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How Wheat Tamed The Caveman

How wheat changed us

Dr. Padma Garvey/The Plant-Based Doctor Mom
How Wheat Tamed The Caveman

 Homemade pasta


We tend to have a one-sided, human-centric view of how humans changed the plants around them in order to begin farming.  But the plants changed humans in many radical ways too.   The first significant crop that altered the course of human history in the Old World was, of course, wheat.  Through a series of quirky, random events, wheat proved to be a relatively easy crop to grow for ancient people in the Old World, beating out some of wheat’s early competitors.  Those individual humans who developed the stomachs for wheat out-lived and therefore out -numbered those individual humans who were not able to develop the stomachs for wheat.  


Our ancestors ate the entire kernel. They couldn’t waste any source of food and refining the grain took work.  The whole wheat diet of our ancestors meant they ate the bran, loaded with fiber, and the gluten, loaded with protein.  The fiber encouraged the growth of good gut bugs that were required to digest the gluten.   A few of our unfortunate ancestors, who did not have this ability to get good gut bugs to take up residence in their guts, did not do so well.  So, in many ways, most of us came from ancestors who DID have the ability to get good gut bugs to grow in their intestines in order to maximize their nutrition from wheat.    In many ways, most of us came from ancestors who did not have a gluten intolerance, who could not have had a gluten intolerance.  The key to thriving on wheat, to having good gut bugs was and still remains tied to eating a high fiber diet……..the whole grain.

 Homemade pasta drying

After industrialized farming took off in the 1950s, we had so much wheat that we didn’t need to keep the bran.  We could consume the refined flour only.    Our guts started seeing an increase in the gluten but our good gut bugs got wiped out with our antibiotic-laden, preservative-laden, pesticide-laden, low fiber diets.  Not only did this set the stage for issues with gluten, but with all sorts of foods like nuts, fruit, and other food intolerances.  Why did we favor fiber-poor, refined wheat flour?  Well the whole wheat flour produces a denser, less fluffy product.  In addition, whole wheat flour doesn’t have as long a shelf life as refined flour.  It is important to note that currently there is no GMO wheat.  One reason why many people say they feel better after they got rid of gluten in their diet may be that doing so makes them more active participants in what they are eating.  Suddenly lots of processed foods are off the table.  Suddenly the options at restaurants are limited.  Suddenly they have to make more of their own food from scratch.


There are many different varieties of wheat.  Durum wheat is used for Indian chapatis and for Italian pasta.  While chapatis are made from the whole durum wheat flour, Italian pasta is typically made from the refined flour, semolina.  There are several other varieties of wheat that you can use in your cooking.  For instance, spelt flour and white wheat flour are great ways of incorporating whole grains when making breads, pizzas, waffles, etc.  Here are two recipes to try next time:


Lentil crepes with spicy tomato chutney

Black Bean Burgers

Other articles by Padma Garvey