Wheat has been cross-bred in a multitude of ways but does not contain genetically modified organisms. (Dreamstime.com)
By Scott Scanlon – Refresh
Nowhere is it more clear to
me that healthy eating is an individual choice than in my girlfriend’s kitchen.
I want to eat nutritious
foods that can help me look and feel good.
She is downright religious
When I became WNY Refresh
editor earlier this year, Karen Gelia decided it was time to ramp up the
pressure on me to eat better.
Extra doses of preaching
I needed to eat more
vegetables, fewer snacks, smaller portions.
“No more regular peanut
butter, only natural,” I was told. Less beer, more wine. Ditch the margarine.
“Even Olivio?,” I asked.
“Yes,” I heard. “Coconut oil is better.”
And did I mention I was
ordered to eat more vegetables? Yuck, but more on that in a future blog.
I have stood my ground at
wheat – and chosen to ignore Karen when I hear that virtually all wheat on the
market these days is genetically modified.
I jettisoned white breads
and most processed food years ago after a health scare, but whole wheat and
pumpernickel remain staples of my diet. Was I to understand that wheat was now
a GMO, a genetically modified organism?
That’s what I was hearing.
What did it mean?
Understand, Karen is a
nutrition book junkie, and the closest thing to her food bible is “Wheat
Belly,” Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist who writes that he put 2,000 of his
at-risk patients on a wheat-free diet and watched patient after patient free
themselves from chronic health conditions that had dogged them for years.
Davis hates wheat.
Karen and several of her
friends are among his nutritional disciples. They rarely, if ever, eat breads,
baked goods, even wraps, of any kind, unless they’re made of Ezekiel bread from
So I got excited while
researching the GMO package today in WNY Refresh, when Jane Andrews, Wegmans
nutrition and product labeling manager, told me that wheat is not a GMO.
An estimated 75 percent, or
more, of foods in most grocery stores contain GMOs, but Andrews told me wheat
is not among them.
Really? You mean Karen is
I left work with a smile,
and a new confidence that I would finally win a food argument with my
girlfriend of eight years.
Andrews told me wheat
farmers tested GMO wheat about a dozen years ago, but decided they couldn’t afford
to lose the lucrative European market, which had banned the organisms.
Cross-breeding is different, she explained, and wheat has been changed in that
“Wheat was a whole different
animal 4,000 years ago,” Andrews said. “Through human intervention, human
manipulation and cross-breeding, it’s come to a modern, cultivated wheat, but
not with a specific (GMO) trait being added.”
That could change, she said,
“but not yet.”
She added that “more folks
are finding that they can’t tolerate gluten” in wheat. Wegmans, Tops and other
retailers have responded by adding more gluten-free products.
I came to Karen with this
news several days ago.
She was unmoved, although I
joyfully had been eating wheat products in front of her since.
Until Friday morning.
That’s when she grabbed her
copy of “Wheat Belly” and showed me several excerpts, including this one from
the cover jacket:
“No longer the sturdy staple
our forebears ground into their daily bread, today’s wheat has been genetically
altered to provide processed-food manufacturers the greatest yield at the
lowest cost; consequently, this once benign grain has been transformed into a
nutritionally bankrupt yet ubiquitous ingredient that causes blood sugar to
spike more rapidly than eating pure table sugar and has addictive properties
that cause us to ride a roller coaster of hunger, overeating, and fatigue.”
This struck me, as I
currently am reading a book called “Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants
Hooked Us,” by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Moss, a reporter with the New York
In it, Moss writes that big
food companies began to hire legions of scientists starting in the 1960s to
find chemicals and plant ingredients that could be combined in different
combinations for all kinds of foods that could turn on the pleasure centers of
our brains and turn off the switch that tells us we’re full.
Salt, sugar and fat are the
most common ingredients, and this food manipulation, Moss reports, has driven
corporate food profits, and U.S.
obesity rates, to unparalleled heights.
A couple more excerpts from
“Wheat Belly” sounded the same tone:
“Can you blame farmers for
preferring high-yield dwarf hybrid strains? After all, many small farmers
struggle financially,” Davis
writes. “If they can increase yield-per-acre up to tenfold, with a shorter
growing season and easier harvest, why wouldn’t they?”
Davis also writes of an international outcry when GMOs
first were introduced in the mid-1990s, one that occurred with little fanfare
in the U.S.,
but heightened concerns elsewhere. He continues:
“But no such outcry was
raised years earlier as farmers and geneticists carried out tens of thousands
of hybridization experiments. There is no question that unexpected genetic
rearrangements that might generate some desirable property, such as greater
drought resistance or better dough properties, can be accompanied by changes in
proteins that are not evident to the eye, nose, or tongue, but little effort
has focused on these side effects.
continue, breeding new ‘synthetic’ wheat. While hybridization falls short of
the precision of gene modification techniques, it still possesses the potential
to inadvertently ‘turn on’ or ‘turn off’ genes unrelated to the intended
effect, generating unique characteristics, not all of which are presently
So wheat does not contain
GMOs. So what?, Davis
It’s also clear both these
authors point out that something doesn’t have to be a GMO to raise concerns
about food manufacturing, nutrition and health.
It also helps explain why
those I spoke with for the GMO story say it’s up to all of us as individuals to
educate ourselves when it comes proper nutrition, and make healthy choices we
can live with – and afford, financially and wellness-wise.
Meanwhile, and don’t tell
her I said this, I fear my girlfriend might be right about wheat.