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Is ancient wheat healthier than modern wheat? In some respects it may be, according to an Italian study published recently in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Scientists at Careggi University Hospital in Florence conducted a randomized crossover study including three eight-week periods: one in which subjects ate their normal diet but with all grain products – bread, crackers, pasta and cookies – made with Kamut® brand Khorasan wheat, a washout period of eight weeks, and eight weeks in which all grain products were made with modern Durum wheat and soft wheat.
The results? Following the Kamut® phase of the study, subjects’ total cholesterol decreased on average 4.0%, their LDL (“bad”) cholesterol decreased 7.8%, and certain markers of inﬂammation dropped 23 to 36%. At the same time, blood levels of potassium and magnesium – two key minerals many of us are lacking – rose 4.6% and 2.3% respectively. Following the control phase, total cholesterol dropped 2.1% and LDL dropped 2.8%, while potassium and magnesium actually decreased slightly; the three inﬂammatory markers were mixed with one almost neutral, another dropping 14% and one increasing 15%.
Lab analysis of the Kamut® and control wheat showed that the two products looked fairly similar on paper with similar ﬁber levels and similar resistant starch levels (though with more potassium and magnesium in the Kamut). And yet the health impacts were diﬀerent, leading the researchers to conclude that “dietary ﬁbre and resistant starch alone were clearly not instrumental in improving these metabolic parameters.” It’s what we’ve been saying all along here at the WGC: ﬁber and resistant starch are both great, but whole grain’s health beneﬁts derive from a lot more than simply ﬁber.
Before we go any further, we should mention some of the limitations of this interesting study. First of all, it was a very small study – just 22 subjects. Second of all, both the Kamut® semolina and ﬂour, and the control semolina and ﬂour were semi-whole, not 100% whole. (Italians are new to the whole grain world; though Kamut® is very popular in Italy, researchers thought compliance would be better with foods more like everyday fare.)
It’s also very important to note that wheat — like all grains and in fact all whole foods — is a growing, living thing. The same variety of wheat grown in two diﬀerent locations, or in two diﬀerent years, may have diﬀerent levels of nutrients and diﬀerent impacts on health — before we even begin comparing varieties. Think about it: Although you can look up “apple” in a nutrient database and learn how much vitamin C or ﬁber is in “an apple” the values listed will not be the same for all varieties of apples, grown in all weather conditions, in all years. This is one factor that makes nutrition research so challenging.
Beyond these caveats, however, the study was carefully designed. Both the Kamut® wheat and the control wheat were ground at the same mill, and all grain products for the study were produced by the same artisan bakery and pasta maker. Subjects were given identical, controlled amounts of all grain products and instructed to eat no other grain products during the intervention and control periods; they did not know which grain they were consuming at any time.
We often see wild, unsubstantiated claims about the pros and cons of modern wheat vs. ancient varieties, but this is one of the ﬁrst human clinical trials we’re aware of to explore this issue in a scientiﬁcally valid way. We would like to see more, and larger, studies like this.
Hats oﬀ to Kamut Enterprise of Europe, whose grant helped fund this independent research, and to Tara Blyth at WGC Member Kamut International, who provided us the journal article to review. (Cynthia)