Wheat: Not what it used to be

Genetically modified foods are not necessarily a new phenomenon; however, there is still a great amount of information we don’t know about the benefits and negative aspects of the foods.  There are pros and cons to the debate, but when it comes to agribusiness there has been a shift towards efficiency and away from traditional and natural goods.

In reviewing some of the new research, Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist and author, has begun to shift previous thinking over wheat products and what we may not know about them.  His opinion supported the notion that the modern wheat we are consuming today is not the form that wheat used to be.

Today, wheat is an “18 inch tall plant created by genetic research in the ‘60s and ‘70s.”  Davis claims that there is a new protein feature, called gliadin (not to be confused with gluten), found in modern wheat today that is in the opiate family.  This protein binds to opiate receptors found in our brains.  As a result, this stimulates appetite in most people and causes us to consume approximately 440 additional calories a day.

From his study, Davis then suggests a diet entirely free of wheat.  He says that instead, we should be eating a diet full of single ingredient foods, such as: eggs, vegetables, full fat cheese, dairy, avocados, oils (olive, walnut, and coconut), meats, fish, chicken, nuts, and the occasional fruits.  He suggests foods that are least likely to be altered by agribusiness.  Though it’s not impossible for the farming industry to change back to the old grain, it’s true that now the option is not quite economically feasible, as the modern grain yields more per acre.

“If three people lost eight pounds [as a result of cutting wheat], big deal. But we’re seeing hundreds of thousands of people losing 30, 80, 150 pounds. Diabetics become no longer diabetic; people with arthritis having dramatic relief. People losing leg swelling, acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, and on and on every day,” says Davis.

Dive in a little more deeply into the research and you will find the solution is not quite as simple, or quite as grandiose, as Davis states.  Let’s examine the critiques of Davis’ work.  In general, it’s important to note that a balanced diet full of varietal foods is key to a healthy weight and lifestyle.  Wheat, and carbs, should absolutely be consumed in moderation.  But all foods should be, right?

Nevertheless, as Davis supports the claim that wheat is our issue, it should be noted that the factors causing diabetes in this country do not necessarily include a wheat diet, but actually support the notion that there is far too much inactivity, large portion sizes and poor food choices.  In other words, Davis’ claims are slightly audacious in that we aren’t getting the entire story or picture of the problem.

One of the more significant areas that Davis’ movement can be debunked is through his statistical evidence.  A number of his findings seem to be skewed towards the outcome deemed beneficial to his opinion and research.  Simply speaking, the math just doesn’t quite add up.  A study Davis quotes frequently in his conclusion, from the American Journal of Gastroenterology, is actually one of the largest contradictions to his findings.  Davis claims that individuals diagnosed with celiac disease start out overweight or obese, which is not entirely true.  Additionally, and perhaps the best proof in the falsity of his theory, the study Davis quotes as a support to the notion that the patients studied lost weight from a wheat-free diet actually proves the direct opposite.  It was found that 82% of the studied patients actually gained weight when adopting a gluten-free diet.

So why are an overwhelming amount of people feeding into the “wheat belly” movement?  The theories abound; however, I think it boils down to a couple points.  First of all, Davis is an M.D. which makes individuals believe that he is an expert and trust in his statements.  Readers are also sometimes satisfied with anecdotal evidence as being “good enough” for their support, which is exactly what Davis’ findings end up being.  Wheat and gluten are surely a health issue for some individuals, but not in the ways that Davis supports.  Davis’ findings are just far too oversimplified.

What do you think? Have you tried eliminating wheat from your diet? What was your reasoning?

Photo credit: raeallen

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  1. In regard to this statement: “Wheat, and carbs, should absolutely be consumed in moderation. But all foods should be, right?”

    I couldn’t disagree more. Why should all foods be consumed in moderation? Wheat, and all other grains have absolutely no advantage nutritionally over fruits and vegetables. Additionally they contain a host of antinutrients and harmful proteins. In addition to gliandin and gluten which were mentioned in the article, all grains also contain lectins which essentially bind to nutients in our body and render them unabsorbable. Couple this with the damage gluten does to the intestine which further renders the body unable to absorb the nutriets it’s ingested and you’ve got serious problems. This is large part of the reason people diagnosed with celiac desease often gain weight when they switch to a glutten free, wheat free diet – their bodies are actually absorbing the nutrients in the food they’re eating. The weight gain could easily be reversed by just consuming less food throughout the day or increasing the amount of calories they burn by exercising.

    To further argue the point that wheat and grains should be consumed in moderation, it’s important to note that all of the harmful proteins and antinutrients mentioned above have binding properties, and are naturally very sticky. Comparing them to super-glue wouldn’t be that far of a reach. Because of this sticky, binding nature, they can quite literally stay in the digestive tract wreaking havoc on the intestines and digestive system for up to two weeks after consumption before being fully passed out of the body.

    What do grains, wheat in particular, offer nutritionally that can’t be obtained from fruits and vegetables which don’t have all of the harmful proteins and antinutrients? Why eat grains at all?
    (the #1 reason I often hear is related to fiber… please note that both fruits and vegetables are great sources of fiber.)

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