By Jess Scott Wright, RDN
Grains – are you for them or against them?
Grains are undeniably a controversial issue in the field of nutrition and with good reason. How is this crop that greatly influenced our nation’s economic prosperity also a catalyst for why Americans grow fatter and sicker? Perhaps the question should not be whether you are for or against grain, but rather what grain has become.
Grains of truth vary across the board. Naysayers argue the anti-nutrient properties of grains, claiming they are a recent addition to the human diet and have only been around for 10,000 years (a small hiccup of time compared to the length of time humans have roamed the planet). Those in favor of grains believe they have evolved to become a vital and nutritious part of the human diet.
Both sides make valid scientific points, but one of my biggest issues with the divided stance on grains is, which grains people are talking about.
Many “graniacs” make bold generalized statements but grains are one of the most diverse and complex categories of food. Think of all the kinds of grains, varieties of each kind, methods of processing, etc. There are grains with gluten; grains without; sprouted grains, whole and refined; a rainbow of rices, long and short; wild grains; ancient grains; old grains and new; the list goes but this is just to name a few. It is highly unlikely that all grains arrived on the planet on the same day, and even the way we eat grains has changed over time, especially since the industrial revolution.
Because there are so many varieties in the field of grains, I would like to focus on one in particular, the father of all grains, known for its amber waves: wheat.
Historically, we owe much of our nation’s prosperity to wheat and even today, wheat continues to be a major export commodity for not just Washington, but the rest of the country as well. However, wheat today is not the same wheat that our forefathers knew, or even our grandfathers.
Surprisingly, genetic modification is not responsible for the transition from ancient wheat to modern wheat. While there are some reports of genetically modified wheat in the U.S., these cases are unofficial and unapproved. According to the Washington Association of Wheat Growers website, “there is no genetically-modified wheat in commercial production in the U.S.”
Historians refer to the rise of modern wheat as the Green Revolution, a period of time in 1960s when perhaps quantity was valued greater than quality and amber waves of grain were bred to be sturdier and more resilient dwarf -like hybrid versions.
Fifty-five years later, we are a well-fed nation starved of nutrients. Yes, there is plenty of to eat, but I’m not sure I’d call it food. More people are becoming increasingly intolerant to gluten and modern wheat has evolved to become a prime suspect in several nutrition-related illnesses caused by the modern American diet.
Surprisingly, scientists are finding that modern wheat may be more to blame than gluten. Some studies show that even the most highly gluten sensitive people are able to tolerate ancient wheat without consequence.
Americans are increasingly interested in eating real food by supporting local farm to table movements, but creators of an upcoming documentary called “The Grain Divide” suggest the farm to table movement has neglected to support ancient grains.
The documentary, set to be released this summer, offers an enlightening perspective regarding the evolution of grains. As an added bonus, WSU’s The Bread Lab in Skagit Valley plays an integral role in the this film. You can visit The Grain Divide’s website thegraindivide.com to view the an extended trailer which supports this idea that before you decide to be for or against grain, make sure you are familiar with what grains really are, or rather what they once were. The movement I am calling a revolution for evolution is a similar concept supported throughout the film.
Revolution embodies a sudden change whereas evolution permits change at a gradual pace. We need to quickly move and shift our focus from for or against and unite in the fight to get real food back, real food that’s really nourishing.