This is a synopsis of a presentation made by Lori Brizee MS, RDN, LD, CSP to Central Oregon Pediatric Associates on January 7, 2015.

Key points:

  • How has wheat changed over the last few hundred years? Has it been genetically engineered?
    • Wheat has been bred for taste and yield, but all its DNA is native–there have been no “non-wheat” genes inserted into wheat.
    • The protein or gluten content of wheat has remained somewhat constant–it varies depending on environmental conditions of a particular growing season. Soft wheats contain 7 to 11% protein and hard wheats 11-16% protein.
  • Are we eating more wheat now than ever before?
    • NO! In 1900 Americans ate about 220 lbs/person/year. By 1970 that was down to 110 lbs/person/year; as of 2008 it was back to about 134 lbs/person/year. Still only 60% of that in1900.
  • Has wheat or gluten intolerance increased?
    • YES. We are seeing a lot more celiac disease now than ever before–1:133 people in the USA are thought to have celiac disease. This is a 400% increase since the 1950’s
    • We do not know why celiac disease is increasing.
  • What about non-celiac gluten intolerance
    • The jury is not in!
    • For many people, the problem is not gluten, but the fermentable carbohydrates (FODMAP’s) that are found in gluten containing grains and many vegetables and fruits. These can be the culprit in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
    • It is essential that celiac disease be ruled out before going on a gluten free diet or low gluten diet.
      • IF a person has celiac disease, they must follow a 100% gluten free diet.
      • IF a person has Irritable Bowel Syndrome, s/he can typically tolerate purified gluten and small amounts of gluten containing grains.
  • What about the premise that gluten and dairy proteins are factors in Autism?
    • Controlled studies have not confirmed this.
    • Anecdotal reports have shown improvement in symptoms with removal of gluten and dairy proteins.
    • Removing gluten and dairy protein from an autistic child’s diet can leave him with very few food options that he will accept, as autistic children often have multiple aversions to tastes and textures of foods. This can result in malnutrition.
    • Experts agree that large, controlled studies are needed to determine if gluten and/or dairy play a role in Autism.

Bottom line: Gluten containing grains are very nutritious foods; but, we need to be aware of the possibility of celiac disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and possibly other intolerances to these foods.