First things first, not all glutens are the same. Yes, glutens, plural.
Gluten is a family of proteins found in many grains. There are as many glutens as there are varieties of wheat. While glutens give wheat products their structure, elasticity and allow them to rise, they also trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Modern wheat’s (Triticcum aestivum) genetic makeup is complicated and consists of six sets of chromosomes, a hexaploid. On the other hand, einkorn wheat is simple, and has only two sets of chromosomes, a diploid. The complexity of modern wheat bears a heavy load of glutens, like gliadins and glutenins, and more compounds that our bodies have not evolved to digest easily. Humankind’s first wheat, einkorn, contains much lower levels of these glutens making it far less inflammatory, in fact, making it more beneficial than its modern genetically complex relative.
So, if einkorn wheat does have gluten, what is so different about it?
Well, einkorn’s unique Gluten AA, found in simple diploid einkorn wheat, also has the lowest antigen (ATI) levels out of all varieties of wheat, including modern wheat and spelt. How do ATIs relate to gluten? ATI (amylase trypsin inhibitors) are non-gluten wheat proteins that cause systemic inflammation in the body, not just in the bowels. While gluten has had the reputation for causing inflammatory bowel diseases, ATIs are another integral piece of the equation causing greater inflammatory harm.This means that the high levels of gluten in modern wheat also come with a heavy load of ATIs, all wreaking havoc on the body.
To put it simply… Gliadins + Glutenins + ATIs = Trouble
So, why eat einkorn if it still contains gluten?
Einkorn wheat has low levels of ATIs and simple diploid glutens, unlike other wheats, making it well tolerated even by those with gluten sensitivities. Einkorn contains up to 25% more highly digestible protein than modern wheat, along with beneficial levels of soluble fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and slow complex carbs that promote a decreased insulin response, resulting in lower blood glucose levels. The benefits of einkorn speak for themselves. Einkorn’s Gluten AA is not the enemy. ATIs and modern wheat glutens are!
1) Revival Einkorn vs. Other Wheat Adapted from Nutritional Qualities of Grain. USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, A. Brandolini et al, 2008, FJ Zhao et al, 2009
2) Antigen Levels Chart S. Geisslitz et al, 2018