Gluten deconstructed – uh-oh: it’s an ‘abstraction’…

(from: )

Wheat Contains Not One, But 23K Potentially Harmful Proteins


Okay: in previous post about Rye, I went on a bit of rant about how we misuse language sometimes, both in ordinary parlance but also to engender rather serious fallacies in important things like the so-called ‘scientific method’ (which is far more faith-based than most of us are willing to believe!).

From the greenmedinfo gluten article link at top:

Most folks don’t realize that when we are talking about health problems associated with wheat, or gluten, we are not talking about a monolithic entity, a singular “bad guy,” solely responsible for the havoc commonly experienced as a consequence of consuming this grain. After all, how could just one villain cause the 200+ different clinically observed adverse health effects now linked in the biomedical literature to wheat consumption?

No, the problem is that “gluten” is an abstraction, and in its perceived singularity profoundly misrepresents the true extent of the problem, much in the way that the tip of an iceberg does not convey the massive threat submerged below …

Gluten is the Latin name for “glue,” and signifies the doughy complex of proteins within the wheat plant, further classified as either gliadins (alcohol soluble), glutelins (dilute acid or alkalis soluble), or other. Because wheat is a hexaploid species  (doesn’t that sound creepy?), the byproduct of three ancestor plants becoming one, with no less than 6 sets of chromosomes and 6.5 times more genes than found in the human genome, it is capable of producing no less than 23,788 different proteins – a fact as amazing as it is disturbing.[i] “

Dear Readers, I draw your attention especially to this part: No, the problem is that “gluten” is an abstraction, and in its perceived singularity profoundly misrepresents the true extent of the problem, much in the way that the tip of an iceberg does not convey the massive threat submerged below …

Now let us leave aside the gluten argument because AS USUAL, there is no discussion of preparation process and any transformation that may or may not occur therefrom (no difference between raw or fermented soybeans, raw or fermented grains, raw cream or fermented curds = cheese etc. etc. ). But a very good point is being made here: that so-called ‘gluten’ which sounds discrete, identifiable, factual, solid because it has a basic name (‘gluten’) doesn’t really exist as such. In fact the word refers to any one of 23,788 things, and of course each of those things has other variables depending on what else is in the mix, both other ingredients, weather patterns, harvesting timing, dampness, and last but not least, fermentation and final temperature after baking or boiling and so on.

So my rant in the last post may well have been over the top but I take heart from the sheer coincidence which ensued, namely that the next article I opened up from the science.natural news site looking for something comparing wheat and rye after the rye post, happened to go into this business about single, simple terms like ‘gluten’ are abstractions.

Agreed. It’s time to stop dumbing us all down with catchy terms that everyone can too easily glom onto (or rather gluten onto) and go back to using our senses:

This blog author maintains that until there is solid evidence to the contrary – and thus far he has not seen any published – that good quality, preferably heritage grains, properly fermented using natural ‘slow sourdough’ method, and using ideally 50% or more of the whole grain to include the germ and fibre which respectively boost nutritional content and aid the peristaltic digestion process, are basically good foods (in moderation as with all foods, including water).

I am willing to grant that most modern fast-production breads are harmful, but even there we must be a bit more careful: is it due to overly quick fermentation with single strain yeast? Or is it chemicals from the agro-business fertilizers and pesticides? Or some subtle transference of malaise from the sick energy of the sick plants raised in such soils? Or something from the plastic it is usually wrapped in at the supermarket? Or is it the overly refined methods in modern flour, wherein whole wheat, for example, is steel-rolled, i.e. very finely pulverised, white flours, usually bleached, to which is then added some of the bran and germ taken out during the white flour extraction process, albeit this bran and germ comes from different batches of grains? Or is it prolonged storage, wherein fresh-ground flour loses most of its vitamin (and thus no doubt other nutrient) content within a matter of days after being ground? Or over-hybridized grains bread to grow in dead soils with chemical inputs, with short stalks which won’t droop after their diet of elevated nitrogen so the machine harvester can fork them up, and with weaker husks that are less resilient to pests and so require more pesticide coverings but are easier to thresh mechanically, and with higher gluten – up to 40 times according to some reports – so that highly refined white flour products will rise nicely mimicking the soft rise of a natural sourdough 8-36 hour fermentation (depending on amount of starter percentage and temperature)? Or is it simply that food should be made by hand, with care and attention, not by zillions of whirring metal machines and mechanical mixers? Or the additives in the flour to facilitate mechanical mixing which makes for rapid ‘gluten development’ in about 10 minutes which otherwise takes 12 hours with slow fermentation (during which a whole load of other things happen to this so-called ‘gluten’ and which is rarely if ever studied after such transformation), additives such as human hair – which makes the dough initially more stretchy during mechanical mixing and kneading but which then becomes firmer later on to make for a nice, springy loaf), and chalk to make it white, and denatured enzymes to help with dough development, and synthetic vitamins, or the really-bad-for-you ‘refined table salt’ they put in everything?

Is it all or one of these factors that make modern bread harmful? Have there been any solid studies on this? If anyone knows, please contribute so I and other readers may learn more.

I think you will find that by and large there is mainly junk science which I will narrowly define in this particular context as being that science which follows a general fallacy these days, which I can call in shorthand the ‘one-word fallacy’.

Again, as the writer of the greenmed piece RIGHTLY points out: ‘gluten is an abstraction’.

Which also means that nearly all conclusions about gluten are probably little more than guesses.

Oh – I didn’t mention the elephant in the room: let us say that all the problems with gluten are basically correct: is it the gluten or the damaged digestive systems which is to blame? Put another way: will a healthy person have a problem eating

a) properly made sourdough

b) high quality artisan, slow- fermented (now) conventional yeast risen

c) mass produced commercial


Perhaps what we are witnessing is a whole load of sick people brought up on bad, mass produced food, gradually becoming unable to digest certain things, one of them being under-fermented, over-hybridized grain products?

Is there any attempt to really understand all this?

We have trillions of dollars and Euros to spend on building bigger bombs. But understanding something as simple and basic as bread?

Nah, clearly it’s a simple thing: that little word ‘gluten’, obviously that is the culprit, and clearly our ancestors going back 5,000 years were deluding themselves when they though that bread was in any way, shape or form good for you!

PS: please don’t get me wrong. I have both respect and concern for those with gluten issues. I am just frustrated – as a baker who deals with this issue more than most – at how paltry is the research offered despite widespread condemnations and generalisations. Moreover it is clear that not only are many unhealthy gluten-free products flooding the mass marketplace, but also that going back to basics – which is my approach – is both under-studied and under-appreciated. Most importantly for my purposes: I cannot make a fair evaluation of the issue using studies properly conducting by well-trained, impartial experts, because we are so busy building bombs and making fancy financial products and whizz-bang gadgets that we have no time or interest to study basic things, let alone supply them in our modern world.

Basically Good things like:

good butter from pasture-fed cows

good cheese from the same

good bread – made from fresh-ground organic grains grown in local healthy soils

good vegetables, again organic from healthy local soils

good meats – again properly raised on local healthy soils

good clothing made from natural fabrics with regional styles

and so on.

All these simple, basic things are becoming increasingly rare.

Which is why the latest fad in Silicon Valley is…. wait for it… you guessed it…

$4.00 a slice sourdough toast with organic butter and jam!

$4.00 a slice.

Hmm…. maybe I’ll try it at the FM….

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's sourdough

Update Wed 22nd: follow-up on this scientific method business:

Starting with David Hume in the 1700’s there have been serious, substantive objections raised concerning the so-called ‘scientific method’.

I’ll give one very small example relating to climate science concerning the temperature readings. Not only the instruments themselves (see how many of your thermometers give the same reading when put together in the same place!), but also placement: just a few feet higher or lower makes a big difference, also if there are breezes blowing at the time recorded, or not blowing, or some are placed by air conditioning vents, or in parking lots or airport runways which heat up far more than the surrounding zones, and so on.

The point is, that there is far more variability and unreliability in many of the data sets used to make, not scientific conclusions, but merely educated guesses which are then dressed up as science.

A clue: any time you read ‘scientists believe’, pay attention, for in fact that is the truth: they are about to tell you what they believe, not what they know. In other words, what they are about to tell you is not scientific at all even if their jumping-off point is scientifically gathered data. Data is not a conclusion.


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