Are Grains Really Dangerous to Our Health?

By Brane Žilavec, May 2015

6. Is the Quality of modern Grains the decisive factor?

Now we will explore the question of how much the quality of the grains and grain products people consume nowadays has contributed to the onset of the health problems which are exposed in the literature of the anti-grain health experts. If we look at Nine Aspects of a Healthy Meal we can see the triad of quality, quantity, and choice as an indispensable part of any healthy meal. This means that we cannot focus any dietary recommendations just on the quantity of specific foods – which is the predominant approach in this field – without taking into account the way the food is produced.

The modern grains and the foods made from them are not the same as they have been eaten in old Egyptian society, or any traditional food cultures up until the middle of 19th century with the emergence of the second scientific-industrial revolution, based on chemical engineering, oil, and electricity. One can find the references to this fact also in the books written by the anti-grain health experts. For example, Dr William Davis writes (italics mine):

"Modern wheat is an opiate... This opiate, while it binds to the opiate receptors of the brain, doesn't make us high. It makes us hungry. This is the effect exerted by gliadin, the protein in wheat that was inadvertently altered by geneticists in the 1970s during efforts to increase yield. Just a few shifts in amino acids and gliadin in modern high-yield, semi-dwarf wheat became a potent appetite stimulant." [1] Here we have clear reference that the gluten protein in modern semi-dwarf wheat is not the same is in traditional varieties, called heritage wheats. In the previous chapter about medical evidence is mentioned the fourfold increase of coeliac disease in USA since the early 1950s. This increase correlates to the increased use of artificial fertilisers and other agrochemicals since the beginning of the World War II, as a part of the war strategy to produce enough food.

The indisputable fact is that "we have made dramatic changes to the human diet since beginning cultivation of cereal grains 10,000 years ago." [2] Of all changes in this period, the most dramatic were the changes brought about by the scientific-industrial revolution on the way how our food is grown and processed. For example "research conducted by Dr. Donald R. Davis, a former nutrition scientist at the University of Texas, demonstrates how wheat has declined nutritionally over the last 50 years as farms have become more industrial. (He said): Beginning about 1960 modern produc­tion methods have gradually increased wheat yields by about threefold. Unfortunately, this famous Green Revolu­tion is accompanied by an almost unknown side effect of decreasing mineral concentrations in wheat. Dilution effects in the range of 20 percent to 50 percent have been documented in modern wheats for magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, phosphorus, and sulfur, and they probably apply to other minerals as well. In addition, some of today's varieties have only half as much protein, and there is evidence that old wheat varieties often have substantially higher amounts of valuable phytochemicals." [3]

This ought to apply also to other grains. [4] The loss of essential minerals has also been greatly increased by the refining of grains and other forms of carbohydrate-rich foods, such as cane or beet sugar. It is very surprising indeed how this impact on the quality of grains has been 'overlooked' by anti-grain health experts. The reason for such an omission might be that such facts don't fit into their suggested version that "grains are not high in nutrients – they are high in anti-nutrients." [5]

In other words: "We haven't been eating the same kind of glu­ten (grains) since our ancestors first figured out how to farm and mill wheat. The grains we eat today bear little resemblance to the grains that entered our diet about ten thousand years ago. Ever since the seventeenth century, when Gregor Mendel described his famous studies of crossing different plants to arrive at new varieties, we've gotten good at mixing and match­ing strains to create some wild progeny in the grain department. And while our genetic makeup and physiology haven't changed much since the time of our ancestors, our food chain has had a rapid makeover during the past fifty years. Modern food manufacturing, including bio-engineering and specifically hybridization, have allowed us to grow structurally-modified grains that contain gluten that's less tolerable than the gluten that's found in grains cultivated just a few decades ago". [6]

Thus we can imagine that modern dwarf wheat has "the gluten structure increasingly strong," [7] we could say hardened, by the impact of the artificial mineral fertilizers. "There is scientific evidence … that varying levels of sulphur and nitrogen fertiliser can change the proteins in wheat… One study found that increasing the level of nitrogen fertiliser directly resulted in increased levels of gliadin… (and) older varieties of wheat, which have fewer chromosomes, also tend to have lower levels of gliadins." [8] In the abstract of one of the two scientific studies (mentioned in the article Growing Intolerance from which the above quote is taken) is found very interesting confirmation "that induced sulfur deficiency during growth resulted in the most pronounced effect on protein composition." [9]

Another scientific publication of 2012 found that particular fractions of wheat albumin (called ATIs) are able to cause intestinal inflammation in humans. "This can be the case for both celiac and non-celiac patients. Detlef Schuppan, whose research team discovered this role of the ATIs, emphasizes that modern wheat cultivations are bred to have a high ATI content and that this may play a role in the onset and course of disorders such as celiac disease and gluten sensitivity." [10]

It should be common sense to expect that the manner of fertilising will affect the inner structure of the plants. But modern farming doesn't stop with artificial fertilisers; we need to take into account the effects of herbicides and other pesticides. Then we need to add – in the phase of food processing – the effects of food additives and the loss of nutrients caused by refining and other methods of over-processing.

If we focus our attention to modern wheat – one of the most consumed foods on our planet – we will find the story of the loss of its primeval quality. "For one thing, it is not the same grain our forebears ground into their daily bread. Wheat naturally evolved to only a modest degree over the centuries, but it has changed dramatically in the past fifty years under the influ­ence of agricultural scientists. Wheat strains have been hybridised, crossbred and introgressed to make the wheat plant resistant to environmental conditions, such as drought, or pathogens, such as fungi. But most of all, genetic changes have been induced to increase yield per acre. The average yield on a modern North American farm is more than tenfold greater than farms of a cen­tury ago. Such enormous strides in yield have required drastic changes in genetic code, including reducing the proud 'amber waves of grain' of yesteryear to the rigid, eighteen-inch-tall high-production 'dwarf' wheat of today. Such fundamental genetic changes, as you will see, have come at a price." [11]

The most troublesome part of the story has evolved in Mexico. "Much of the current world supply of purposefully bred wheat is descended from strains developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (IMWIC), located east of Mexico City at the foot of the Sierra Madre Oriental Mountains. IMWIC began as an agricultural research programme in 1943 through a collaboration of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mexican gov­ernment to help Mexico achieve agricultural self-sufficiency. It grew into an impressive worldwide effort to increase the yield of corn, soya and wheat, with the admirable goal of reducing world hunger… One of the practical difficulties solved during IMWIC's push to increase yield is that, when large quantities of nitrogen-rich fertiliser are applied to wheat fields, the seed head at the top of the plant grows to enormous proportions. The top-heavy seed head, however, buckles the stalk (what agricultural scientists call 'lodging'). Buckling kills the plant and makes harvesting prob­lematic. University of Minnesota-trained geneticist Norman Borlaug, working at IMWIC, is credited with developing the exceptionally high-yielding dwarf wheat that was shorter and stockier, allowing the plant to maintain erect posture and resist buckling under the large seed head. Tall stalks are also ineffi­cient; short stalks reach maturity more quickly, which means a shorter growing season with less fertiliser required to generate the otherwise useless stalk." [12]

In this way "dwarf wheat today has essentially replaced most other strains of wheat in the United States and much of the world thanks to its extraordinary capacity for high yield. According to Allan Fritz, PhD, professor of wheat breeding at Kansas State University, dwarf and semi-dwarf wheat now comprise more than 99 per cent of all wheat grown worldwide." [13]

For all these reasons we cannot use any one word – grains – for all existing grains after the emergence of scientific-industrial revolution. We need to distinguish two groups of grains and foods made from them. The difference is in the methods and substances used in their production. In the first group we have grains or pure grain products:

Because of the cumulative effect of all these methods and substances the final outcome can be regarded as good quality food made from grains. For that reason we will call them real grains.

In the second group are grains or grain products:

Because of the cumulative effect of all methods and substances the final outcome can be regarded as bad quality food made from grains. For that reason we will call them pseudo-grains.

With the help of the above distinction we can avoid the continuous mistake of the anti-grain proponents of mixing these two groups of foods made from grains. For better clarity we need to mention that there are, of course, some grains which can have just a few characteristics of one group, or even some grains having mainly the characteristics of one group with one or two characteristics of another group. But familiarity with the characteristics of these two groups will enable us to put them in the place where they belong.


  1. Dr William Davis,
  2. James Braly, MD, Ron Hoggan, MA, Dangerous Grains, Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous to Your Health, Avery, New York, 2002
  3. Tabitha Alterman, Whole Grain Baking Made Easy, USA, 2014
  4. There is scientific evidence about the steady decline of trace minerals and vitamins in the range of cultivated plants in the last decades since they started to measure them.
  5. Dr Peter Osborne, statement in the interview available on
  6. Dr David Perlmutter, Grain Brain, The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs and Sugar – Your Brain's Silent Killers, Yellow Kite Books, London, 2014
  7. Vanessa Kimball, Growing Intolerance by
  8. As above
  9. Proteome changes in wheat subjected to different nitrogen and sulfur fertilizations. Grove H1, Hollung K, Moldestad A, Færgestad EM, Uhlen AK, 2009 May (link via article Growing Intolerance)
  10. Wikipedia, Non-celiac gluten sensitivity, April 2015
  11. William Davis, MD, Wheat Belly, Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health, Harper Thorsons, London, 2014
  12. As above
  13. As above