Grains As Thy Medicine?

When we think of foods that are healthy for us we often think of fruits and berries, superfoods like nuts, vegetables like kale and proteins like meat. We don’t necessarily think about grains. Maybe we don’t think about grains because nowadays 1 in 5 people can’t tolerate them. And maybe that is a societal thing where grains aren’t trendy, maybe its corporate America confusing us with all their labels and questionable health claims, or maybe we are just not educated enough on grains in general. Are grains healthy? What are the different types? Is there a difference between ancient grains and modern grains?   

The food-as-thy-medicine movement has been around since the beginning of time but is now gaining ground as we are seeing physicians and medical institutions incorporate food as a formal part of treatment for a range of illnesses, and not relying solely on medications. By prescribing these nutritional changes they're trying to prevent, limit, or even reverse diseases by changing what patients consume. We are learning that ancient wheat can be a part of a healing diet.

Modern wheat has gotten a bad reputation and has been linked to symptoms or illnesses like bloating, IBS, fatigue, stomach pain and others experienced by patients with celiac disease and gluten intolerance are attributed to the consumption of wheat products. The blame is placed on gluten, which is a protein in wheat. More and more people are reporting being gluten intolerant these days and having wheat sensitivities. People with general wheat sensitivities vastly outnumber those with celiac disease, which affects less than 1% of the population. Could their sensitivity to wheat be tied to modern strains of this grain? It has been suggested that ancient grains show lower immunogenic properties and therefore can be introduced in the diet of gluten intolerant individuals (non-celiac).

So, what is the difference between ancient wheat and modern wheat? The answer is simple, genetic manipulation. In the 1950’s and 60’s wheat was cross-bred to increase yields and to make harvesting, transportation, and storage uniform for industrial purposes.  Further, modern milling methods have exacerbated the problems of modern wheat. Industrialized techniques separate of the parts of the kernel – leading to the “white flour” that is in most baked goods. The downside to these innovations, is that modern wheat is proving to be less healthy than ancient varieties.

Recent studies have shown that those who have incorporated ancient wheat like KAMUT® brand khorasan into their diets have seen total cholesterol decrease on average 4.0%, and with that those who suffer from chronic inflammation diseases saw their markers drop a significant amount. In addition, another study tested patients with diabetes. Those patients not only showed reductions in bad cholesterol, but those individuals blood insulin levels fell 16.3% and their glucose levels decreased 9.1%. 

Ancient grains, like KAMUT® wheat, have many beneficial properties. They are rich in fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, and protein. Whole grain KAMUT®  wheat is much richer in polyphenols and fatty acids as well as minerals (which we often don’t think about) like selenium which helps support a healthy immune system. In addition to helping reduce inflammation in the gut.  As Bob Quinn, PhD, president and founder of Kamut International states “As a country, we are well-fed, but not well nourished.” An important step to changing that is to change the grains we eat, and going back to healthy varieties of the past.

Written by Jillian Semaan, Food Campaigns Director, Green America

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