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Health Study: Kamut Wheat vs. Modern Wheat

March 21, 2013

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)

 

Comments

Yabibo

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Kamut wheat - study

In the trial, do you know if they were using the whole grain or a 'white kamut flour' which removes the bran and maybe the germ of the grain leaving only the endosperm. I ask as my understanding is the germ and bran contain a high proportion of the nutrition. Many thanks for your website.

How whole was the Kamut?

As the fifth paragraph says, the Kamut was "semi-whole" -- some of the bran and germ remained, but not all of it. While in the U.S. we tend to have grains that are completely whole (all the bran, germ, and endosperm) or completely refined (just endosperm, no bran or germ), in Europe it's common to have different "extractions" that fall somewhere in the middle.

This may be more than you wanted to know, but here's what the Italian researchers told us when we asked. I hope this helps!

For the cardiovascular disease project published last January, they bought the following products:

- Semolina of Kamut and semolina of an italian durum wheat (semi-whole) for production of two types of pasta;

- Flour of Kamut and flour of an italian soft wheat (semi-whole) for production of biscuits, crackers, bread.

In the semi-whole wheat flour according to Italian standards the following is found:

- endosperm (100% - the entire endosperm);

- the entire germ (100%);

- the entire important aleurone layer (100%);

- of the 6 layers surrounding the seed, there are portions of the first two inner layers. The outer four layers are not present in semi-whole wheat flour (they are present in the whole wheat flour only).

According to Italian standards, per 100 Parts of dry substance, the flour type 2 (semi-whole) must have 0,95 of maximum ash, while the whole flour must have 1,40-1,60 of maximum ash.

In the certificate of analysis obtained from Molino Sima for the products utilized during the project, we have the following values for ash (related to 100 Parts of Dry Substance):

-    Semi-whole Semolina of Kamut: 1.10-1.20

-    Semi-whole Semolina of durum wheat: 1.10

-    Semi-whole Flour of Kamut: <1.05

 

Nice balanced reporting

Good to see a bit of analysis of the study results instead of blanket regurgitation or biased reporting that is usually seen on the www. It's appreciated and saves me having to do it. Thanks :)

ancient wheat

Thanks for the kind words. We just received a copy of the latest Kamut® study earlier this week, and hope to be reporting in the coming weeks with additional information to augment the first study you enjoyed so much. Stay tuned! 

Kamut study

could it be that the change (more variety) had a positive influence on the Kamut consumers ? Interesting study

Kamut Study

Alex -- Thanks for commenting. You've made a good point -- more variety in our diet is always a good thing and could have played a role. We always urge people to eat a variety of different whole grains,  along with a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and other healthy foods.

 

Kamut study

I just bought kamut grain to grind and looking forward to better bread. Never tried it before.

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