History of the gluten free diet

History of the gluten free diet

Gluten intolerance a consequence of evolution?

A look at the history of man and the cultivation of grain reveals that a lot has happened. From the hunter-gatherer, we have developed into breeders, where the speed of our breeding techniques seems to overtake us. Is our "modern wheat," which contains significantly more gluten than the "old crops" of yesteryear, unhealthy for us in the long run, because man's digestion did not co-evolve with the same rapidity? Is it therefore increasingly common to have intolerances to gluten-containing foods, such as coeliac disease or gluten sensitivity? This is precisely what various studies and experts are currently investigating.

Grains of the Stone Age

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When modern man emerges on the scene - in Europe about 41,000 years ago - there was no richly set lunch table for him. He fed on everything edible that he found along the way:

  • wild herbs
  • Fruits
  • Roots
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Mushrooms
  • and now and then an animal he killed.

He lived as a nomad. Only after the last ice age about 10,000 years ago, did he settle down and take up agriculture. What he sowed were early forms of spelt amaranth and einkorn or even the so-called "ancient grains" such as greens, emmer and kamut. Only then was grain regularly on the menu for him.

Cereals such as porridge, groats and mush in the Middle Ages

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Between the 5th and the end of the 15th century, the eating culture of humans changed considerably. One of the main reasons for this was global warming in the transition from the early to the high Middle Ages. But mills improved technically and suddenly there were other foods in the country - with the Crusades and the intensification of long-distance trade. The range of available foods was growing.

But food shortages and severe famines also occurred over and over again. The plague also changed the eating habits of Europeans. The disease was spreading epidemically and reached up to 30 percent of the population. As a result, grain lost importance.

  • Meat becomes the main source of calories. Domestic pig and chickens were now the main meat sources.
  • Dried cod and salted herring were among the foods traded throughout Europe since the 10th century.
  • However, cereal crops and groats were staples throughout the Middle Ages.
  • Wheat was mainly reserved for the nobility.

Breeding gluten-containing varieties

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The early forms of wheat, oats and rye are not comparable to today's cereals. The proportion of gluten was then negligible. Only through modern agrarian breeding did the grain change. The more gluten the cereal had, the better the baked bread and rolls.

Development of modern times: coeliac disease recognized as gluten intolerance

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  • The first descriptions of gluten intolerance go back to the first century AD. The Greek physician Aretäus from Cappadocia describes the complaints in a medical textbook and uses the Greek word "koiliákos" first, i.e., "suffering from indigestion".
  • The English paediatrician Dr. Samuel J. Gee was one of the first in the 17th century to recognize the importance of dieting for coeliac patients.
  • In America, in 1908, Dr. Christian Herter published a book about children with coeliac disease. He also noticed that his young patients tolerated fat better than carbohydrates.
  • But it was only during the Second World War that the Dutch paediatrician Dr. Willem Karel Dicke connected coeliac disease and grain: when bread and flour were scarce and the population was starving, the state of health improved, especially for children with coeliac disease.
  • Together with a medical team from Birmingham, Dr. Dicke, in 1952, also proved that the gluten protein is responsible for coeliac disease.
  • Today it is known that coeliac disease, which can be clearly diagnosed by a small bowel biopsy, is only the tip of the iceberg. Scientists worldwide are researching the spectrum of gluten intolerances.

New symptoms: Gluten Sensitivity

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In addition to coeliac disease, there is another form of gluten intolerance that is still little known today: gluten sensitivity (= gluten sensitivity). Only when coeliac disease and wheat allergy (by a blood test and intestinal biopsy) are excluded, and the symptoms disappear after a gluten-free diet, is it called gluten sensitivity. Because this is an exclusion diagnosis, this form of gluten intolerance cannot be clearly demonstrated. Nevertheless, many people are sensitive to gluten, even if no coeliac disease is detected. They are suffering from

  • an irritable bowel
  • insomnia
  • headaches
  • and tiredness.

How many of them have exactly one gluten sensitivity, experts can only estimate.

Special foods without gluten conquer the market

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Since gluten protein is suspected to cause irritable bowel symptoms, there is a growing need for solutions and alternatives to common cereal products such as bread and pasta.

At the beginning of the 20th century, gluten in industrially produced bread, pastries and other foods could be replaced by other additives.

Manufacturers like us at Schär are constantly researching and working on a diverse range of gluten-free foods that are as diverse and attractive as possible in terms of taste, so that enjoyment is not neglected!