17 Dec Is ancient wheat a superfood?
December 17, 2018
Did you know there are over 25,000 different types of wheat that have been cultivated over the last 10,000 years all around the world? Scientists have been studying the most common types of wheat to determine if some are better for you than others. With the increase in negative reactions to wheat, including wheat allergies, wheat sensitivities, and celiac disease, these studies could prove to be insightful.
While there is still much to learn, we can draw several conclusions from published studies.
- Ancient varieties and modern varieties are similar in nutritional components.
- Both the genetics of the different wheat varieties and the growth conditions affect the nutritional components.
- Genetic factors outweigh growth conditions in determining the amount of protein in wheat.
- Growth conditions outweigh genetic factors in determining the vitamin, mineral, and phytochemical content.
- Wheat grown in North America is high in selenium, an antioxidant.
Many of the published studies compare Kamut, an ancient wheat, to other modern wheat varieties. Kamut originated in Egypt. It is trademarked, and it’s cultivation is strictly regulated. Kamut is unmodified, unhybridized, non-GMO, and organic. The modern wheat varieties in the research studies are not as tightly regulated, so there is more variability in the growth conditions and genetics. Another caveat to keep in mind is that most of the published studies with Kamut were sponsored by Kamut Enterpries of Europe or Kamut International USA.
With those caveats in mind, the studies suggest that Kamut may have health benefits over modern wheat varieties. A diet containing ancient wheat, instead of modern wheat, may reduce pro-inflammatory cytokines, increase serum potassium, reduce blood glucose, reduce total cholesterol, improve metabolic profiles. These are all good things to reduce the risk of acute coronary syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Replacing modern wheat with ancient wheat also reduced the severity of IBS symptoms in one study, although another study showed no difference in FODMAPs between different wheat varieties. FODMAPs are carbohydrates that are known IBS triggers.
Does Kamut sound like a super-food? It might be, but more research is needed to understand why. The high level of antioxidant selenium in the Kamut used in many of the studies may partially explain the correlated health benefits. It could also be a combination of nutritional factors, including selenium.
The take home message from all of the scientific studies so far is that wheat varieties are very similar. There may be something special about ancient wheats, but the jury is still out on the exact benefits.
If you’re interested in the scientific details, check out the following scholarly journal article.
Shewry PR. Do ancient types of wheat have health benefits compared with modern bread wheat? J Cereal Sci. 2018 Jan;79:469-476.