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 do not have celiac disease but I am allergic to wheat. I am also allergic to egg and corn. I am having a hard time finding bread that is "wheat free, egg free, and corn free" that still taste good. Is there a recipe that you have that I could maybe have where I could substitute the different components?
Hi Lauren, We have only one gluten-free bread recipe:: It's a sorghum bread recipe here https://wholegrainscouncil.org/recipes/sorghum-bread. However, it contains eggs and corn starch, so I'm afraid it doesn't work for you. Here's one I found online that you could try: https://glutenfreebaking.com/gluten-free-sandwich-bread/ Write back and tell us how it works out!
I know this is an older post, but want to chime in on lacto-fermentation as a way to possibly reduce gluten in wheat. My company has a long standing tradition of making sourdough pancakes for all of our employees during our employee appreciation days. This is my second year with the company and I had the privilege of making the batter this year. We use regular white flour, but the flour is mixed with the starter and allowed to ferment for 24-48 hours in advance of making the pancakes. When we finally make the pancakes, the batter gets mixed vigorously multiple times, which usually results in chewy nasty pancakes. But these cakes turn out light and delicate every time. I even commented to our CEO that the yeast must be breaking down the gluten because the batter stays so silky smooth despite the excessive mixing. Would love to see some research on this to see why the yeast appear to break down the gluten proteins.
Thanks for sharing your own experiences with fermentation with us. You may be interested in reading the scientific article on lacto-fermentation and gluten break-down that we've referenced in the blogpost, above: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1932817/
I know this is an old post, but want to put this out there as well. In many places they also spray wheat with glyphosate to "desiccate" it so the whole field will be ready to harvest at the same time.
I consider myself to be gluten intolerant, yet it all depends as I figured out on type of wheat used in the product. Sometimes I can eat one cookie and then be in pain, and another time I can eat 5 cookies without any painful side effect. Sometimes just a little bit of flour in the sauce and my stomach just exploding with pain, other time I eat some enriched wheat noodles to no hurtful effect. Does it mean it all depends on type of flour used?like organic and non organic ? Usually I joke with friends when they offer me smth with gluten,I say let me check if it is made from good quality wheat, as I usually know within 5 minutes I feel side effect if it was bad.
Hi Ira -- Many patients who respond well to a gluten-free diet, but don’t test positive for celiac disease, are thought to have “non-celiac gluten sensitivity.” But there is some doubt about the usefulness of gluten-free diets in these situations. In a 2017 scientific paper, researchers analyzed data from 10 studies, in which 1,312 adults with “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” were tested for their reaction to gluten. In these 10 double-blind, placebo-controlled gluten challenges, only 16% of the patients showed gluten-specific symptoms when exposed to the gluten-containing diet, and 40% of them had similar or increased symptoms when on the gluten-free control diet. In other words, gluten is probably not the culprit in most people who think they are gluten-sensitive. It could be worthwhile to speak with a doctor about your symptoms so they can make sure there aren't any serious problems that aren't being addressed.
Where does the red wheat flour fall in terms of chromosomes. Does the king Arthur organic flour have better reactions for anyone? No folic acid in it. I cannot eat the gluten rich American flours, but I also cannot eat gluten free if fortified with folic acid. I also have an MTHFR gene variant that cannot handle synthetic folic acid but can have natural folate found in vegetables. I have an unproven theory that organic flour might help me mainly because it is not fortified with so much synthetic crap that the U.S. seems to think we need in all our foods.
Hi Anne -- Red wheat is a type of modern/common wheat so it has 42 chromosomes. It’s good that you’ve been able to identify synthetic folic acid as something you should avoid. It can be a long journey to identify sensitives like that. Keep in mind that organic certification only restricts the types of agricultural pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers that can be applied to the food as it’s growing – it doesn’t prohibit synthetic enrichment during processing. Organic flour is often enriched with synthetic folic acid. Fortunately, FDA does not allow whole wheat flour to be enriched, so sticking with whole grains (whether they're organic or not) is a great way to guarantee you’re avoiding synthetic folic acid.


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