In search of wheat: Einkorn and blood sugar

There are three basic aspects of wheat's adverse health effects: immune activation (e.g., celiac disease), neurologic implications (e.g., schizophrenia and ADHD), and blood sugar effects.

Among the questions I'd like answered is whether ancient wheat, such as the einkorn grain I obtained from Eli Rogosa, triggers blood sugar like modern wheat.

So I conducted a simple experiment on myself. On an empty stomach, I ate 4 oz of einkorn bread. On another occasion I ate 4 oz of bread that dietitian, Margaret Pfeiffer, made with whole wheat flour bought at the grocery store. Both flours were finely ground and nothing was added beyond water, yeast, olive oil, and a touch of salt.

Here's what happened:

Einkorn wheat bread:

Blood sugar pre: 84 mg/dl
Blood sugar 1-hour post: 110 mg/dl

Conventional wheat bread
Blood sugar pre: 84 mg/dl
Blood sugar 1-hour post: 167 mg/dl

The difference shocked me. I expected a difference between the two, but not that much.

After the conventional wheat, I also felt weird: a little queasy, some acid in the back of my throat, a little spacey. I biked for an hour solid to reduce my blood sugar back to its starting level.

I'm awaiting the experiences of others, but I'm tantalized by the possibility that, while einkorn is still a source of carbohydrates, perhaps it is one of an entirely different variety than modern Triticum aestivum wheat. The striking difference in blood sugar effects make me wonder if einkorn eaten in small quantities can keep us below the Advanced Glycation End-Product threshold.

Comments (32) -

  • Jim Purdy

    6/14/2010 12:21:36 AM |

    Doctor Davis, for those of us who aren't inclined to bake our own bread, but who still like sandwiches, are there any commercially available breads (or bread substitutes) that you would recommend?

    Jim Purdy
    The 50 Best Health Blogs

  • Anne

    6/14/2010 3:19:39 AM |

    Did you check your blood sugar at 2 hours? There are times when my BG spike is later than 1 hour.

    Very interested in hearing about everyone's experience.

  • D.M.

    6/14/2010 5:43:36 AM |

    Interesting, but assuming that the einkorn bread contained the same amount of carbohydrate as conventional bread (if it contained less, then this effect is hardly magical) then one would expect a similar effect on blood sugars ultimately. Perhaps einkorn bread simply left you with higher blood sugars at three hours?

  • David M Gordon

    6/14/2010 11:35:16 AM |

    What do you think of displacing wheat in favor of coconut? The following text is a blurb for a cookbook (of all things!)...

    "Are you allergic to wheat or sensitive to gluten? Perhaps you avoid wheat because you are concerned about your weight and need to cut down on carbohydrates. If so, the solution for you is coconut flour.

    "Coconut flour is a delicious, healthy alternative to wheat. It is high in fiber, low in digestible carbohydrate, and a good source of protein. It contains no gluten so it is ideal for those with celiac disease.

    "Coconut flour can be used to make a variety of delicious baked goods, snacks, desserts, and main dishes. It is the only flour used in most of the recipes in this book. These recipes are so delicious that you won't be able to tell that they aren't made with wheat. If you like foods such as German chocolate cake, apple pie, blueberry muffins, cheese crackers, and chicken pot pie, but don't want the wheat; you will love the recipes in this book! These recipes are designed with your health in mind. Every recipe is completely free of wheat, gluten, soy, trans fats, and artificial sweeteners. Coconut is naturally low in carbohydrate and recipes include both regular and reduced sugar versions. Coconut flour pres many health benefits. It can improve digestion, help regulate blood sugar, protect against diabetes, help prevent heart disease and cancer, and aid in weight loss."

  • Jenny

    6/14/2010 12:12:46 PM |

    Dr. Davis,

    Unfortunately, all your test showed is that the einkorn digests more slowly than the other wheat. You might have seen the same result with a sourdough white bread.

    A more reliable test would have tested at 1.5 and 2 hours, but because you have normal insulin production you would have to have measured insulin to see what was really happening.

    All carb would have eventually been digested, and it takes the same amount of insulin to process it. While it's good to avoid blood sugar spikes if a person is insulin resistant the einkorn will provoke a large though slower insulin release.

    This is the problem with the whole idea of the glycemic index. If the problem is insulin, the SPEED with which it is secreted really is a red herring.

  • Anonymous

    6/14/2010 12:30:28 PM |

    What about the blood sugar level after 2 hr? 3? 4? Could it be that, like pasta, the einkorn bread gives a steady medium-high blood sugar for 3-4 hours, while normal wheat gives a spike yet quickly falls down to base level?

  • Martin Levac

    6/14/2010 12:45:29 PM |

    In my opinion, the AGE threshold is ketosis. In ketosis and there's little to no AGE production, out of ketosis and there is AGE production. Then there's the bit about ketones directly stimulating junk protein aka AGEs recycling and it becomes obvious what the threshold really is.

  • Dr. William Davis

    6/14/2010 1:14:48 PM |

    Excellent points about the delayed blood sugar response with einkorn.

    Yes, indeed. It would have to generate a longer blood glucose curve, as DM suggests, it is still a carbohydrate, though I did not specifically test this.

  • Dr. William Davis

    6/14/2010 1:15:32 PM |


    I wasn't aware of using coconut flour in place of wheat flour. Interesting!

    Have you tried it?

  • Martin Levac

    6/14/2010 1:26:26 PM |

    I'm with Jenny about the insulin thing. If we only know BG numbers, we still don't know whether it's because there's more carbs in einkorn or if it digests more slowly or something else. We must know how much insulin it takes to bring BG to those numbers.

    Incidentally, ketosis (and therefore AGE production and clearing) is also a function of how much insulin is flowing, not a function of how much blood glucose there is. So I guess you'll have to measure insulin to know what's what.

  • David M Gordon

    6/14/2010 1:26:26 PM |

    No, I have yet to try coconut flour. In an odd moment of serendipity, I received a scanned copy of the cookbook concurrent with your post.

    Odd, because for some health reason I do not recall (not allergy, though) I had strayed away from coconut everything. But things change.

    So I will share the cookbook with my wife, and request, nicely, we try a recipe or two. We attempt to go wheat-free this week, so I will wait out this test before trying, and then report back.

    PS: I receive the results of my lab tests this afternoon. I sure hope the many changes I put into place several months ago on your suggestions changed my numbers for the better!

  • Emily

    6/14/2010 1:41:04 PM |

    coconut flour/fiber isn't truly low in carbs, it has 8 grams carbs/ 2 Tablespoon sized serving. 5 grams of that is fiber, which according to some carb-counters, isn't counted as a true carb.

    also coconut flour bread tastes absolutely nothing like wheat bread.  i dont think i could convince a wheat lover that coconut flour bread was the way to go.

  • k

    6/14/2010 1:55:59 PM |

    Reminds me of Dr. Bernstein, when testing his blood sugar after eating various brands of crackers. He did find one that did not spike blood sugar levels - GG Scandinavian Crispbread, made from unprocessed wheat bran. I tried them and liken it to eating a wood shingle (ok, I imagine that is exactly what a wood shingle would taste like). He tries substituting it as bread in a couple of recipes. This struck me as almost sad; our craving and addiction to starch/sugar is mind blowing.

  • LeenaS

    6/14/2010 5:52:49 PM |

    Dear Dr Davis,

    Since you are experimenting, would you consider the option of making your own regular wheat bread the way you made the eikorn bread?

    Ready-milled whole wheat flour bought from a store differs dramaticlly from freshly milled flour, both enzymatically and in fatty acid quality. Only with freshly milled flour one has a chance to digest non-degraded Pufas (present in all grains).


  • jandro

    6/14/2010 6:03:48 PM |

    Very interesting. I wonder if they both had the same caloric density. If eikorn has lower calories it would show a lower glucose response. I wonder what your reaction to something like a sweet potato is. I stay away from grains as they don't agree will with me.

    About coconut flour, I have used it before for making pancakes. I really like it but I LOVE coconut in general, someone who doesn't like coconut might feel differently about it. An advantage to other nut flours is that it's low in O6.

  • Tony

    6/14/2010 6:37:42 PM |

    The Many Uses of Coconut Flour:

  • Marnae

    6/14/2010 8:04:58 PM |

    Yeast needs sugar to work properly--just a little sugar or honey would have made the bread rise much better. No sense using yeast if there's no sugar for it to eat.

  • DogwoodTree05

    6/14/2010 10:20:24 PM |

    Coconut flour is okay for brownies, bar cookies, and pancakes.  It would never yield an edible bread.  Gluten-free baked goods are unsatisfactory, IMO.  They have a somewhat crumbly texture, not spongy like wheat.  I have tried coconut, almond, and other gluten-free flours, including grain-based ones sold commercially.  Nothing can replace the spongy texture that wheat gives baked goods.  Save for the occasional bar cookie or pancake made with coconut or almond flour, I've given up eating flour-based products.

  • Michael

    6/14/2010 10:31:18 PM |

    Coconut flour is okay for some recipes but functionally speaking it certainly is not a substitute for sandwich bread.

    While it is not a grain I still had a weird feeling after eating it. I think it shares the same need as all flour to be fresh milled and used immediately, or fresh milled and then soaked or fermented in some way.

  • Dr. William Davis

    6/15/2010 2:10:09 AM |

    Hi, Leena--

    Actually, the whole wheat (not einkorn) bread was made from flour that was freshly ground. I shudder to think what might have happened had it been store-bought flour.

  • Cheryl

    6/15/2010 2:53:50 AM |

    Dr. Davis,

    I wonder if you'll try this experiment again, this time with a CGM and periodic draws to find out what your insulin level was.

    This experiment, to a more casual reader, provides too much hope (to a person with diabetes) that they can eat bread and still have optimal glucose levels.

    Diabetes has been documented in the ancient world it may be that a 'treat' wouldn't harm someone once, but a regular and consistent 'treat' becomes a habit. Poor habits are what precipitate diseases like Type 2 diabetes, yes?

  • Hans Keer

    6/15/2010 5:40:33 AM |

    Funny experiment, but as stated by other commenters, it does not say much. And as you have said before yourself: "The best thing is to avoid grain consumption". Some dangers of grains:

  • Alfredo E.

    6/15/2010 4:56:40 PM |

    Dr. Davis, you wrote: “After the conventional wheat, I also felt weird: a little queasy, some acid in the back of my throat, a little spacey. I biked for an hour solid to reduce my blood sugar back to its starting level”

    I am very interested to know how biking reduced your blood sugar after one hour. Do you have some ideas as how exercise can actually reduce blood sugar?

    In my case, I am pre diabetic and after one hour of intense exercise my blood sugar is very similar to before exercise, above 100's. Nevertheless, after some meals, it could come down to 80’s, how could that be explained?

    Best wishes,
    Alfredo E.

  • shutchings

    6/17/2010 7:21:21 AM |

    Where can you buy bread made from freshly ground wheat?!

  • rmarie

    6/17/2010 7:18:18 PM |

    I'm prediabetic too and I've discovered a quick and convenient way to lower my BG: I do 50-60 jumping jacks and if it's very high I'll add 20 pushups. It takes about 5 minutes and lowers my BG anywhere from 20 to 40 points in half an hour or so.

    The glucose in your body is reduced quickly because anaerobic exercise like that requires a lot of energy and it takes that in the form of glucose. So it's not an artifical lowering of BG like through medication. The body just uses up available glucose more quickly.

    Some may worry that such a large BG drop might make them hypoglycemic but I have never had that happen to me even before I was doing this. I'm not on any medication.

    Maybe Dr. Davis can elaborate on this a little more. We don't always have time or circumstance to go bike riding to lower our BG and for me this is a convenient alternative.

  • Carrie

    6/23/2010 12:03:26 AM |

    Dr. Davis-
    A friend of mine who is new to GF eating mentioned that her husband's blood pressure has stabilized rather quickly after eliminating wheat. I googled "GF for heart health", and was delighted to discover your blog.    

    My family eats grain free, and the only flour I use is coconut flour.  I recommend Bruce Fife's book "Cooking with Coconut Flour" as a jumping off point, because it explains how the properties of coconut flour make it unique to cook and bake with.  You NEED many more eggs than in a traditional bread recipe because that is what gives it a light airy texture, and you also need lots of fats to ensure it is moist.  I really don't do any cakes, cookies, etc because we try and stay low-carb, but the coconut flour has been great for breakfast, because neither my baby or I can eat eggs plain (wish I could, but they make me gag, he does too).  

    Coconut Flour Crepes:
    2 eggs
    2 TBSP melted butter or coconut oil (if you use coconut oil, the eggs need to be room temp or it will clump up)
    Add 2 TBSP of sifted coconut flour and mix again until smooth.  
    Finally thin the mixture with about 1/3 cup of water and/or coconut milk
    (I use frozen from Asian market, not canned, and dilute it 50/50 with water and a drop of vanilla Stevia)

    cook crepes in pan brushed with ample coconut oil.  They are great with just butter.

  • David M Gordon

    6/23/2010 2:24:17 AM |

    Dr Davis,

    The book Carrie mentions, Cooking with Coconut Flour, is the one I mentioned last week. I have the entire book as a 2Mb pdf file, and am happy to share with anyone interested.

  • Kris

    6/28/2010 9:43:44 AM |

    Doctor Davis

    i think we are missing a very vital step here that is of fermenting wheat dough (making sourdough wheat). That is THE traditional style of consuming wheat everyday around the world.

    The process is neatly captured under subheading Europe:Sourdough Bread.

    That is how entire Indian subcontinent consumes wheat. That is approximately 2 billion people, not counting europe!

    I will really look forward to seeing how sourdough wheat plays out in these tests as that is the staple food for the vast majority day in and day out.

  • Ginger

    8/1/2010 8:09:31 PM |

    Great interview with einkorn wheat producer Etienne Mabille that may interest some of you: (you will have to use an online translation tool if you don't read french)

  • Chris Masterjohn

    9/16/2010 2:42:21 AM |

    Hi Dr. Davis,

    Interesting post.  I just received my shipment of einkorn today.  I'll be performing a more sophisticated version of your experiment on myself beginning next week and I'll let you know the results.  Just have to get a blood sugar-o-meter first.


  • susan

    8/29/2012 4:32:22 PM |

    David M Gordon,
    is it still possible to get a copy of the coconut flour book?

  • Mark Richardson

    5/6/2014 4:19:47 PM |

    Tested my wife's BG before she ate a bowl of glutten free cereal 90. 1 hour latter was 308. I sure got her attention!