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Food Bullying Podcast


Mar 18, 2024

“If a food is free from something, then it must be healthy, right?”

Dr. Brett Carver, a wheat breeder and researcher at Oklahoma State University for nearly 40 years, has found himself spending more time defending the plant to which he’s devoted his career in recent years.

“A huge chunk of our population, based on easy-to-find survey data, makes dietary choices AWAY from gluten (wheat). That's about 9-12% of us, and millennials and Gen Z's lead the way. About 1 in 5 persons will reduce or eliminate gluten from their diet because they believe this to be a healthier option,” says Carver.

But is this trend warranted?  For those who are diagnosed with Celiac disease, avoidance of gluten, the protein found in wheat, is a non-negotiable.  But for those of us without Celiac or non-Celiac wheat sensitivities, following a gluten-free (and therefore wheat-free) diet is likely unnecessary.  

Getting to the “heart of the kernel,” Dr. Carver shares insights on why what doesn’t easily undergo genetic engineering (reminde: there are no GMO wheat varieties), how wheat has and hasn’t changed over the last century, and the role of FODMAPS in his work.

According to Dr. Brett Carver, one of the major misconceptions around wheat is related to its origin. Many people make assumptions about the healthiness or unhealthiness of wheat based on where they think it comes from. Another misconception revolves around the changes that have occurred in wheat over the last century. Dr. Carver mentions that wheat breeding has been ongoing since the 1920s, and there is a need to understand the advancements and improvements that have been made in wheat varieties. 

There is no GMO wheat in the U.S. market. Carver mentioned that wheat does not easily undergo genetic modification (GMO) due to its biology. However, he mentioned that the science of gene editing is highly developed and may become a prominent technique in wheat breeding. 

Brett also outlined how DNA sequencing has revolutionized wheat breeding. With the ability to select based on DNA sequence, breeders can now make more accurate and efficient selections for desired traits, such as disease resistance or gluten quality. This advancement allows breeders to bypass the need for certain traits to be physically present and instead select based on the DNA sequence itself. This has greatly accelerated breeding progress and has the potential to improve wheat varieties in terms of both quality and disease resistance.

There is a misconception that gluten in wheat has changed over the last century. He mentioned that the composition and protein of wheat have not significantly changed. Claims made in books like "Wheat Belly" about the varieties being produced and the food derived from them are not accurate. Dr. Carver conducted his own research to counter these claims and found that the perception of wheat has changed, but the reality is that wheat breeding programs have been focused on developing varieties that meet consumer demands. 

The exact cause of non-celiac wheat sensitivity is still being researched and is not fully understood. However, Dr. Brett Carver mentioned a few factors that could potentially contribute to this sensitivity. One possibility is sensitivity to gluten itself, specifically the gluten that naturally occurs in wheat varieties.

Another factor that Carver mentioned is the presence of certain carbohydrates called FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols) in wheat, which can trigger symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in some individuals. Additionally, there are proteins called amylase trypsin inhibitors (ATIs) found in wheat that have been associated with sensitivity. Further research is needed to fully understand the causes and mechanisms behind non-celiac wheat sensitivity. He wants dietitians to know he's working on a variety of those projects.

For more information, visit https://experts.okstate.edu/brett.carver and find Dr. Carver on X @osuwit.