We were intrigued in mid-2009 when research documented that celiac disease, an immune system reaction to gluten, has increased four-fold in the past half-century. We covered the research in an earlier blog, but the question still left on the table was, “Why has celiac disease increased so hugely?”

Gluten Free Doesn't Mean Grain Free

We set out to find the answers, by combing through scientific research, and came across some interesting information that may fill in the holes – and may give hope to the estimated 1-3% of people who cannot digest gluten properly.

A little background first, before we share our research trove with you. Research shows that celiac disease and gluten sensitivity are distinct problems, and in fact there may be two main types of Celiac Disease. Gluten is a protein that’s found in wheat, barley, rye and triticale (a wheat / rye hybrid). It’s only found in these four grains – so people who have celiac disease or are otherwise gluten-intolerant still have plenty of great choices of whole grains to enjoy. Gluten-free does not mean whole grain-free!

Our romp through the research turned up evidence that today’s wheat foods are, most likely, higher in gluten, which may account for the increased problems experienced by a small fraction of the population. The good news, though, is that we also found research that suggests ways to lower the gluten levels in wheat-based foods. We’ll organize this blog according to our good news findings. (Note: some of these ideas may also apply to barley and rye, but the research we found centers on wheat.)

Consider Ancient Grains

Different types of wheat have different numbers of chromosomes, and some studies show that the older wheats, with fewer chromosomes, tend to have lower levels of gliadins, the type of gluten proteins that seem to cause most sensitivities.


Einkorn, the oldest known type of wheat in our current food supply, has just 14 chromosomes, and is called a diploid wheat. Durum wheat (the kind most often used for pasta) and emmer are tetraploid wheats, with 28 chromosomes. Common wheat (used for most everything) and spelt have 42 chromosomes and are known as hexaploid wheats. Research shows that different tetraploid and hexaploid wheat varieties differ widely in gliadin levels, and it’s possible to select “individual genotypes with less Celiac Disease-immunogenic potential.”

Even if you’re not gluten-sensitive, you may want to consider some of the ancient grains. Research shows that Kamut has higher levels of antioxidants than some modern wheats, and that healthy plant sterols are higher in tetraploid wheats than in hexaploid wheats.

Organic May Trump Conventional Growing

We all understand that the foods we eat can make a big difference in the composition and health of our bodies. The old saying “You are what you eat” applies to plants, too.


We uncovered one intriguing study that found that varying levels of sulfur and nitrogen fertilizer can change the proteins in wheat. Different proteins, different sensitivities. Is there, perhaps, a connection between the widespread introduction of chemical fertilizers after World War II, and the four-fold increase in Celiac Disease during the same period?

The jury is still out. We’d like to see research that takes the next step, and compares the proteins in conventionally-farmed grains with organic grains.

Try the Old Ways of Making Bread

Once you’ve grown and harvested the wheat, how you make your bread may affect its gluten levels, too. Throughout most of mankind’s history, bread was made using a sourdough process based on lacto-fermentation. The process was slow, and results were uneven, so when modern yeast became available, sourdough breads became less common.


Now research shows us that lacto-fermentation of wheat has the potential to drastically reduce gluten levels. We found three studies along these lines. Our favorite study showed that sourdough bread produced with a particular strain of lacto-bacilli had gluten levels of 12 parts per million – where anything under 20 ppm is considered gluten-free. Bread made with the same wheat but without lacto-fermentation had gluten levels of 75,000 ppm.

Another cool thing about this study was that the Italian researchers lacto-fermented the flour, then dried it and used it in a conventional quick-baking process, one that could be compatible with modern bakeries. We love it when someone discovers ways to incorporate the best of the old ways into today’s realities – that’s what health through heritage is all about!

Share Your Thoughts and Your Research

I’m not a researcher – just a fascinated auto-didact – so some details of the studies cited here may have escaped me. I present the information above as speculation, and invite those doing actual research in this area to contact us with their latest findings. We’re excited by the range of research being conducted, and its potential for removing any barriers that stand in the way of all people being able to enjoy all whole grains! (Cynthia)


I love this entry. There is so much great information. You rock!
I noticed about 10 years ago when i moved from Africa to the Uk. I noticed when I ate any food containing flour,so not just bread it could be biscuits, or meals prepared with flour. I would feel bloated, tired acne on my chin, back and recently my scalp and the reaction is almost immediately, once i consume the food i start to feel these symptoms. My point is I don't think gluten intolerance is as a result of the methods used to bake the bread because gluten intolerant people are also intolerant to,pastries, soups or anu product with gluten. so this points us to the types of grains used or they maybe chemicals added to preserve wheat or enhance wheat product that is causing sensitivity more people need to speak about these issues looks like they are putting profits before our heath.

It's unlikely that gluten intolerance has just one cause, as your experience indicates. Another issue could be overall changes in your gut bacteria based on your overall diet or on environmental pollutants. It's likely that the balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria in your gut -- so essential for digestion -- have changed substantially in the ten years since you moved from Africa to the UK. Thanks for writing, and we hope your health improves with the right diet.

It is interesting that I can report the same observation. I came to US from Eastern Europe and begun having digestion problems: after eating pasta and bread my stomach is bloated, heavy and often uncontrollably spastic. However whenever I go back home I eat everything and have absolutely no issues with digestion. We eat a lot of pasta there, breads and cakes and my stomach works perfectly. I think that the growing systems differ and that affects the final product
I have recently found out that roundup ( the weed-killer !) is used to dry off the grain, ready for harvest. Of course it cannot be removed afterwards.....This seems to me to be a very bad practice. Most sprays are supposed to be witheld for a number of days before harvest.

Our research shows that Roundup is indeed used pre-harvest. The idea, apparently, is to help a field dry out and become ready for harvest more uniformly. Plants naturally grow at different rates; applying glyphosphate (Roundup) apparently doesn't affect those already past a certain maturity, but is taken up by grains still growing, so that they stop growing/taking up new moisture. Guidelines are that Roundup should not be applied any closer than 7 days before harvest. For those concerned by this practice, organic wheat is a good option.

http://ag.montana.edu/carc/Cereals/1998/98einkorn.htm einkorn as well comes in many varieties ,are all just 14 chromosomes ?

Yes, einkorn as an entire species is a diploid (14 chromosomes). All varieties within the species would have the same number of chromosomes. 

make some excellent bread using einkorn wheat but as is well known, it doesn't rise as well as modern grains. i was thinking of adding a tablespoon of vital gluten to juice it up a little. would that negate any of the benefits by adding some of the modern chromosomes?

 Adding vital wheat gluten would certainly "juice it up" a little, but the jury is still out on whether or not that is a good approach. This article, which won a James Beard Foundation Award for journalism, explains this issue more in depth: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/11/03/grain

See also our article on whole wheat baking:  http://wholegrainscouncil.org/newsroom/blog/2015/04/expert-shares-tips-for-baking-with-whole-grains 

One thing in modern bread is the use of bromine as an enhancer. This function used to be done with iodine. Since the diet is short of iodine, the small amount of bromine in breads can be a problem in affecting the thyroid levels of the body. There was a serious write up on Iodine in Life Extension Magazine a year or two ago. The RDA for iodine is rather small compared to what many sea side populations consume so I've added 1000 mcg of iodine from kelp to good effect with my mental and physical energy levels.
I think you are correct noticing the digestive effect of wheat used in different countries. The wheat in Central Africa in the seventies was lower in gluten and we used it indiscriminately for bread pastry and cakes producing reasonable reasonably quality products. fortunetly the smaller market and tropical environment meant our wheat was not exchanged out as soon for the more hardy gluten rich modern varieties. I moved to the UK in the 70's from Zambia and I imiediatly started getting indigestion from eating things made with flour like bread and pies etc. My DR at the time coincidently came from South Afruca. He told me I had been eating tropical wheats and the hard winter wheat (more gluten) used in UK was probably contributing. I live in USA now and have a a good chance of distress eating more than a bite or two of pastry or bread here. I can and do eat the bread made by one baker in the USA using organic imported German spelt without distress. I found the spelt bread looking for FODMAP's while caring for a friend. Unfortunately the recentl breeds of wheat varieties are now dominant and ubiquitous world wide. France is hit and miss for me depending on the baker and what he uses. I used 5 metro lines to get the bread that was delicious and did not effect my digestion. On Crete I recently ate bread made in the mountains from 3 local farmed whole grains ground and made into bread By the local taverna. I wad not immune from the gluten but.... It was an eye opener on bread and why it was called the staff of life. I am re- energized to find and grind grain my own breads to make a healthier product. This site and comments is full of the information I need to do this with.
Can substituting processed grains (including wheat, rye, and barley) with whole grain versions alleviate symptoms of gluten intolerance and even celiac disease?

Dear Chris,
No, whole grain wheat, rye and barley and foods made with them are also off-limits to people with gluten intolerance and celiac disease. But there are so many other grains you can enjoy!


There is no mention of oat in your study.
My intolerance started with milk, then it was to "gluten." Though I do not have celiac disease started with oats. They were organic oats. Well, I thought steel-cut oat would be better. NO! They were worse. Then it was apples-fructose intolerance. (These were my own apples from my apple tree!).
I had a blood test (Spectrall Cell; amino acids) done and came up with Fructose Deficiency which is here in the States, FM and perhaps Sorbitol foods. Wow...all my "healthy food buying" is gone now. Fructose in most all fruits, brown rice, and some veggies. Only white sugar can be used. Yep. So, also needing to not use yeast in breads. So, interested in Ancient Grains. Only one's own research helps FM (FODMAPS) persons cause here in the States it is little known..Australia has the best info and the blogs from people who know what to do....I can not eat oats; I react with fatigue right away.
wgc karen

Digestive problems like yours can indeed be challenging. Dietary approaches to fructose malabsorption can vary, so we can't begin to offer specific dietary advice to you. However, we do know that the ratio of fructose to glucose matters for some people, and the total fructose load may also matter. 

With that in mind, we can suggest that you turn to the USDA National Nutrient Database if you'd like to check the total fructose or the fructose: glucose ratio of any food. Go to http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ and click on Start Your Search Here. Put in the name of a food, then find it in the search results list. You'll get a Basic Report on that food. Now here's the secret: Just under the name of the food on the report are the words "Full Report (All Nutrients)". If you click on that, most foods will include the breakdown of the sugars in a way that could be helpful to you in exploring what foods will meet your dietary requirements. Hope this helps. (Cynthia)

You might look at Ezekiel bread. It's supposed to be made the way they did in ancient times. I have no idea how true this is, or if this would help. But, I wanted to pass the information on. It's available in most Kroger, HEB and I think WalMart stores. L.
I've used Ezekiel bread. It's great for toast but so dry for making a sandwich.
Nancy Oar
Is there any way to find out/purchase the particular strain of lacto-baccili mentioned in your article? We love sourdough, and with several of our children being somewhat gluten intolerant, it is sad to not be able to have sourdough bread on our table. I would love to get more information on this research, but in particular, the strain used to produce the 'gluten free' sourdough bread Thank You Nancy Oar

Dear Nancy,

Unfortunately I don't know where you can purchase the lactobacilli (and fungi) in the Italian study.   

But if you are sure your kids do not have celiac disease and you think they are "somewhat gluten intolerant" -- which implies that gluten doesn't always cause enormouse health problems for them -- you have a little leeway to experiment with seeing which kinds of wheat and what sourdough starter they can best tolerate.

Here's an interesting link on sourdough breads at celiac.com.

Some people who are intolerant to wheat are actually reacting to other components of the wheat (fructans, ATIs, etc.). It's interesting that sourdough processing apparently cuts down the fructans in wheat, as well as the gluten. Fructans may be another culprit for food sensitivities in some people. (Sometimes people think their problem is gluten and it turns out to be something else also in some of the same foods. Check out the FODMAPS elimination diet.)

Hope this helps. (Cynthia)


Hello, I have been suffering from many Gastrointestinal problems ever since I was a child. I see A GI 2 or 3 times a year and we're still trying to figure out exactly what's causing my reactions to certain foods (intense bloating, feelings of stuffed throat, fullness and chance of vomiting) I had a gluten tolerance test done at LabCorp. They called me back to tell me that I was only positive for one "type" of gluten, and that it still could be anything. I wasn't sure what exactly that meant. But I do know that I only occasionally have problems with bread, crackers, wraps, and things of that nature. However what ALWAYS causes me the worst symptoms are any type of pasta or noodle, and most of the time pizza. I was wondering if there is such a thing as a person being hypersensitive to only one type of wheat containing gluten? I'm not sure if you have this information, but if you do please shed some light! For I am desperately in the dark over here. Thank you

We talk about “gluten” as if it’s one thing, but in fact gluten is made up of two main groups of proteins called “gliadins” and “glutenins.” During digestion, both of these break down into smaller units called peptides, made up of strings of amino acids. Different people may be sensitive to different peptides, so this could explain your intermittent reactivity.

For most people, gliadins may be most problematic. Researchers categorize gliadins as type A, B or D (don’t know what happened to C!). Gli-D2 is thought to be the most celiac-inducing. Einkorn (the most ancient kind of wheat commonly available) and Durum wheat (also with fewer chromosomes than common wheat) apparently do not have the D-type of gliadin; Einkorn has only A and Durum just A+B. There is actually research under way to breed varieties of wheat that may be safer for people with such sensitivities

However, if you have a particular problem with pasta – which is normally made from Durum wheat – I would guess that Gliadin-D is not your problem. Although we are in no position to give medical advice, you may want to try Einkorn to see how that works for you, as an experiment. Good luck with finding a solution. (Cynthia)


Thank you so much! That was very helpful information indeed. My stepmother actually mentioned Einkorn to me before and said it had helped a friend of hers who has a gluten sensitivity! And that's good to know pasta is made up of mostly Durum wheat, so I can make it appoint to stay away from that particular kind. Thanks again for the speedy reply your answer is extremely helpful!

Do you have any reaction to foods other than wheat? You might be having a poor digestion of carbohydrates in general. Have you been tested for acid reflux disease? You mentioned that you had feeling of stuffed throat , that is frequently associated with acid reflux. Acid reflux is in most cases caused by malabsorbtion of carbohydrates, some worse than others. You might want to do an elimination diet, eliminating all grains for 2-3 weeks and then reintroducing them gradually and observing the reaction. Hang on there, there is always hope.

I decided long ago to stop eating anything that had ANY gluten in it, or dairy for that matter! I came to this conclusion after much trial and error, and second guessing. After all it's a much calmer way to live, and there is more to life than " what can I eat" as a constant question . There are corn pastas that are great ! Just decide that things are the way they are and get on with life. There is no need to find out exactly which wheat it is... You will spend your life too self obsorbed and not living a full life. You will look and feel much better! And it is a remarkably less expensive way to live... Fewer medical bills!

Thanks for weighing in. As we always say, listening to your body and learning what works for YOU is important. I'm glad you've found an approach to eating well that suits you. 

I would suggest looking into the FODMAP diet. I had the same symptoms you are describing, and I have discovered that I have other sensitivities beyond gluten. Consider reading "IBS Free At Last" It may change your life as it has changed mine.

 We agree, Nancy. There is intriguing evidence -- in fact, from the same team that first identified "gluten sensitivity" as an issue separate from celiac disease -- that the real issue may be FODMAPs and not gluten for many people. See this article, for example: www.celiaccommunity.org/celiacmd-fodmaps/

Check for the use of potassium bromate used in the flour, almost every pizzeria use it.
It could be what you are putting on the pasta. Pasta sauces are high FODMAP, and usually have spices like onion and garlic added to them *high fodmap* also. Another thing to consider is cooking the pasta Al Dante, this decreases the amount of starch in the pasta. This is the way the Italians eat all their pasta to prevent the carb overload.
I believe I have a gluten intolerance but didn't realize it till recently. I also have seizures. All I could tell before was that when I ate white flour or non organic flour my seizures could not be controlled by medication, but I could eat organic flour just fine. Your research seems to prove that my experience may have been due to the different gluten levels in the wheats I was eating. I happened to find your sight looking up that very question. I just want you to know I'm an actual case study that organic grains appear to have less gluten in them than processed ones. Since going gluten free I over the last 3 weeks I have been able to lessen my medication levels because my seizure activity is so much better.

We're glad to hear that you're enjoying better health the last few weeks. If you could "eat organic flour just fine" then it could well be that you're sensitive to some other component in flour other than gluten. Just a thought; we wish you the best in getting to the bottom of your health issues. 

I have been making a sourdough bread from spelt that I grind myself. I recently added in some rye because with blood sugar problems I wanted low glycemic, low gluten flours. Now I'm thinking I should go back to using just spelt or Einkorn. Could you tell me if spelt is as good for reducing gluten sensitivity as Einkorn?

 Hi Lee. I was unable to find any information about the glycemic index of einkorn. You may be interested to look at these two studies, however:

This study shows no difference in glycemic impact between spelt and regular wheat bread.

This study shows rye to have a lower glycemic impact than whole wheat (or white) bread.

In terms of glycemic impact, just about any bread is going to be a good choice if your flour has a larger particle size (you're grinding it yourself), you're using a sourdough culture (again, has been shown to lower glycemic impact of bread) and you're using a whole grain. Rye seems to have some extra evidence -- maybe because studies may have been done in Scandinavia where it's common to make bread primarily from intact, soaked rye berries (not ground up into flour). So maybe you want to stick with the rye, or consider adding some soaked or sprouted grains. Hope this helps.

Howard L. Silve...
My personal research shows that glycemic index is not the best way to select foods for glycemic control. A better way involves carb-protein balance, and einkorn has a much better balance than spelt. However, whether einkorn is better than spelt for use in a meal depends on the balance of the other foods being eaten with it. This is because it is the carb-protein balance for the entire meal that determines what effect the meal has on glycemic control. I'm writing a book on this topic. The book includes balanced recipes.

 Interesting. We look forward to seeing your book when it's done. An important topic!


The report you referred to in your opening sentence prompted me to do some research as well. In 1948 Norman Borlaug was commissioned by the Rockefeller Foundation to increase yields in cereal grains. He was so successful that he has been called the "father of the green revolution." It is said that he created multiple thousands of wheat varieties by 1960. In the 1970's new hybridization techniques encouraged even more activity. The techniques altered the plant's dna with the use of chemicals, x rays and gamma rays. A wide variety of sources claim over 40000 varieties of wheat were developed in the last half of the twentieth century. A FOIA request identifed over 500 applications for plant variety protection were made between 1970 and 2000 and at least another 2000 + varieties were used in the review of the applications. The above information clearly establishes that a large number of wheat varieties were created by man in the last 60 years and they had not been in existence before that time. The identification process used to establish varietal difference is to isolate the gliadin protein (considered the most toxic protein by celiac researcher and one singled out as a significant contributor to exercise induced analphylaxis reactions as the result of ingestion of wheat). Each one of those varieties receiving Plant Variety Protection showed significant diffeences in their electrophoresis mapping of that gliadin protein. Celiac researchers have also found that non celiac individuals could be reacting to amylase inhibitors and trypsin inhibitors.Symptoms are oftentimes called IBS. Strangely enough, amylase inhibitors, a protein, is also said to be a main contributor to symptoms known as baker's asthma. The enzyme inhibitors are created by the plant in an effot to protect its progeny (common wheat kernels) from insect activity.Whereas ancient Hulled grains like einkorn, emmer and spelt have little need to produce enzyme inhibitors because of the impermeable hull that surrounds the kernels. Lastly, FODMAPS (fermentable oligosaccharides,disacchaides, monosaccharides and polyols) are short chain sugars which are plentiful in wheat but are found on minute quantities in ancient grains like spelt. These, too, are said to contribute to symptoms associated with IBS. Man seems to find it necessary to try to improve on nature; just as Norman Borlaug did; but even the father of the green revolution failed to realize that in his efforts to preserve better yield by making semi dwarf varieties of the plant he also inhibited the ability of the plant to take up minerals in a way comparable to the wheat that had been targeted to be improved.


Thanks for your indepth comments, Don. As you point out, there are many different factors involved here.

On enzyme inhibitors, for instance, Dr. Detlef Schuppan has done some great research on the amylaze trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) in wheat which seem to be responsible for some people's problems eating wheat. ATIs are natural pest-resistant factors, so breeders have tried to increase them, in an honorable effort to cut down pesticide use. Unfortunately, at the same time that ATIs make it harder for pests to eat the wheat, they may make it harder for us too.

We're learning more and more about these issues every day.  (Cynthia)


It was shocking to see the reports on the rapid increase of celiac diseases. Many researches and studies were conducted to find the reason behind the cause of this rapid spread of celiac diseases. Thanks for sharing the research results on celiac diseases. 


Keep in mind that the increase in celiac disease is paralleled by increases in other auto-immune diseases. This is about the bigger issue of our immune systems gone awry -- not celiac alone.

MUDr. Alexandro...
Such a correct statement ! Exactly the raise is in every autoimmune disease against any tissue that exists in our bodies. To a certain extent I am aware that the originating factor for our own immunity mechanisms to attack our own cells are due to microbes (mainly undetectable strains and forms like Borrelia, Chlamydia, Mycoplasma and viruses like herpetic ones) but not all cases can be explained even with microbial influence. Now after all this wonderful information I am reading here and the research articles that you be suggested and my own research I come to the conclusion that my patients need to be told about their auto-immunity issues and the possible connections to the wheat products they consume, and bottom line their gut issues (leaky, irritable, inflamed) that cannot be resolved unless they move forward with or away from bread and pasta !!
A small percentage of people with medically diagnosed celiac disease or other wheat allergies or insensitivities will benefit from "moving away from bread and pasta." But we'd like to restate here that most people's health will benefit from minimally-processed whole grain bread and pasta, since whole grains help promote beneficial gut bacteria.

My ENT told me I was Gluten Intolerant... Turns out I'm only intolerant to commercial grow brands of wheat in the U.S. I can eat organic wheat with NO issues! What have we done to our wheat that is making so many sick??????


If you can eat organic wheat but not conventionally-grown wheat, it sounds like you're sensitive to some of the pesticides or herbicides used on the wheat rather than to the wheat itself. (Often the same varieties of wheat are grown organically and conventionally). In any event, we're glad you found a solution that enables you to continue to enjoy healthy whole wheat.  

Well, another difference between organic and non-organic wheats is that non-organic wheat is always fortified in the US. The ferrous sulfate and other iron fortificants have been shown in recent studies to be gut irritants and gut flora disruptors. This would explain why fortified countries are most likely to experience gluten sensitivity issues.

Refined flour is fortified/enriched -- but whole wheat flour is not allowed to be fortified or enriched in the US. Yet another reason to stick with whole grains! 

I buy Bob's Red Mill Organic Flour (white, not whole wheat) for bread making, and it is not fortified. It is the only white flour I've found that is both organic and not fortified.
Our best customers are diabetics and the gluten sensitive. We prepare wheat for digestion by sprouting the grain. We work with the whole sprouted grain. We do not add flour. We work with natural leavens. It's really the only way bread should be made. We love wheat. We think wheat is an amazing grain - unlike any other food source on the planet. In fact, had homo sapiens not discovered that grass seed could be collected, planted and harvested, we would have gone the route of every other proto humanoid species that has come and gone. But all ancient cultures knew that if you were going to eat grain, it had to be prepared for digestion by either sprouting or germinating the grain or thru fermentation. The two processes compliment one another but actually serve separate functions. Doug baker@ColumbiaCountyBread.com


Add a Comment