All wheat is not created equal: A case for ancient khorasan wheat

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

Ancient grains such khorasan wheat could serve as an alternative to those with general wheat sensitivities, Kamut International-funded study claims. ©GettyImages/stevanovicigor
Ancient grains such khorasan wheat could serve as an alternative to those with general wheat sensitivities, Kamut International-funded study claims. ©GettyImages/stevanovicigor
Can we as a society eat our way to health by consuming fewer high-yield, mass-produced foods such as modern wheat? That’s the position taken by Bob Quinn, Ph.D., an organic farmer and founder of Kamut International – a producer of the ancient grain, khorasan wheat – with research to support his claims.

Quinn told FoodNavigator-USA: “The question is, not what kind of healthcare program is best for the country, it’s why are so many people sick in the first place?”

According to Quinn, the modern wheat industry has been focused on high yields in order to drive food prices down to the nutritional detriment of consumers.

“An unintended consequence was an enormous change in the makeup of that wheat in both the protein and the starch to the point now where 12% to 20% of the population of America has trouble eating it without difficulty,”​ Quinn claimed.

People with general wheat sensitivities outnumber those with the diagnosed gluten intolerance condition of celiac disease, which affects less than 1% (0.58%) of the population, according to 2013-2014 NHANES data​. However, many people have come to attribute their wheat sensitivities to a gluten intolerance.

According to a study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine​ journal, researchers estimated that 1.76 million people in the US have celiac disease, but another million (2.7 million) American are actively eliminating gluten from their diet despite never being diagnosed with the disease.

Quinn’s research has been focused on the health impacts that a diet containing modern wheat compared to ancient grains like khorasan wheat has on human health, particularly as it relates to chronic diseases such as non-alcohol fatty liver disease (NAFLD), Type-2 diabetes, acute coronary disease (ACD), and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Could ancient grains be the answer to modern wheat sensitivities?

According to a recent peer-reviewed clinical trial​funded by Kamut International, a positive impact of khorasan wheat product consumption as it relates to patients with NAFLD was confirmed.

In the randomized, double blind trial, two different kinds of products were supplied to volunteers with NAFLD – products made from ancient Kamut khorasan wheat and products made from modern wheat. Both the ancient wheat and modern wheat were grown organically.

The nutritional analysis found differences between flour made with ancient Kamut khorasan wheat and modern wheat, researchers claimed. A significantly higher antioxidant content (polyphenols and selenium) were found in the ancient wheat flour as well as higher levels of minerals like magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.

Two groups of 20 participants each were assigned to consume either Kamut khorasan or control wheat products (pasta, bread, crackers, biscuits) over a three-month period. Neither the participants nor the doctors knew what kind of wheat was eaten during each time period, and participants were not permitted to eat other wheat products during this time.

Blood analyses were performed at the beginning and at the end of the trial period and revealed that consumption of products made from Kamut khorasan wheat produced a “significant improvement”​ in key blood markers. Total cholesterol of the khorasan wheat group dropped by 6% and liver function enzymes also decreased independent from age, sex, traditional risk factors, medication and eating habits –  ALT enzyme (-14%), AST enzyme (-12%) and ALP enzyme (-8%), said researchers.

“We found anti-inflammatory activity which we did not expect, no one had ever reported that in wheat before – In ancient wheat, but not in the modern wheat​,” Quinn said.

“No significant effect was noted after the consumption of the modern wheat diet, except for AST and ALT where a significant worsening effect was observed,” ​the study stated.

Quinn added the encouraging results of this past study should be tested with a larger group of participants who are more severely affected by NAFLD.

“What I’m hoping is we can get the attention of NIH to look at a much larger study.”

Changing the industry and consumer mindset

According to Quinn, the study is a small, but necessary step in the right direction towawrds promoting the health benefits of eating ancient grains instead of mass-produced, conventional varieties.

“I don’t see this study as making any great leap forward in marketing, but I see it as one more brick in a new house that is now starting to take shape,”​ he said. “There’s not going to be one magic bullet, there’s not going to be one magic study.”

Consumers can play a large role in swaying a growing wheat-resistant audience towards ancient grains and not condemning all wheat, Quinn added.

“People have the power to change the food supply of America because they vote every time they go to the store,”​ he said. “We can eat our way health ​ food can be our medicine and medicine can be our food.”

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