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Grain of Truth: The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten

Grain of Truth: The Real Case For and Against Wheat and Gluten

by Stephen Yafa


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A Pollan-esque look at the truth about wheat: meal or menace?

No topic in nutrition is more controversial than wheat. While mega-sellers like Grain Brain and Wheat Belly suggest that wheat may be the new asbestos, Stephen Yafa finds that it has been wrongly demonized. His revealing book sets the record straight, breaking down the botany of the wheat plant we’ve hijacked for our own use, the science of nutrition and digestion, the effects of mass production on our health, and questions about gluten and fiber—all to point us toward a better, richer diet.

Wheat may be the most important food in human history, reaching from ancient times to General Mills. Yafa tours commercial factories where the needs of mass production trump the primacy of nutrition, and reports on the artisan grain revolution. From a Woodstock-like Kneading Conference to nutrition labs to a boutique bakery and pasta maker’s workshop in Brooklyn, he also finds that there may in fact be a perfect source of wheat-based nutrition. Its name is sourdough.

For readers of Salt Sugar Fat and The Omnivore's Dilemma, Grain of Truth smoothly blends science, history, biology, economics, and nutrition to give us back our daily bread.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594632495
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/12/2015
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 412,723
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.30(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

STEPHEN YAFA, the author of Cotton: The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber, is also a novelist, playwright, and award-winning screenwriter. He has written for Playboy, Details, and Rolling Stone, and lives in Mill Valley, California.

Read an Excerpt



One of the many bonds between my wife, Bonnie, and myself has long been the sturdy armor of skepticism we have both erected to protect us from the relentless onslaught of dietary, fashion, lifestyle, and spiritual fads, all directed toward creating a slimmer, bouncier, brighter-eyed, whiter-toothed, higher-functioning you and me—just the sort of evolved being we’ve both learned to dodge at cocktail parties. Over two decades we’d lived through the Atkins, Pritikin, Scarsdale, South Beach, Blood Type, Beverly Hills, Detox, Israeli Army, Cabbage Soup, and Grapefruit diets and emerged more or less intact. We’d survived break dancing, the Maharishi, Pet Rocks, Rubik’s Cubes, Cabbage Patch Dolls, Beanie Babies, ant farms, granny glasses, lava lamps, leisure suits, strobe lights, and Tony Robbins. There have been scars but no damage to major organs including the cerebral cortex—or so I thought.

Then came the Ayurvedic retreat. Bonnie and three female friends disappeared into the hills near Calistoga in Napa County one December morning for a weekend of intense spa treatments. Returning home, my wife made an announcement. “I have a gluten neck,” she said. Her first words. I waited for the punch line. None followed. Apparently two male Ayurvedic practitioners, who work on you as a team—I know how this sounds—performed their tandem bodywork on Bonnie. She said she half-expected to be massaged by a guru with a white goatee and a turban. The ancient Indian practice of Ayurvedic medicine, she understood, dates back more than twenty-five hundred years and stresses the balance of three internal doshas—water, fire, and air. Beneath the exotic nomenclature is an emphasis on a healthy body-mind connection, a smooth-running metabolism, and an unimpeded digestive system.

“One of the bodyworkers dug his knuckles into the kinks in my neck and shoulders and after a minute he just stopped,” Bonnie reported. “He told me, ‘There’s very little I can do for you until you stop eating gluten. Your upper torso is so inflamed that if you sincerely want to see change, you’ll have to take gluten out of your diet.’ And I am, starting now.” This was not the punch line I expected.

The first items to disappear from our kitchen pantry were pumpernickel, crusty sourdough with its spongy interior, and every other form of wheat-based, chewy, delicious bread and bagel. In their place a whole cast of pretenders moved in like squatters, bearing no resemblance to the authentic original—loaves begging to be called bread yet made from tapioca, rice, sorghum, potato, cornstarch, and flour; crackers and cookies and other assorted dry, brittle wannabe edibles that I snipped off with my front teeth like slivers of seasoned cardboard and attempted to crunch into bite-size units capable of being swallowed. Whether eating non-gluten pizza, pastry, or ersatz pasta, the experience of savoring and chewing anything springy and doughy soon became a nostalgic memory at best, the way that bright sun glows only in dim recollections of characters in bleak postapocalyptic novels. Nothing remained of the heady scent, elasticity, and buoyant texture I associate with leavened wheat. What I’m eating isn’t food, I decided: it is punishment for running the occasional red light and sins I’ve yet to commit...

I saw my investigative charge quite simply as probing where necessary and seeking out experts—wheat growers, millers, bakers, bioscientists, nutritionists, and physicians—with credentials and insights that could be trusted to add perspective...

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 What's Up with Wheat? 9

2 Gut Issues 27

3 The Cracker Man's Cult 38

4 Slick Dough 53

5 Seeds of Change 66

6 White Gold 79

7 Survival of the Shortest 92

8 The Whole Truth 115

9 Flour Power 131

10 Mastering the $158 Loaf 148

11 Ancient Wisdom 160

12 Taking a Stand 180

13 Brainy Pasta 191

14 New York Noodles 206

15 Sins of Omission 216

16 The Sourdough Solution 230

Acknowledgments 247

Appendix A Final Fire Whole-Wheal Sourdough Bread Recipe 253

Appendix B Local Organic Grain and Flour Sources 261

Appendix C Ancient and Heritage Grain and Flour Sources 265

Notes 267

References 279

Index 287

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