For the record, gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, rye and some other grains. For most people it’s not a problem to eat foods containing gluten. For others, it can cause problems ranging from wheat allergy and coeliac disease to less specific intolerance-type symptoms.
There’s much debate about why gluten seems to have become more of a problem in recent years. One of the widely accepted theories is that, because modern wheat has been selectively bred to contain higher gluten content than in the wheat of the past, more of us are having problems with gluten intolerance and coeliac disease.
Wheat was first domesticated 10,000 years ago, and humans have been experimenting with the best ways to grow it ever since. In the past century or so, the agricultural industry has been breeding wheat that works better in modern processed foods. One argument is that our bread has consequently become less healthy than the lovely loaves our grandparents and great-grandparents ate.
It turns out, based on the latest research, that this is probably not the case. A study recently published in Food Chemistry has found that modern wheat is no higher in coeliac-inducing factors than historical wheat – the proteins that cause problems were present in wheat 100 years ago, just as they are today.
Researchers behind a 2013 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry concluded they had “not found clear evidence of an increase in the gluten content of wheat in the United States during the 20th century, and if there has indeed been an increase in coeliac disease … wheat breeding for higher gluten content does not seem to be the basis.”
We can assume this also applies to other parts of the world where wheat is grown. So why are we seeing a worldwide increase in coeliac disease and other forms of wheat intolerance?