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Update on the Gluten Levels of Wheat

Comments from the International Celiac Disease Symposium in Chicago, attended by 1500 scientists, doctors, dietitians and others from over 30 countries.

Donald Kasarda, a USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) researcher, compiled data going back to the beginning of the 20th century to examine wheat consumption trends. He wanted to explore whether we are eating more wheat products today, if the wheat consumed today is GMO (genetically modified organism) and if it has a higher gluten content than wheat eaten before 1950.

His data showed that the amount of wheat consumed by Americans in 2000 has actually gone down since 1910. He said that we consumed approximately one loaf of bread per person in 1910; that figure has since gone down to about ¾ of a loaf per day in 2000. However, this does not take into consideration the consumption of pasta and pastries which has increased during that time period.  Karsarda also suggests that there has been a 25% increase in per capita intake of wheat and gluten from 1970 to 2000.

Another potential cause of the increased prevalence of celiac disease today is the increase in the gluten protein content from wheat breeding. According to Kasarda, there are no GMO-type (genetically engineered) wheat used commercially in the United States. This seems to contradict the allegations that wheat breeding is the reason for higher gluten content.

What has changed is the amount of “vital gluten” in food products. Vital gluten, a food additive, is added to bread flour and other food products to improve the product characteristics: loaf volume, texture, chewiness, etc. Vital gluten consumption has tripled since 1977, which happens to align perfectly with the dramatic increase in celiac disease prevalence.

It appears that more research is definitely needed in this area.