By Michael A. Smith, MD
Dr. William Davis in his book, Wheat Belly,1 claims that wheat products in the American diet parallel the expansion of our waistlines.
This is because wheat today is not the same wheat eaten by ancient people, or even people just a few decades ago.
Wheat today is hybridized and crossbred to make the wheat plant resistant to environmental conditions, such as drought, or pathogens, such as fungi.
But most of all, genetic changes have been induced to increase yield per acre.
Such enormous strides in yield have required drastic changes in the wheat’s genetic code.
Such fundamental genetic changes have also come at a price.
What’s Wrong with Today’s Wheat?
The hybridized wheat we eat today is high in exorphins, the counterpart to endogenous endorphins, which some experts believe increases blood sugar surges and initiates cycles of satiety alternating with heightened appetite.
The result is overweight Americans with a high likelihood of developing heart disease and becoming diabetics.
But is this true for all wheat? Fortunately not. There are ancient wheat species, like khorasan, that may actually lower blood sugar and cholesterol.
Why exactly is this? We can’t say for sure, but here’s what we do know: Khorasan is a form of wheat that hasn’t been tampered with and still retains its original genetic make-up.
Why Ancient Wheat Beats Today’s Modified Wheat
In a head-to-head clinical study, the ancient wheat khorasan beat the socks off today’s standard wheat when measuring the effects on total and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Khorasan was found to improve all these parameters, and it reduced the levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF) — which are both powerful, pro-inflammatory proteins.2
Twenty-two healthy people were randomized to consume either khorasan wheat products or semi-whole grain wheat products, which are today’s standard. This was followed by a washout period and then crossing over to the other type of wheat.
By the way, crossover studies are a great way to compare the effects of two products because each person can act as their own control.
Here’s what the researchers found with khorasan wheat products:
- A 4% reduction in total cholesterol
- A 7.8% reduction in LDL-cholesterol
- An approximately 20% reduction in oxidative stress
- A significant decrease in inflammatory markers like IL-6 and TNF
A Word of Caution About the Study…
Although the study was a well-designed crossover study, it was rather small and funded by Kamut International, a maker of khorasan wheat products.
In any case, the results definitely give hope to those of us who enjoy eating breads and pasta, but don’t want to go anywhere near the exorphin-rich “standard wheat” found in food today.
Larger trials over a longer period of time are certainly needed in order to draw any real conclusions, but this is definitely a nice start. The health benefits of ancient wheat look promising.
Recipe: Mushroom and Khorasan Wheat Orzo-Stuffed Peppers3
Want to test drive khorasan wheat in a delicious recipe? Give this a shot:
- 2 cups assorted fresh mushrooms
- 4 large peppers
- 1 red onion, diced
- ½ cup cream cheese
- 1 package Khorasan Wheat Orzo
- ½ cup goat cheese (optional)
- ½ teaspoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook orzo until al dente
- Sauté onions, mushrooms, and rosemary in olive oil
- Add cream cheese and incorporate
- Add orzo and salt and pepper to taste
- Stuff peppers and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour
- Crumble goat cheese on top
- Davis, W. Wheat Belly. New York, NY: Rodale.
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 67, 190-195 doi:10.1038/ejcn.2012.206