Stroll down any supermarket bread aisle and you are bound to see a whole host of gluten-free products from bread to bagels, pita to pasta. There’s gluten-free mac & cheese, breadcrumbs, pop tart knockoffs and so much more. Certainly, those who suffer from Celiac disease need to avoid gluten. For those with this condition, the wheat protein attacks their small intestine. But now so many more people are avoiding gluten. Monographs such as Wheat Belly and Grain Brain have made so many believe that gluten is responsible for fatigue, indigestion, problems losing weight and other symptoms that are associated with so many different conditions. Food manufacturers are certainly profiting off of this trend. The gluten-free sector has grown 44% between 2011 and 2013, and is now worth $10.5 billion. But should everyone really be avoiding gluten? Wheat consumption began 10,000 years ago with the establishment of agriculture. One-third of the human race today lives off of wheat. It is the most cultivated crop worldwide. If gluten was the problem, wouldn’t we have had a widespread epidemic long ago?
Cardiologist William Davis is the author of Wheat Belly. He claims that modern breeding techniques have made gluten toxic. Yet, lots of grain scientists have criticized this claim. What’s more, there is no consensus as to what gluten sensitivity is or how many people actually have it. A 2013 USDA study found no increase in gluten in common wheat. Washington State University wheat breeder Stephen Jones says we may be too quick to blame the wheat itself when in fact it’s the method of baking that’s responsible. Thanks to new strains of yeast and special additives, bread baked in industrial plants today rises in mere minutes rather than hours or days. Davis believes this may cause a more potent form of gluten to inhabit our bread. Manufacturers are also adding more gluten since whole grain breads contain less of it than the white variety. Gluten makes bread flexible. Those eating more whole wheat products are naturally absorbing more gluten than they used to. This theory has not been proven correct. Yet, many who consume bread baked via traditional methods don’t complain of after-effects. So it may not be gluten itself but the amount that inhabits bread nowadays that is causing such sensitivity.