Is Modern-day Wheat Bread Bad for You?

Hey Angels and Alphas,

Bread—and wheat, in particular—has often been at the center of health discussions. Initially, carbohydrates were scrutinized, then gluten became the focus, and now, “modern wheat” is under the spotlight.

Influencers and experts on social media platforms have attributed modern wheat to various health concerns, including digestive issues, weight gain, chronic diseases, and autoimmune disorders.

To differentiate facts from myths, we explored scientific studies and consulted with a registered dietitian for insights on the wheat debate.

What is Modern Wheat?

The primary wheat types in use today are Triticum vulgare (or aestivum), T. durum, and T. compactum.

“Modern wheat” typically refers to wheat that has undergone processing and refining for large-scale production. This process, while beneficial for yield and cost, may diminish the grain’s nutrient content.

Ancient Grains vs. Modern Wheat

Amidst the anti-wheat trend, many health enthusiasts advocate for ancient grains as a healthier choice.

Ancient grains, as defined by the Whole Grains Council, have remained largely unchanged for centuries. Common ancient grains include:

  • Quinoa
  • Spelt
  • Millet
  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Farro

Research indicates that ancient grains might contain higher levels of certain minerals compared to modern wheat. Studies have shown that the protein content in modern bread wheat has decreased while starch content has increased, and modern wheat also has lower levels of minerals like iron, zinc, and magnesium.

Although the nutritional profile of modern wheat differs from that of ancient grains, more research is needed to determine the health implications.

The Verdict

For individuals without gluten intolerance or sensitivity, there’s no substantial evidence that modern wheat, despite being lower in some nutrients, is significantly worse than ancient grains.

Check the ingredient list to determine if the grains are whole or refined. Aim for breads with whole grains. Look at the nutrition label to find breads higher in fiber and protein for added nutritional benefits.

Is Modern Wheat Genetically Modified?

No, modern wheat is not genetically modified. Current wheat varieties are developed through traditional breeding techniques, although there are many hybridized strains.

What Are the Most Common Types of Modern Wheat?

Triticum vulgare (or aestivum): Used in breads, cakes, and cookies.

T. durum: Used for semolina, commonly found in pastas.

T. compactum: Used in candies and cookies.

Is Modern Wheat Unhealthy?

Modern wheat is not inherently unhealthy, but it is often consumed in highly processed forms, such as white bread and pastries, which lack fiber and essential nutrients. Whole grain wheat products are healthier options.

Are Ancient Grains Gluten-Free?

Not all ancient grains are gluten-free. Some, like quinoa and millet, are gluten-free, while others, like spelt and farro, contain gluten. Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should choose gluten-free ancient grains specifically.

Can Ancient Grains Substitute Modern Wheat in Recipes?

Yes, ancient grains can often replace modern wheat in recipes, though the texture and flavor may vary. Gluten-free grains like quinoa may need additional binding agents in baking.

Where Can I Buy Ancient Grains?

Ancient grains are available at health food stores, specialty grocery stores, online retailers, and some mainstream supermarkets in the natural foods or gluten-free sections.

Are Ancient Grains More Environmentally Sustainable?

Ancient grains are often considered more sustainable as they require fewer inputs like water and synthetic fertilizers and can grow in diverse climates and soil conditions, potentially reducing agriculture’s environmental impact.