Any benefits to ‘ancient’ grains?

Ancient grains are whole grains that are considered more… ancient… than some modern grains. If you ever visit health stores, than you probably had seen this marketing label multiple times – Ancient Grains Pasta! Ancient Grains Cereal! Ancient Grains Bread. Also now I see everywhere sprouted breads, sprouted cereals, sprouted oatmeal. There is even a brand that sells Ezekiel 4:9 bread with a verse from the Holy Scripture on the package. I suppose they were trying to emphasize how ancient the recipe is. Or holy.

In general I think dietitians would say that whole ancient grain breads, wraps, cereals, pastries, etc., are definitely healthier than same items made out of white flour. I also think they are healthier than similar gluten-free items. In those the main ingredient is usually tapioca starch or white rice flour. Take for example Glutino sandwich bread. I just Googled it and right away saw this description of their product by the company: “Did you know? Gluten comes from the Latin word for “glue”. So think of yourself as eating glue-free.” Yes, because the word gluten originates from some Latin word meaning ‘glue’, you should drop everything and switch to eating slices of white matter made out of modified tapioca starch, corn starch, potato starch, and baking soda. One slice of the Glutino bread contains 0g fiber, 0g protein, and I don’t see any other nutrients listed on the label.

In this conversation  I will not refer to people who have celiac disease. I understand that with celiac even one crumb of gluten would cause an autoimmune reaction. I’m referring here to all of us who did not test positive for celiac disease, but were told by naturopaths and other pseudo ‘doctors’ that gluten is causing their autoimmune disease, or thyroid disease, or depression, anxiety, autism, you name it. I don’t see any convincing evidence that whole grain gluten grains cause any of these diseases. To provide good evidence, I think a study would have to follow two randomized groups of patients for a while and restrict the diet of the test group to be gluten-free, group assignment of course would have to be unknown to the patients. The diets would have to be the same in other aspects, otherwise it’s not a fair comparison. Also the diet should be healthy , so the patients are receiving all the necessary nutrients, since we are interested in whether or not gluten has negative effects on health with an otherwise healthy diet. You would also have to do separate studies for each condition. Randomized test-control study for patients with schizophrenia, with depression, with autism, hypothyroidism, etc. If gluten negatively affects schizophrenia symptoms, it does not necessarily mean that  it also negatively effects patients with thyroid disease. For example high soy consumption is not recommended for those taking levothyroxine as it may interfere with medication absorption. On the other hand some research suggests that soy has antidepressant effects and therefore could help individuals with depression.

Is there some research in regards to gluten and neuropsychiatric and autoimmune diseases (except celiac)? Yes, there is. I just really don’t like the claims by naturopaths on their websites that it’s known that gluten causes schizophrenia, depression, and everything else. We definitely can’t claim causation, we don’t have such information at this point, and it doesn’t make sense to bundle up a dozen of diseases together. Schizophrenia is very different from hypothyroidism, and both are different from ADHD.

For schizophrenia: there is some renewed interest in regards to gluten-free diet. “Going gluten free shows a benefit for a subset of schizophrenia patients,… Those on the gluten-free diet also showed improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms and improvement in certain cognitive traits, such as attention and verbal learning.”

Interest renewed in targeting gluten in schizophrenia

Autism: The one review of research that I found indicated that evidence was inconclusive. “Studies evaluating gluten/casein-free diets reported some parent-rated improvements in communication and challenging behaviors; however, data were inadequate to make conclusions about the body of evidence (insufficient SOE). Studies of gluten- or casein-containing challenge foods reported no effects on behavior or gastrointestinal symptoms with challenge foods (insufficient SOE);”

Nutritional and Dietary Interventions for Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review

Hypothyroidism: I could not find an actual systematic review on relationship between hypothyroidism and gluten research, therefore I am not sure if there is any evidence that gluten consumption negatively impact thyroid function. Clinical websites state that there is no such evidence. “Generally, there’s no hypothyroidism diet. Although claims about hypothyroidism diets abound, there’s no evidence that eating or avoiding certain foods will improve thyroid function in people with hypothyroidism.”

Hypothyroidism diet

Personally I did not achieve remission in depression or autoimmune disease with a gluten-free diet. In fact at first going gluten-free probably led to a worse diet for me, as I would eat two or three gluten-free bread cheese sandwiches a day, and as we can see this type of bread has no proteins, nor fiber, no other nutrients. So basically I was eating tapioca starch. I was also consuming gluten-free cookies, which are probably mostly sugar and again, tapioca starch, corn tortilla chips, and gluten-free subs (gluten-free Subway buns are a lot of cornstarch). I doubt there are any B vitamins in the above foods, nor any other nutrients. What about a healthy diet with gluten-free grains vs. the same diet, but also including gluten whole grains? It has been over a month for me since I started eating gluten again. I have not noticed so far any changes in my health. My health did not improve nor did it worsen. I don’t want to limit myself and keep falling victim to these restrictive diets promising to cure all your mental health problems. Gluten-free diet, alkaline diet, keto diet, AIP diet.. there will be claims found for each of these that this specific diet cures depression, autism, and schizophrenia. Well I have not found a cure for depression, so I do not have that answer. It’s important to eat healthy, but it doesn’t seem to me that a very restrictive diet is an answer.

Again, for myself I did not observe worsening of mental issues after introducing gluten whole grains to my diet. Also not obsessing over whether something was contaminated with gluten lessened my anxiety related to eating. I am still trying to avoid A1 cow dairy and yeast (based on my testing of my symptoms). I want to restrict as few foods as possible. Naturopaths telling people that a bite of gluten or a piece of corn will cause panic attacks for the next few months are the ones actually contributing to anxiety of people like me. By starting eating gluten again I made my life much easier – I don’t have to pay extra for gluten-free oats, I buy rotis, wraps, and samosas, which I can easily eat at work in the morning or as a snack. I’m eating cereal and getting the B vitamins. I can purchase good tasting spelt pasta for cheap, instead of buying very expensive chickpea pasta.

In regards to whole wheat vs. more ancient wheat related grains, I don’t think there is strong evidence that ancient grains are better, but there are some studies related to this. I buy and mix both types of flour – spelt and whole wheat. I noticed that using only spelt flour, the muffins or cookies don’t rise as well (even though I do add sodium bicarbonate or potassium bicarbonate).

There is some evidence in support of ancient grains consumption, I will review it below.

Grain composition is affected by both the environment and agronomy, particularly the type and amount of nitrogen fertilisation. Increased nitrogen application leads to higher protein content (Shewry et al., 2013), but this is accompanied by effects on protein composition, with high protein grain containing higher proportions of gluten storage proteins and of gliadin proteins within this fraction (Godfrey et al., 2010).

 compared data for ancient wheats with modern durum and bread wheats. However, to minimise effects of the environment they only considered studies in which modern and ancient wheats were grown together in field experiments. They concluded that ancient wheats differ little from modern wheat species in their contents of most bioactive components and may be lower in some components such as dietary fibre. However, there is clear agreement in the literature that einkorn, emmer and Khorasan (Kamut) wheat all have higher high contents of the carotenoid lutein than bread wheat, which is selected for white colour. Modern durum wheat is also rich in lutein due to selection for yellow colour.

Six trials reported comparisons of Kamut or related forms of Khorasan wheat with modern durum and/or bread wheats, measuring effects on parameters related to cardiovascular disease, glycaemic index, type 2 diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome. However, none of these studies compared Kamut wheat grown in identical conditions to the control wheats, presumably because the growth of Kamut is strictly controlled. As stated on the Kamut® web site ( “The KAMUT® trademark is a guarantee that the khorasan wheat bearing it is always the original, unmodified, unhybridized and non-GMO variety. KAMUT® khorasan wheat is also always grown certified organic and meets high purity, nutrition and quality standards”.

Scazzina et al (2008) obtained wholemeal Kamut and bread wheat flours from a local (Italian) supermarket and hence nothing is known about the growth conditions of the crops or the identity of the control wheat (although it would be expected to be a blend of commercial cultivars). Tortillas prepared with 60% flour had significantly higher fibre (6.7% compared with 3.5%) and lower starch (44.3% compared with 48.6%) when made from Kamut than from bread wheat, but did not differ in glycaemic index in an intervention trial.

Pasta made from the semi-whole wheat semolina fractions of Kamut and durum wheat and bread and crackers made from the semi-whole wheat flours from Kamut and bread wheats were compared in a randomised single blinded cross-over trial with 22 patients. The Kamut diet resulted in significant reductions in metabolic risk factors (total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, blood glucose), improved redox status, increased serum potassium and magnesium and significant reductions in circulating levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines.

Do ancient types of wheat have health benefits compared with modern bread wheat?