows that long-fermenting processes such as sourdough breaks more of the gluten molecule down and some populations may not have shown intestinal permeability during the length of the study, I recommend celiac, gluten-sensitive non-celiac and gluten sensitive people should avoid all forms of gluten-containing grains and food stuff.

Using nonacidic dough — Lower pH levels (higher acidity) contributes to the degradation of fructans in various types of wheat including emmer, einkorn and rye. However, the fermentation process remains most important in decreasing symptoms and gut permeability for celiac patients.

Adding extracted wheat protein and inulin to food products — Since the 1950s, the food industry has increased its use of wheat proteins to lower cost and improve structural integrity of industrial baking products. Gluten is often added as a binder in multigrain breads and wheat proteins are added both as a binder and protein booster to processed meat, reconstituted seafood and vegetarian meat substitutes. Wheat compounds are also found in a large percentage of packet and canned soups, candy, ice cream, marinades, vinegars and dressings, jams and baby food. The authors of A Grounded Guide to Gluten estimate that wheat is found in nearly 30 percent of food products found in grocery stores. In addition, isolated wheat proteins used by the meat industry and found in hair and skincare products can produce wheat allergy symptoms.

Focusing on refined white flour — Flour processing and milling can also alter the structure of the wheat, triggering a heightened immune response in those with celiac or a wheat allergy or sensitivity. During the process of making white flour, the bran is removed, which reduces the number of enzymes available to help break down contents of the wheat. Additives in wheat used to improve baking properties have been associated with allergies, such as bakers’ asthma and contact dermatitis.

Essentially our desire for better living by chemistry but fractionating food into smaller parts as additives, creating greater shelf life and food stuff that is softer, fluffier bread products may be part of the picture in the rise of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

While there have been no studies evaluating the impact of wheat processing on the prevalence of celiac and wheat sensitivity, the rise in diagnoses of celiac over the 50 years does correlate with changes made by the food industry and its use of compounds (gluten, inulin and high fructose corn syrup) that trigger symptoms of sensitivity. Modern baking practices make use of short, non-acidic fermentation techniques, which make it even more difficult for the body to break down and digest the wheat proteins. There is more research to be done in this area, but what studies we do have seem to point to the fact that modern wheat processing techniques have played a role in increased exposure to compounds which cause an immune system response.