Poor Ruedi. Our choir is tuning our concert repretoire at a retreat in a beautiful Black Forest resort. While the rest of us butter nutty whole wheat croissants and top slices of braided loaves with our Black Forest ham, Ruedi makes due with heavy pieces of gluten free bread.
Three years ago Ruedi learned that he had celiac disease. The disease is an abnormal immune system reaction to gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye (and for some, also in oats). The reaction reduces or stops the absorption of food in the small intestine, resulting in malnutrition. There is only one cure – stop eating anything containing gluten protein. Logically that includes breads, pastas, cereals and other bread products. But gluten is used in many places we don’t think of – in spices, additives and sauces. Ice Cream and even chocolate have to be carefully screened. It’s a tough diet change!
Ruedi is upset with the Swiss agriculture department, which plans to set up a new pricing system for wheat, adding increased pay for higher protein content. We already have that in Canada, where the base price for wheat starts at 11.5% protein. Higher protein wheat receives higher prices. Traditionally Swiss wheat varieties have been low protein. Schaffhausen seed growers have just started some trials with two varieties of Hard Wheat, with higher protein traits. This isn’t good news for Ruedi, who believes that the new high protein varieties are causing the increased rates of celiac disease.
Although increased celiac cases have as much to do with better assessment and knowledge of symptoms, Ruedi might not be so wrong. Check http://www.doctorauer.com/biochemistry-nutrition/understanding-gluten-the-effects-of-grain-based-diets-part-ii-the-nitty-gritty-on-gluten/ for one story. Our North American and European diets include much more high protein wheat products than they used to. We eat more bread made from higher protein wheat (because the farmer produces what the industry wants), more pasta and packaged cereals. So much of whatever else we buy contains gluten protein too. For those who are at all gluten intolerant (which is a genetic trait) it is a dangerous world out there.
But Ruedi would be happy to know that research is also working for him. Professor Diter von Wettstein at Washington State University is labouring with an international crew to breed a variety of wheat that is celiac friendly. Wheat contains over 150 different proteins. Only six are needed for good baking quality. The group is trying to eliminate as many proteins as possible in the hope that celiac sufferers will one day be able to eat bread like everyone else.
It’s highly likely that at least some farmers will be vying to grow a low protein wheat in the future again.