European Wheat vs. American Wheat: What’s the Gut’s Reading?

A stalk of wheat isn’t the same by any other name.

And the distress the difference between wheats can cause you? 

Well, that’s been reported widely both from Europeans visiting the U.S. – shocked at the acne outbreaks, weight gain, and lethargy they experience – and Americans visiting Europe – shocked to find that they could eat baguettes and pasta without their customary discomfort.

Since it’s the third-most plentiful crop in the U.S., it’s crucial that we take a close look at what we’re dealing with here. 

While there are a lot of factors to consider, there is one aspect in particular worthy of investigation: the differences between hard red and soft white wheat.

In the U.S., we grow mostly red wheat – 60% of our crop yield. It’s what makes our bread so soft, fluffy, and stable, in contrast to it being the hard variety rather than the soft. (By stable, we mean it lasts longer on the shelf than fresh European bread.)

23% of our wheat crop is white wheat. In Europe, it makes up most of their yield. 

White wheat certainly contains less gluten than red. And for that matter, the gluten it contains isn’t as strong as red wheat gluten. 

For those with Celiac’s disease or gluten sensitivity, that could solve the mystery of varied reactions to each type of bread. 

But for a more complete picture, we have to look at the way we treat our crops in the states as opposed to the way Europe regulates their crop treatments. 

Let’s start with red and white wheat…

Red Alert 

Remember how we said our crop yield is mostly red wheat?

Here’s what’s going on: We plant five different kinds of wheat. They are hard red winter (planted in wintertime), hard red spring (you guessed it), soft red winter (you’ve got this), white wheat, and durum.

Those two hard reds are what make up the 60% figure that represents how much available hard red wheat gets turned into all our floured foods. It’s the kind of wheat most used in making bread flour. That’s because of its high protein content…

And that’s what gluten is – a protein.

Now, red wheat isn’t “bad.” It’s just different. The gluten it contains is stronger, making it ideal for baking bread. Soft wheat – because it’s lower in protein overall and especially gluten – is usually employed to make pastries, like cookies and cakes. 

It’s not true that all breads found in Europe are made with soft, white wheat. In fact, Europe imports 1.1 million tons of American wheat per year. However, most of the wheat they grow is white. 

Now… our wheat in the states isn’t genetically modified. But it has been specifically bred to be higher in gluten for the above mentioned purposes – essentially, it makes prettier, bread-ier bread because the sticky gluten helps the bread rise. 

We’ve got to look beyond gluten composition, however.

There’s a major difference between the way American wheat and European wheat gets handled…

When You Rip Off the Hood… 

It’s glyphosate, once again. Aren’t you getting a little bored of this villain? 

Europe was… So although they haven’t banned it exclusively, many countries and cities have limited or prohibited its use.

Quick reminder: It’s an herbicide most notably found in Monsanto’s Roundup, the subject of much controversy as its effects have been poisonous to crops, fish, people, and animals. 

Glyphosate is used to kill weeds that compete with grass crops – like wheat, for example. 

Its usage has been linked to ADHD, irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, kidney disease and failure, hypothyroidism, cancer, colitis, depression, heart disease, and many more diseases.

Now, glyphosate hasn’t altered the DNA of corn and soy. But it’s important to understand that although its intended use is to kill weeds, its poison kills insects and pollinators as well. (And it’s speculated that it does this by poking holes in their gut linings.)

Glyphosate is a chelating agent. It binds to things. In this case, it’s binding to nutrients and minerals in wheat. 

This process means that wheat treated with glyphosate is likely to be lower in nutrients like zinc, iron, and manganese – all nutrients the gut needs for strength and stability. 

Now, some studies have claimed that because glyphosate can’t affect the metabolic pathways of cells in mammals, and therefore it’s okay to ingest it in trace amounts. (Excepting, of course, all of the obvious problems it has caused.)

But the effects of glyphosate on the gut microbiome weren’t studied. And as we know, the bacterial composition of the digestive tract has far-reaching impacts on every aspect of human health.

Not only are Europe’s wheat products made with less protein (gluten) in majority than the United States’ majority wheat products…

But you are absolutely ingesting trace amounts of glyphosate – which not only irritate the gut but also rob the plant of nutrients – whereas in Europe, the chance is lessened.

In combination, we’ve taken two giant steps closer to solving the mystery of American gluten intolerance disappearing across the pond. 

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