Allergies are definitely on the rise with more and more people suffering unpleasant symptoms that are increasingly being attributed to various irritants, foods and chemicals.
Wheat, or more specifically gluten, is often seen as a particular issue and one of the main contributors to a wide range of conditions from breathing difficulties, Nervous System disorders, Skin problems, and of course Digestive issues. In fact the perceived difficulties of wheat have reached such a level that there are many people who are now choosing to eliminate this foodstuff from their diets completely to improve their health, even if they don’t necessarily have an identified sensitivity or intolerance to it.
But is this really necessary? Is wheat or gluten the problem we think it is, or is it actually a distraction from what is a wider and much bigger issue?
Let’s look at some of the current thinking on the issue of wheat and our health.
Possibly one of the most popular views on wheat is that as humans we aren’t naturally designed to digest it, especially the gluten element. In other words we simply lack the relevant digestive enzymes and processes it requires. As such it will never be any good for us.
Whilst, from a biological point of view, this is true, humans have been consuming grains of various types for thousands of years since our early ancestors first started to settle down rather than live a nomadic lifestyle, and support themselves through farming. The argument is that problems with wheat are relatively recent in comparison and surely if it was not appropriate to consume it we would have stopped eating it many years ago as part of our evolutionary process?
Following on from this view is the idea that the issue may not be wheat per se but the amounts we now eat, particularly as part of a western diet. In effect we are ‘overdosing’ on wheat which stresses our system resulting in ill health.
The next area of thought focuses on our gut flora. So whereas we ourselves can’t easily digest wheat, our gut flora contains microbes that can. So it is these that do the work for us. As a result our growing issues with wheat may actually be a problem with a deterioration in our gut flora brought on by poor diets in general, stress, chemicals and all the other usual suspects!
And the final school of thought is based on the quality of the wheat we now consume. So again, not the fact that wheat, grains or gluten are in themselves causing a problem, it’s what our modern world is doing to them that is – the increased use of chemicals on crops, genetically modifying the grains, and how they are processed and presented to us as food.
So what’s true?
In reality possibly all of these arguments are correct in their own way. The complexity of how our bodies work and how various factors in our outside world can combine to affect our health mean that each of these aspects can have a role to play.
So this brings me to the second question – Is the wheat issue actually a distraction from a bigger problem for our health?
The one commonality with many of the theories on possible problems with wheat is the effect our lifestyles may be having: the increased use of chemicals, processing of food, the impact this has on our gut flora and overall health. Perhaps it is this we should be looking at rather than just wheat itself?
So should you give up wheat to improve your health?
Well of course it’s a personal choice, and, as with everything, there will be those people who have a very genuine allergy who absolutely must avoid wheat, gluten and grains in general. But for most of us we should, maybe, look at the wider picture; keeping our lifestyle in balance, so particularly not over consuming wheat at the expense of other important food groups, reducing our consumption of chemicals and processed food, recognising and addressing stresses in our lives, both emotional and environmental.
Sounds like familiar advice?