Mar 1

Gluten…In Theory.

For those who missed my program in Santa Rosa, CA earlier this month, I’ve invited JoEllen DeNicola, Nutrition Director for The Ceres Community Project, to be featured here on my blog and to share her theory on the increase of gluten sensitivity and intolerance. JoEllen is a like-minded ‘clean’ enthusiast, and her perspective on wheat and gluten has been on my mind ever since she presented it a few weeks ago. I hope you find it as intriguing as I have. And now, from JoEllen…

“There are many people experiencing sensitivities to gluten. This seems odd as wheat, rye, and barley have been a staple of humankind for thousands of years.  One explanation came to me from Gary Young, ND and farmer, that recognized that before combines harvested wheat, farmers harvested the grain by standing the stalks upright in shocks and letting them dry for several weeks before collecting the grain. You may remember seeing pictures of harvests from the 18th century where the grain was set up like this.

This process exposed the wheat berries to warm days and cool, damp nights. The wheat berries had a chance to go through what is a simple fermentation process, where the heat of day and dampness of night started an enzymatic process allowing the berry to come to a different stage where the phytic acids in the seed coat may have been reduced and nutritional values and enzymes could be more accessible to our digestive system. This process is cut short with our present methods of harvesting as the combine cuts and removes the berries all at the same time. Hence the fermentation process may not occur.”

Is it possible that before the invention of the combine, all bread/wheat products were made with fermented wheat, and therefore easier to assimilate and digest? Could this be the root of our increasing gluten sensitivity and intolerance?

As I discuss in CLEAN FOOD, soaking grains for one hour and then draining helps wash away their water-soluble phytic acid. This brings them closer to germination and makes them easier to assimilate in general. With this theory in mind, JoEllen questions whether greater benefit can be gained by soaking and drying wheat berries before cooking or making bread to reduce or help prevent gluten sensitivity. While this approach will not make wheat acceptable for those with Celiac Disease (gluten intolerance), could it possibly help those who are gluten sensitivity – those who experience bloating, moodiness or a variety of other physical or emotional symptoms as a result of gluten in their diet?

Please share your experience and perspective here so that all can benefit, and much thanks to JoEllen for sharing her wisdom and expertise.

Eat clean live well!



  1. Posted March 1, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for posting this Terry!!! It’s so interesting. Just like soy is better when it’s fermented!!!

  2. Posted March 1, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Exactly Laura! And for the same reason…to neutralize the acid. I would love it if someone funded this study.

  3. Posted March 5, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Would soaking rolled oats or steel cut oats have the same kind of benefit, or does it matter since they have been processed?

  4. Posted March 9, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    Hi Lori, I had to check with my good friend, Nancy Frodermann, RN & MSN, on this one, but she assures me that soaking rolled and steel cut oats will indeed give you a similar benefit. You can find more detailed information on this subject in CLEAN FOOD, but without a doubt, soaking grains does have its benefits. The first benefit is that soaking and draining washes away the water-soluble phytic acid that is inherent in whole grains. Grains require a minimum of 1 hour of soaking to start to receive this benefit, but I like to put my grains in the pot with water before bed for morning cooking, or in the morning for evening cooking. The second benefit is that soaking allows the grains to progress toward germination at which point they are significantly easier to digest. One thing Nancy shared with me that I did not realize is that companies such as Quaker used to include soaking on their instructions for rolled oats! Of course, this was a real turnoff for consumers, so it has long since been removed! Given our topic – gluten – it should be reiterated here that oats do not have gluten in them before they are harvested, but because they use the same combine and processing plants to harvest oats as they use for wheat, rye and barley, oats become cross-contaminated with gluten. There are companies who sell certified gluten-free oats, but they are increasingly hard to come by.

  5. Posted March 10, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    Terry – thank you for the detailed info! I soak my steel cut overnight just because it really speeds up cooking the next day 😉

  6. Posted March 21, 2011 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    With a husband and son who have just received their positive (or not so positive) results from a celiac gene test, this was very interesting to me. I’ve heard talk of folks with celiac tolerating wheat that has undergone “old fashioned” harvesting methods and didn’t understand why until now. Thanks for the information!

  7. Posted April 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    While I believe fermentation definitely helps digestion, I can’t help thinking that the snack food industry’s demands have been answered by genetically modified wheat. The wheat we buy today is certainly not the same our grandmothers were using to bake bread.

    I’m intolerant to gluten and I would very much like to know the true reason why more and more people’s digestive track is harmed by the simple fact of eating wheat.

  8. Posted April 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    It’s an excellent question, Monique, and I don’t have a definitive answer. However, there is no doubt that the increase in stress and toxicity in our lives, our environment, and of course our food chain, have led to a huge surge in intestinal diseases and imbalances that are at the root of many illness today, wheat intolerance and sensitivity included. In other words, our digestive systems are already compromised. Wheat, or whatever one might be sensitive to, just adds insult to injury. On a positive note, at least you know what you’re dealing with. There are many who experience pain, discomfort and all sorts of symptoms and continue to struggle to get to the root of the cause. As my father recently said, we’ll not be defined by our challenges and losses, but rather by what we make of them. Here’s to good health in your journey!

  9. Posted September 26, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    This makes perfect sense. Thank you for distilling it down to a digestible amount of information (pun intended :-P).
    I know you advocate for soaking grains and legumes with kombu to make them more digestible. Do you know if this has the same effect as soaking with baking soda and apple cider vinegar?

  10. Posted September 26, 2011 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    Hi Andrea, Soaking helps legumes and grains sprout/germinate which makes them more accessible. The kombu tenderizes and reduces gaseousness. It also infuses the grains or legumes with minerals making them more alkalinizing in general. I’ve not heard about baking soda and apple cider vinegar being used for this purpose, but I know that apple cider vinegar has similar health benefits. Would love to hear back from you if you try it!

  11. Posted October 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    Your work is beautiful. Several factors contribute to gluten intolerance:

    1. Modern wheat is bred by the industry for high protein and gluten that stimulates toxic reactions, where as old landrace wheats have significantly less celiac disease stimulatory epitopes, not to mention tat the old wheats are more delicious and nutritious!

    2. Modern wheat is fertilized with toxic synthetic nitrogen that may cause nitrate poisoning.

    4. Modern wheat is harvested at peak maturity, whereas the old wheats were harvested green and left to cure in the field. They did not ferment or sprout as much, but were more digestible with a lighter bran that was intermixed with the flour when milled. Modern over-mature hard bran is sifted out. Sprouted wheat does not mill well and has an enzyme that prevents good dough development. It is measured by the falling number. Lots more to discuss. I grow many beautiful landrace wheats and einkorn,and offer the seeds for folks to grow their ownKeep up the good work!
    Eli Rogosa

  12. Posted October 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    This is terrific information, Eli! Thank you so much for sharing with us all!

  13. Posted November 13, 2012 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    Just out of curiosity I purchased a pound of certified organic einkorn berries from my Co-op in southern California the other day. I’d heard that you should soak grains for a minimum of five hours before draining the soak water for maximum digestibility. What I’d like to know is, instead of boiling or baking the grains after the soaking process, can the berries be eaten as is (RAW)??

    I await your reply & Happy Holidays…


  14. Posted November 13, 2012 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Hi Clifford,

    Soaking grains makes them easier to digest and washes away their water-soluble phytic acid. Both excellent results! While you can absolutely soak your einkorn berries and eat them sprouted as opposed to cooked, they will require significantly more than 5 hours before they sprout. To do so, soak the berries covered in water overnight (or about 8 hours). Transfer berries to a fine mesh basket, drain the soaking water and rinse with fresh water. Place the basket over a bowl, set aside on your counter and cover with a light dishtowel or cheese cloth. Rinse every 6-8 hours and berries will sprout and be ready to eat in 2-3 days.

    Be sure to report back with your results!


One Trackback

  1. By Whole Grains & Soaking « Nourishing My Life on July 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    […] a quick and clean process, farmers used to put the wheat in stacks like the ones pictured here. They would sit there for a while, exposed to the elements. They would get wet and begin to ferment […]

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