You know all those foods we were told to eat, all those “healthy whole grains” we were advised were better than white flour products? Well, let me let you in on a dirty little secret of agribusiness: It ain’t the same wheat. It is not the wheat of our grandmothers’ day because it was changed.
Wheat was changed in the 1960s and 1970s by agricultural scientists. They hybridized various strains thousands of times. They mated wheat with other grasses (wheat is a grass). They subjected wheat seeds and embryos to the process of mutagenesis, the use of chemicals, gamma rays and x-rays to induce mutations. These methods pre-dated the methods of genetic modification, and were crude, imprecise, and unpredictable and, in many cases, worse than genetic modification.
Many varieties of wheat that we eat come from plants that are no longer tall, but are short and stocky and high-yielding. Changes in outward appearance were accompanied by internal genetic and biochemical changes. One crucial change: new forms of the protein gliadin. Gliadin, when digested in the human gastrointestinal tract, is degraded to small peptides that can bind to the opiate receptors of the brain – yes: opiate receptors, not unlike morphine or Oxycontin. Gliadin-derived peptides, however, don’t make us high, nor do they provide pain relief; instead they may only stimulate appetite and cause us to eat more.
Remember this: “According to a nationwide survey: More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette”? In the mid- and latter 20th century, the national discussion went from gushing about the pleasures and health benefits of smoking, to studies documenting the health damage caused by smoking, to executives denying any wrongdoing to Congress, to uncovering concealed documents demonstrating the industry’s knowledge of the adverse health effects of smoking decades earlier.