Follow me at Gilded Sight!

Hi all! I’ve been MIA from this blog for a while now and have decided to re-brand and start fresh. As many of you have been loyal followers since May 2011 when Avventura began, I wanted to pass along the info for my new blog!

Gilded Sight

Please come follow me here if you’re interested in Discovering the world, Devouring delicious food and drink, and Developing yourself. Gilded Sight is more tightly focused on my key interests and I think you all with enjoy it very much. I’ve carried over some of my travels and will be spending a bit of time over the next few weeks with posts in Iceland, Finland, D.C., and Spain.

Thank you all for being a part of Avventura! I hope to see you all on the other side at Gilded Sight.

Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side

Greek yogurt has taken America and the world by storm. This growing industry provides a healthy, protein packed snack that tastes delicious and is low in calories. A while back I came across this article that explains a bit more about the manufacturing side of Greek style yogurt and it’s affects on US industry. This is interesting and enlightening. I’ll definitely think twice next time I dip my spoon into container of Fage. 

The following words and images are courtesy of Modern Farmer. See article in full here.

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Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side

By Justin Elliott on May 22, 2013

Greek yogurt is a booming $2 billion a year industry — and it’s producing millions of pounds of waste that industry insiders are scrambling to figure out what to do with.

Twice a day, seven days a week, a tractor trailer carrying 8,000 gallons of watery, cloudy slop rolls past the bucolic countryside, finally arriving at Neil Rejman’s dairy farm in upstate New York. The trucks are coming from the Chobani plant two hours east of Rejman’s Sunnyside Farms, and they’re hauling a distinctive byproduct of the Greek yogurt making process—acid whey.

For every three or four ounces of milk, Chobani and other companies can produce only one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey. It’s a thin, runny waste product that can’t simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a “dead sea,” destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years.

The scale of the problem—or opportunity, depending on who you ask—is daunting. The $2 billion Greek yogurt market has become one of the biggest success stories in food over the past few years and total yogurt production in New York nearly tripled between 2007 and 2013. New plants continue to open all over the country. The Northeast alone, led by New York, produced more than 150 million gallons of acid whey last year, according to one estimate.

And as the nation’s hunger grows for strained yogurt, which produces more byproduct than traditional varieties, the issue of its acid runoff becomes more pressing. Greek yogurt companies, food scientists, and state government officials are scrambling not just to figure out uses for whey, but how to make a profit off of it.

A cow munches on feed mixed with acid whey.A cow munches on feed mixed with acid whey. Chobani is so desperate to get rid of the whey, they pay farmers to take it off their hands.

Rejman, a blonde-haired 37-year-old, and third-generation dairy farmer with a Cornell animal science degree, started accepting the stuff a few years ago after a Chobani representative called him out of the blue.

Rejman’s workers take the shipments and try to find uses for the whey: mix it with silage to feed to the farm’s 3,300 cows; combine it with manure in a giant pit for fertilizer; and even convert some into biogas to make electricity.

‘How do you handle all the whey without screwing up the environment?’
But it’s not so easy to integrate acid whey into the workings of the farm. The silage Rejman feeds his cows, for example, can only soak up so much before becoming unmanageable slop — “like dropping water on your pizza,” he says. It’s also sort of like feeding your cows candy bars — they like it, but shouldn’t eat too much or it upsets their digestive system. It’s a problem that Rejman admits defies easy solutions. “How do you handle all the whey without screwing up the environment?”

The root of the whey problem is the very process that gives Greek yogurt its high protein content and lush mouth feel.

Unlike traditional yogurt, Greek yogurt is strained after cultures have been added to milk. In home kitchens, this can be done with a cloth. Greek yogurt companies still throw around the term “strained,” but in reality industrial operations typically remove the whey with mechanical separators that use centrifugal force.

The resulting whey is roughly as acidic as orange juice. It’s almost entirely made up of water, but scientists studying the whey say it contains five to eight percent other materials: mostly lactose, or milk sugar; some minerals; and a very small amount of proteins.

Greek yogurt companies trying to keep up with exploding consumer demand in the last few years didn’t have a good plan to deal with the ocean of whey they were producing. Now they’re racing to find solutions, all the while keeping mum about the results, if there are any: the yogurt industry is highly secretive and competitive.

There are no industry-wide statistics on where all the whey is going, but a typical option is paying to have it hauled to farms near the yogurt factories. There, it is often mixed into feed or fertilizer. Chobani, for example, says more than 70 percent of its whey ends up as a supplement for livestock feed.

***

But there is another possible consumer — babies.

“Because the Greek yogurt production grew so rapidly, no one really had the time to step back and look at the other viable options,” says Dave Barbano, a dairy scientist at Cornell.

State and industry officials reached out to Barbano last year following the first-ever Yogurt Summit, convened by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Barbano, who specializes in filtration methods for separation and recovery of protein, has his sights set on the tiny amount of protein in acid whey. He believes it might be usable as an infant formula ingredient. But first Barbano has to figure out how to extract the protein in a cost-effective way, and his research is just getting underway.

The concept is roughly modeled on the success that cheese-makers have had selling products derived from their own byproduct — sweet whey. Sweet whey is more valuable and easier to handle than acid whey, as it has a lot more protein, and is easier to dry because it isn’t as acidic as Greek yogurt whey. Cheese-makers have developed a lucrative business selling whey protein for use in body-building supplements and as a food ingredient. And Greek yogurt makers are eager to follow suit.

“There are a lot of people coming in and out of New York state looking at whether this is a good opportunity for investment,” Barbano says.

***

While Barbano focuses on proteins, researchers in Wisconsin are studying how to extract whey’s dominant ingredient: sugar.

Scientists at the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, have been experimenting for nearly a year on how to get edible-grade lactose out of acid whey. Such lactose is valuable as an ingredient in things like icing and as a browning agent in bread. “It’s kind of like oil refining: from crude oil you get gas and diesel and other products,” says Dean Sommer, a food technologist at the center. “This is the same concept. You figure out what’s in there and how to grab it and get value out of it.”

Sommer wouldn’t describe the filtration process to extract lactose because the industry-financed research is proprietary. But he believes some third-party companies are now considering building plants to convert acid whey into lactose.

Neil Rejman, an Upstate New York dairy farmer, stands before a lagoon of manure mixed with acid whey. This slurry will be turned in to energy by a machine called an ‘anaerobic digester.’Neil Rejman, an Upstate New York dairy farmer, stands before a lagoon of manure mixed with acid whey. This slurry has passed through a system called an ‘anaerobic digester,’ which converted some of it into electricity.
Meanwhile, back at Rejman’s farm in Scipio Center, N.Y., they’re converting the lactose into methane that can generate electricity.

When the whey arrives from Chobani, some of it is mixed with the vast quantity of manure the farm produces daily. From the manure pit, the light brown soup (basically a river of shit) flows into a 16-foot-deep underground concrete tank known as an anaerobic digester. An innocent looking expanse of cement in a big, green field dotted with dandelions, there’s a lot going on inside, where a fetid mix of manure and whey percolate.

The material is heated up and kept in the tank for about 20 days, during which time bacteria break up the organic material — the lactose, in the case of whey — and release gases, including methane. The gas is fed into generators that produce electricity to power the farm and to sell to the local utility for use elsewhere.

But the setup, which Rejman and his brother had installed five years ago, required a big capital investment that would be out of reach for small farms. It cost $4.5 million, $1 million of which the Rejmans got back through a state subsidy.

Rejman’s anaerobic digester. Rejman’s anaerobic digester. They primarily built the digester for what Rejman calls “odor control” for their neighbors, as digested manure smells much less than the raw stuff (“You ever take a shit in the toilet and leave it in there?” Rejman asks, by way of explanation.) The whey is an afterthought. In any case, just 20 of New York’s the state’s 5,200 dairy farms have an operating digester, according to Curt Gooch, a waste management engineer at Cornell.

And if any of the big yogurt companies have come up with a better whey solution, they’re being cagey about it. “We are currently exploring other options for our whey, but nothing we are ready to discuss at this time,” says Chobani spokeswoman Lindsay Kos. Dannon spokesman Michael Neuwirth says the company is looking at the nutritional possibilities of whey, but “we don’t have any plans to announce at this point.”

Home Greek yogurt makers have experimented with using whey in baking and pickling. But no one expects a bread or pickle factory to be able to absorb tens of millions of gallons of it.

Meanwhile, the tidal wave of acid whey is not slowing down. As one producer said at New York’s Yogurt Summit: “If we can figure out how to handle acid whey, we’ll become a hero.”

Photos by Justin Elliott. Photo illustration by Andy Wright.

Homemade Natural Deodorant

After my last post about Natural Deodorants, whether they work and the testing of a few brands, I decided to look into a homemade option as even the ones I tested contained a few ingredients I was unsure of. For full comfort and control over what is going on my body, I went with a simple recipe whose competence is assured by many bloggers and naturalists.

After scouring the internet, blogs and write-ups, I discovered that one recipe monopolized the internet. I decided to try it out for myself and see if it was something practical and efficient.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup organic cold-pressed coconut oil (solid state)
  • 1/4 cup baking soda (aluminum-free)
  • 1/4 cup starch (arrowroot powder, cornstarch)
  • essential oils (optional)
Mix together the arrowroot powder and baking soda in a bowl before adding the coconut oil. Warmed the oil a little bit on the stove in a water bath to soften it. Add the coconut oil and any desired essential oils. Place the mixture in a flexible container and place in the refrigerator for a few hours to harden. Silicon ice pop trays work well.

Coconut oil solidifies at roughly 76°F so it is best to keep this deodorant in the fridge, especially during the summer and to take great care when traveling with it. One of the bloggers who used this recipe loaded it into a cleaned out deodorant stick before being placed in the fridge to harden and form a deodorant “stone.”

All of these ingredients are inexpensive and the concoction works! Coconut oil contains lauric acid which is deemed to have antibacterial qualities. The starch assists in keeping you feeling dry while the baking soda removes any and all odors. As the coconut oil is cold pressed and organic, it is as unrefined as possible and only has a slight coconut smell that will not last long. I decided to add a few drops of peppermint essential oil and lavender essential oil for a fresh and fragrant scent. Be careful when dressing as it does contain oil and can stain your clothes (will come out in the wash). It helps to let it soak in for a bit before dressing. I still found applying twice a day to have the best results.

Tough Mudder New England 2014

This experience was by far the hardest physical endeavor I have ever attempted and accomplished. Last July, my little brother and I rolled up to Mount Snow and seriously questioned our judgement and sanity. We were decked out in our best workout gear and covered in war paint.

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The race began with a pump-up speech on camaraderie, teamwork, and our veterans. Then BANG, it all began. Up and down, and up and down the ski slopes of Mount Snow till we felt as though our legs would collapse beneath us. The obstacles were challenging and truly required help from each other as well as the teams around us. Complete strangers were more than happy to help any and everyone that needed it.

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Water

The entire time I was saying “never again.” Now, I can’t wait to do another!

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Revitalized

For the past few months I have been severely shirking my duties as the sole writer and Editor in Chief of this blog. I apologize to any loyal followers out there who have eagerly been waiting for the next post. I doubt there are any left after 7 months of no activity, but I hope you return!

Today, I return. Revitalized, full of energy and ambition, eager to get this blog back in the public eye. Many adventures occurred in the past 7 months that I desperately look forward to sharing with you. So much has transpired, so much has changed. And yet, so much remains the same. While I am hopeful and excited about the future, I also feel indecisive and trapped in a world that cannot make me happy.

Over the course of the next year, I wish to change this. Find my niche in the world and break free of the invisible bonds that hold me back from the joy I seek. I look forward to sharing this adventure with you.

Welcome back to myself and to my followers. Thanks for sticking around!

Rockport, MA

ROCKPORT – A scenic, coastal town in Northern Massachusetts with sailboats in the harbor, delicious lobster rolls, and many local arts and crafts. The town is a vibrant summer tourist destination. The streets become packed with families headed to the beach and couples looking for a romantic bed and breakfast escape.

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Political Cartoons on Climate Change

The environment is in serious trouble. Human beings have taken the world’s natural resources for granted. We have stripped, exploited, brutalized, and ravaged the world for generations. Now it’s time to pay the consequences and take action in order to minimize the damage and heal the world. The following political cartoons draw attention to some of the worlds major environmental issues.

Andrei Popov (Russia)

Felipe Galindo (USA)

Shahram Rezaei (Iran)

Markus Grolik (Germany)

Pawel Kuczynski (Poland)

Alexandru Bartfeld (Israel)

Jesper Sørensen (Denmark)

Bruce Mackinnon (Canada)

Bob Eckstein (USA)

Why do we refrigerate our eggs?

I’ve recently started purchasing fresh farms eggs from a farm in Warwick, NY right down the road from my horses stable. They sell these eggs washed or unwashed. When she first asked me this I wondered why on earth I would want to buy dirty, unwashed eggs. After coming across this article, I no longer by washed, but simply wash before using. I’m still in process of mentally preparing myself to switch to no refrigeration. This article is very interesting and will change your perspective on eggs and American standards. Click the link below to be taken to the original article. All text and images below are courtesy of io9. 

Americans – why do you keep refrigerating your eggs?

Americans – why do you keep refrigerating your eggs?

The U.S. is one of the only countries on Earth that keeps chicken eggs in cold storage. But why?

One of the most common health risks, when it comes to eggs, is posed by Salmonella bacteria. There are really only two ways Salmonella can get at an egg: the first is to contaminate the egg externally, on the surface of its outer shell. The second is to spread from the inside. The former occurs after the egg has been laid, most commonly by coming into contact with feces containing Salmonella bacteria. The latter can occur if the egg develops in the reproductive tract of a Salmonella-infected hen.

Research has shown that Salmonella-infected eggs stored at room temperature for periods longer than three weeks tend to become overrun by bacteria in numbers far greater than those stored at colder temperatures. Given this insight, you might assume that Americans store their eggs in the fridge to extend their shelf life, or to lower the risk of bacterial contamination, and you’d be right on both counts.

But then, maybe the question should really be posed the other way around: Given the sanitary benefits of refrigeration, why don’t other countries ship, package, and store their eggs at cold temperatures, like we do in the U.S.? Well, because, unlike America, they may not actually needto. Why? Because here in America, we wash our eggs – and while it may sound counterintuitive, the cleaning process may actually make eggs more susceptible to contamination.

Americans – why do you keep refrigerating your eggs?SEXPAND

We mentioned above that eggs run the risk of getting feces on them. Whether that feces contains traces of Salmonella or not, it stands to reason that if an egg gets poop on it, you should wash it off. And, in America, that’s exactly what we do. In an elaborate automated process involving in-line conveyor belts, massive egg-scrubbing machinery, high-volume air-filtration systems and – last but not least – chlorine misters, American eggs are washed, rinsed, dried, and sanitized in an effort to remove as much dirt, poop and bacteria as possible, all while leaving the shells intact. (Read the details in the USDA’s Egg-Grading Manual.)

Or rather, almost intact. When a hen lays an egg, she coats it in a layer of liquid called the cuticle. It dries in just a few minutes, and is incredibly effective at protecting the egg from contamination, providing what European egg marketing regulations describe as “an effective barrier to bacterial ingress with an array of antimicrobial properties.” America’s egg-washing systems strip eggs of this natural protection. “Such damage,” the EU guidelines note, “may favour trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers, particularly if subsequent drying and storage conditions are not optimal.”

Washing eggs is therefore illegal throughout much of Europe. In an interview with Forbes,Chief Executive of Britain’s Egg Industry Council Mark Williams gives another reason for the ban on industrial egg-cleaning facilities:

In Europe, the understanding is that [prohibiting the washing and cleaning of eggs] actually encourages good husbandry on farms. It’s in the farmers’ best interests then to produce the cleanest eggs possible, as no one is going to buy their eggs if they’re dirty.

Okay, fine – but then why not just refrigerate the eggs, anyway? Wouldn’t this just give unwashed eggs an extra line of defense? Perhaps, but the European Union laws again note that – like washing – refrigeration could actually wind up posing a risk to consumers. Again according to European egg marketing regulations, eggs that are stored cold and later left out at room temperatures could become covered in condensation, “facilitating the growth of bacteria on the shell and probably their ingression into the egg.” EU guidelines therefore stipulate that eggs should be transported and stored at as constant a temperature as possible – a temperature between 66.2 °F and 69.8°F in the winter and between 69.8°F and 73.4°F in the summer.

The other reason Americans tend to refrigerate their eggs: our risk of Salmonella poisoning is often significantly higher than it is overseas, because our chickens are more likely to carry it. In the UK, for instance, it is required by law that all hens be immunized against Salmonella. This protection measure, enacted in the late 1990s, has seen Salmonella cases in Britain drop from 14,771 reported cases in 1997 to just 581 cases in 2009.

There is no such law in the United States, and while more farmers are electing to immunize their hens in the wake of a massive Salmonella-related recall in 2010Salmonella infection remains a serious public health issue. Even in spite of our egg-washing and our refrigeration habits, FDA data indicates there are close to 150,000 illnesses reported every year due to eggs contaminated by Salmonella.

What if Everyone in the World Became a Vegetarian?

Switching to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, or simply reducing the amount of animal products consumed, can quickly improve your overall health. But what about feeding the world on plants? Many believe we cannot sustain the population on plants alone and therefore need meat to provide the protein and required nutrients. The following article is an interesting read on the changes a plant diet would bring out in the world. Following text and images courtesy of L.V. Anderson. Enjoy. 

What if Everyone in the World Became a Vegetarian?

Calculating the chaos and the changed climate.

Vegan burgers with sweet potato and chickpeas.
Treating yourself to vegan burgers with sweet potato and chickpeas isn’t just a delicious indulgence; it could help save the planet.

The meat industry is one of the top contributors to climate change, directly and indirectly producing about 14.5 percent of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and global meat consumption is on the rise. People generally like eating meat—when poor people start making more money, they almost invariably start buying more meat. As the population grows and eats more animal products, the consequences for climate change, pollution, and land use could be catastrophic.

L.V. AndersonL.V. ANDERSON

L.V. Anderson is a Slateassistant editor. She editsSlate‘s food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat’s recipe column, You’re Doing It Wrong.

Attempts to reduce meat consumption usually focus on baby steps—Meatless Monday and “vegan before 6,” passable fake chicken, and in vitro burgers. If the world is going to eat less meat, it’s going to have to be coaxed and cajoled into doing it, according to conventional wisdom.

But what if the convincing were the easy part? Suppose everyone in the world voluntarily stopped eating meat, en masse. I know it’s not actually going to happen. But the best-case scenario from a climate perspective would be if all 7 billion of us woke up one day and realized that PETA was right all along. If this collective change of spirit came to pass, like Peter Singer’s dearest fantasy come true, what would the ramifications be?

At least one research team has run the numbers on what global veganism would mean for the planet. In 2009 researchers from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency published their projections of the greenhouse gas consequences if humanity came to eat less meat, no meat, or no animal products at all. The researchers predicted that universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17 percent, methane emissions by 24 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21 percent by 2050. Universal vegetarianism would result in similarly impressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, the Dutch researchers found that worldwide vegetarianism or veganism would achieve these gains at a much lower cost than a purely energy-focused intervention involving carbon taxes and renewable energy technology. The upshot: Universal eschewal of meat wouldn’t single-handedly stave off global warming, but it would go a long way toward mitigating climate change.

The Dutch researchers didn’t take into account what else might happen if everyone gave up meat. “In this scenario study we have ignored possible socio-economic implications such as the effect of health changes on GDP and population numbers,” wrote Elke Stehfest and her colleagues. “We have not analyzed the agro-economic consequences of the dietary changes and its implications; such consequences might not only involve transition costs, but also impacts on land prices. The costs that are associated with this transition might obviously offset some of the gains discussed here.”

Indeed. If the world actually did collectively go vegetarian or vegan over the course of a decade or two, it’s reasonable to think the economy would tank. According to “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” the influential 2006 U.N. report about meat’s devastating environmental effects, livestock production accounts for 1.4 percent of the world’s total GDP. The production and sale of animal products account for 1.3 billion people’s jobs, and 987 million of those people are poor. If demand for meat were to disappear overnight, those people’s livelihoods would disappear, and they would have to find new ways of making money. Now, some of them—like the industrial farmers who grow the corn that currently goes to feed animals on factory farms—would be in a position to adapt by shifting to in-demand plant-based food production. Others, namely the “huge number of people involved in livestock for lack of an alternative, particularly in Africa and Asia,” would probably be out of luck. (Things would be better for the global poor involved in the livestock trade if everyone continued to consume other animal products, such as eggs, milk, and wool, than if everyone decided to go vegan.) As the economy adjusted to the sudden lack of demand for meat products, we would expect to see widespread suffering and social unrest.

A second major ramification of global vegetarianism would be expanses of new land available. Currently, grazing land for ruminants—cows and their kin—accounts for a staggering 26 percent of the world’s ice-free land surface. The Dutch scientists predict that 2.7 billion hectares (about 10.4 million square miles) of that grazing land would be freed up by global vegetarianism, along with 100 million hectares (about 386,000 square miles) of land that’s currently used to grow crops for livestock. Not all of this land would be suitable for humans, but surely it stands to reason that this sudden influx of new territory would make land much cheaper on the whole.

A third major ramification of global vegetarianism would be that the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections would plummet. Currently, the routine use of antibiotics in animal farming to promote weight gain and prevent illness in unsanitary conditions is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance. Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that at least 2 million Americans fall ill from antibiotic-resistant pathogens every year and declared that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” The overprescription of antibiotics for humans plays a big role in antibiotic resistance, but eradicating the factory farms from which many antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerge would make it more likely that we could continue to count on antibiotics to cure serious illnesses. (For a sense of what a “post-antibiotics future” would look like, read Maryn McKenna’s amazing article on the topic for Medium and her story about apossible solution for chicken farming in Slate.)

So what would be the result, in an all-vegetarian world, of the combination of widespread unemployment and economic disruption, millions of square miles of available land, and a lowered risk of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea? I can only conclude that people would band together to form communes in order to escape capitalism’s ruthlessness, squat on the former pasture land, and adopt a lifestyle of free love.

I kid. Mostly. It’s easy to get carried away when you’re speculating about unlikely scenarios—and sudden intercontinental vegetarianism is very much an unlikely scenario.

But if the result of a worldwide shift to a plant-based diet sounds like a right-winger’s worst nightmare, it’s worth pointing out that continuing to eat as much meat as we currently do promises to result in a left-winger’s worst nightmare: In a world of untrammeled global warming, where disastrous weather events are routine, global conflicts will increase, only the wealthy will thrive, and the poor will suffer.

Let’s try a middle path. We’re not all going to become vegetarians, but most of us can stop giving our money to factory farms—the biggest and worst offenders, from a pollution and public health perspective. We can eat less meat than we currently do, especially meat from methane-releasing ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.). Just because a sudden global conversion to vegetarianism would have jarring effects doesn’t mean we can’t gradually reduce our consumption of meat, giving the market time to adjust. We not only can; we must. After all, with the world’s population slated to grow to 9 billion by 2050, we’ll be needing to take some of the 25 percent of the world’s land area back from the cows.

The Dark Side of “Healthy” Wheat

Many dietitians, nutritionists, diets, etc. suggest switching to whole grains and incorporating more whole grain in your diet. This includes whole wheat. But with all the genetic changes to wheat in the past century, the entire structure of wheat has changed. It is no longer the quality, healthy food that our grandparents knew. This profession of healthy, whole wheat is incorrect and causing serious health problems and obesity. This article is an excellent summary of the changes made to wheat and the negative effects of these changes. 

The following article by Leah Zerbe is courtesy of Rodale News

Modern wheat isn’t really wheat,

BY LEAH ZERBE

wheat-free-diet-effects-of-wheat

Weird wheat? Modern wheat could be making you hungry, fat, and sick.

Take everything you’ve heard about whole wheat and throw it out the window. It’s not a health food, it’s making you fat, and your digestive tract hates you for eating it, according to the author of the New York Times best-selling book,Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health (Rodale, 2011).

So how—and when—did this ancient grain become such a serious health threat? Author and preventive cardiologist William Davis, MD, says it’s when big agriculture stepped in decades ago to develop a higher-yielding crop. Today’s “wheat,” he says, isn’t even wheat, thanks to some of the most intense crossbreeding efforts ever seen. “The wheat products sold to you today are nothing like the wheat products of our grandmother’s age, very different from the wheat of the early 20th Century, and completely transformed from the wheat of the Bible and earlier,” he says.

Plant breeders changed wheat in dramatic ways. Once more than four feet tall, modern wheat—the type grown in 99 percent of wheat fields around the world—is now a stocky two-foot-tall plant with an unusually large seed head. Dr. Davis says accomplishing this involved crossing wheat with non-wheat grasses to introduce altogether new genes, using techniques like irradiation of wheat seeds and embryos with chemicals, gamma rays, and high-dose X-rays to induce mutations.

Clearfield Wheat, grown on nearly 1 million acres in the Pacific Northwest and sold by BASF Corporation—the world’s largest chemical manufacturer—was created in a geneticist’s lab by exposing wheat seeds and embryos to the mutation-inducing industrial toxin sodium azide, a substance poisonous to humans and known for exploding when mishandled, says Dr. Davis. This hybridized wheat doesn’t survive in the wild, and most farmers rely on toxic chemical fertilizers and pesticides to keep the crops alive. (It’s important to note, however, that the intensive breeding efforts that have so dramatically transformed wheat should not to be confused with genetic engineering of food, or GMOs. This type of technology has its own set of problems, though.)

So what does all of this plant science have to do with what’s ailing us? Intense crossbreeding created significant changes in the amino acids in wheat’s gluten proteins, a potential cause for the 400 percent increase in celiac disease over the past 40 years. Wheat’s gliadin protein has also undergone changes, with what appears to be a dire consequence. “Compared to its pre-1960s predecessor, modern gliadin is a potent appetite stimulant,” explains Dr. Davis. “The new gliadin proteins may also account for the explosion in inflammatory diseases we’re seeing.”

The appetite-stimulating properties of modern wheat most likely occurred as an accidental by-product of largely unregulated plant breeding methods, Dr. Davis explains. But he charges that it’s impact on inflammatory diseases may have something to do with the fact that, in the past 15 years, it’s been showing up in more and more processed foods. Wheat ingredients are now found in candy, Bloody Mary mixes, lunch meats, soy sauce, and even wine coolers.

As if making you hungrier wasn’t enough, early evidence suggests that modern wheat’s new biochemical code causes hormone disruption that is linked to diabetes and obesity. “It is not my contention that it is in everyone’s best interest to cut back on wheat; it is my belief that complete elimination is in everyone’s best health interests,” says Dr. Davis, “In my view, that’s how bad this thing called ‘wheat’ has become.”

When Dr. Davis’ patients eliminate wheat from their diet, the outcomes are often dramatic, with many losing as much as 20 pounds during the first month. He reports that patients experience relief from acid reflux, esophagitis, gas, cramps, and diarrhea stemming from irritable bowel syndrome after ditching wheat. Joint swelling and pain are often completely eliminated, he says, and patients report improvements in everything from asthma and skin conditions to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Rye, barley, and oats share some of the same properties of wheat because they all contain gluten-like proteins. Dr. Davis urges his patients to opt for non-wheat grains like quinoa, buckwheat, millet, and wild rice, but in smaller quantities (less than half a cup) to avoid triggering high blood sugar.