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Fixing two recent misconceptions about wheat

by Tim O'Connor

Posted on 9/5/2017

Last week, we came across an article in a newsletter titled MSG: Deadly Menace Hidden in Your Food. The article states, "Most wheat today is genetically engineered to have much higher glutamate levels than occur naturally."
There are two factual errors in this statement:

1. There are no commercially available genetically engineered or genetically modified wheat varieties sold anywhere in the world.

2. Wheat, and therefore wheat flour and vital wheat gluten, does not contain any significant amounts of glutamate.
Here are the facts:
There are no commercially available genetically engineered or genetically modified wheat varieties sold anywhere in the world.

Modern wheat varieties are the product of thousands of years of plant breeding, not genetic engineering. Wheat breeding is primarily conducted by Land Grant Universities and has resulted in increased yields, food quality and adaptation to local growing conditions. Today's wheat varieties are a melting pot of ancestral genetics originating 10,000 years ago in the cradle of civilization between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. Hybridization in wheat occurred naturally long before it was ever cultivated. The earliest ancestors of wheat-Einkorn, Emmer, and Spelt-were among the first plants to be cultivated by humans. Crosses made by wheat breeders emulate those that can occur in nature. Biochemically and genetically, today's wheat varieties are a mirror image of heirloom varieties; the protein and starch in today's wheat still have the same basic components as they did in heirloom wheat varieties. New wheat breeding methods focus on better utilizing native genes, not on introducing foreign genes.

Wheat, and therefore wheat flour and vital wheat gluten, does not contain any significant amounts of glutamate.
The major groups of wheat proteins comprise what we call gluten, proteins responsible for the elasticity, gas retention, and chewiness of many baked foods. One of the predominant amino acids (building blocks of proteins) in wheat gluten is glutamine. Glutamine and glutamic acid (another form of the amino acid) exist in many plant and animal proteins. Glutamine is not the same thing as glutamate. The article focused on MSG, a salt sometimes used as a flavor enhancer. Glutamate is glutamic acid that has undergone a chemical reaction with a mineral ion, such as sodium (resulting in MSG). This reaction does not occur in wheat or in wheat-based foods. Glutamate is not added to wheat through genetic engineering, nor is it normally added to wheat-based foods, as was incorrectly stated. Any food sold in the USA that has glutamate added would be required to include glutamate in the ingredient statement on the package.

With thousands of information sources available to you these days, it's important to us, as I'm sure it is to you, that the correct science-based facts are the ones shared. We will pass along other kernels of truth as they come up. And of course, we have lots more information on our two websites, wheatfoods.org and our new Personal Trainer focused site, CenterforNutritionandAthletics.org. If we can be of assistance on any other questions you have, please let me know.

Regards,
Tim O'Connor
President, Wheat Foods Council
toconnor@wheatfoods.org

The Wheat Foods Council (WFC) is a leading source of science-based information on wheat and wheat foods nutrition. For more information, visit the WFC website www.wheatfoods.org.