Wheat–America’s grain of choice. Its hardy, glutenous consistency makes it practical for a variety of foodstuffs–cakes, breads, pastas, cookies, bagels, pretzels and cereals that have been puffed, shredded and shaped. This ancient grain can actually be very nutritious when it is grown and prepared in the appropriate manner. Unfortunately, the indiscretions inflicted by our modern farming techniques and milling practices have dramatically reduced the quality of the commercial wheat berry and the flour it makes. You might think, “Wheat is wheat–what can they do that makes commercial varieties so bad?” Listen up, because you are in for a surprise!
Throughout history, civilizations flourished thanks to the cultivation of grains, with wheat at the forefront. From tombs stocked with wheat to sustain afterlife to Hippocrates’ admiration for stone-ground flour’s digestive benefits, wheat’s journey is interwoven with humanity.
Today, however, modern farming narrows down the variety of wheat. Just a handful of strains dominate 90% of the global wheat yield. This shift has a cascading impact on wheat’s nutritional bounty.
From pesticides and fertilizers applied before planting to hormone-like substances during growth, the process disrupts wheat’s natural balance.
Chemical offenses don’t stop after the growing process. The long storage of grains makes them vulnerable to a number of critters. Before commercial grain is even stored, the collection bins are sprayed with insecticide, inside and out. More chemicals are added while the bin is filled. These so-called “protectants” are then added to the upper surface of the grain as well as four inches deep into the grain to protect against damage from moths and other insects entering from the top of the bin. The list of various chemicals used includes chlorpyrifos-methyl, diatomaceous earth*, bacillus thuringiensis, cy-fluthrin, malathion and pyrethrins.
Then there is the threshold test. If there is one live insect per quart of sample, fumigation is initiated. The goal of fumigation is to “maintain a toxic concentration of gas long enough to kill the target pest population.” The toxic chemicals penetrate the entire storage facility as well as the grains being treated. Two of the fumigants used include methyl bromide and phosphine-producing materials, such as magnesium phosphide or aluminum phosphide.
The tale of wheat’s journey doesn’t halt with cultivation; it extends into the milling process. A grain kernel boasts three vital layers: the fiber-rich bran, nutrient-packed germ, and the starchy endosperm. The true nutritional potency of grains resides in their completeness. The term “whole grain” refers to the grain before it has been milled into flour. The concept of whole grains refers to unprocessed grains, a concept disrupted in the late 19th century with the advent of high-speed milling machines that ushered in white flour-based products. These changes, documented by Dr. Price, triggered not just tooth decay but also fertility issues, mental health concerns, and disease progression.
The industry’s high-speed steel roller mills, replacing grinding stones, discard the nutrient-rich germ and bran, often sold as “byproducts” for animals. Even whole wheat flour is not spared during modern milling, with high temperatures reaching 400°F destroying essential nutrients. Modern breads endure numerous dough conditioners, preservatives, and harmful ingredients like hydrogenated oils and soy flour. The extrusion process compounds the issue, obliterating nutrients with high temperatures and pressures, undermining even synthetic vitamin additions.
Understanding the journey of wheat from ancient times to our modern world prompts us to rethink our choices. Opting for organic varieties, embracing stone-ground flours, and exploring alternative bread options can all play a part in preserving the heartiness and healthfulness of wheat.
Stay tuned for our next exploration, where we’ll uncover the renaissance of spelt and Kamut® – ancient grains navigating the currents of contemporary diets.
Article adapted from westonaprice.org