Editor's Note / Whole Grains / Columns / Antioxidants/Omegas

Be Wise About Wheat

Editor-in-Chief Lauren R. Hartman discusses a new book published about wheat and why consumers should be wise when cutting it out of their diet.

I’ve been seeing a lot of press and blogs referring to the controversial book, “Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health,” recently released by Milwaukee-based cardiologist William Davis. In the book, Davis writes about the health risks associated with the wheat that most of us eat in various forms, and the symptoms, health problems and solutions that can be related to wheat. The book hit the best-seller lists and made national news.

Davis is a medical director of the Track Your Plaque program and an advocate of early heart disease prevention and reversal. According to numerous online reports and social media channels, his book doesn’t particularly recommend that we all stop eating wheat. But it does provide some examples of the potential health risks that wheat poses, if we include wheat in our diet. The book also indicates that the wheat produced and eaten today is quite different than the wheat consumed just 40 years ago and even farther back to einkorn, which was the first form of cultivated wheat grown by farmers more than 10,000 years ago.

I have only read excerpts of this book, but the articles and releases I’m seeing sound pretty disconcerting, especially because wheat has been a part of our lives since childhood and is something that we need to consume more of to remain healthy.

He also claims that changes in these wheat proteins, allegedly brought about by invasive breeding programs, caused wheat to negatively change. According to the Grain Foods Foundation (GFF), Ridgway, Colo., “while breed has produced wheat that relies upon fewer pesticides and water and is more weather-resistant, there is no evidence that the nutritional value in new [wheat] varieties have changed.”

Davis asserts that modern wheat stimulates hunger, and compared with ancient wheat, has a glycemic index of 72, which, he writes, exceeds table sugar (glycemic index of 59). He also says carbohydrates in modern wheat are so easily digestible that eating whole grains results in the same blood sugar impact as an equivalent amount of highly processed flour. White bread, with less of the whole wheat grain, comes in at 70. A Snickers candy bar comes in lower with a glycemic index of 41.

This is very confusing. Cutting back on or eliminating carbohydrates may be a good measure for certain people because they may have an allergic reaction, develop intolerance or some other health problem. But, GFF says cutting out wheat entirely means missing out on a wealth of essential nutrients needed for good health, including fiber, antioxidants, iron and B vitamins. And we know that eating more enriched grains helps reduce cholesterol and provides essential folate. Complex carbohydrates in bread and other grain-based foods provide essential fuel the body needs.

Dedicated to advancing the public’s understanding of the important role grain-based foods play in a healthful diet, GFF strives to ensure positive news about grains to balance any coverage to the contrary.

“In his book, cardiologist William Davis asserts that wheat consumption is solely responsible for Americans’ health ills, and that cutting wheat from our diets is the cure-all solution to conditions like obesity, diabetes, celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis,” adds GFF. “Wheat is the basis for a number of healthful whole and enriched grain foods, including breads, cereal, pasta and wheat berries that provide valuable nutrients to the American diet and have been shown to help with weight maintenance.”

GFF also mentions that Davis’ advice runs counter to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which call for the average healthy American to consume six 1-oz. servings of grain foods daily, half of which should come from whole grains and the other half from enriched grains. Certainly, people with certain bread and wheat issues, including celiac disease and gluten intolerances, require complete abstinence from gluten-containing grains, including wheat. GFF points out that it regularly collaborates on programs to support the needs of the gluten-free community.

Healthy folks should really discuss with their doctors the prospect of avoiding foods containing wheat. I agree with the GFF when it says, we must “let common sense prevail. When it comes to nutrition advice, look to the real experts and remember that weight control is all about one key equation: Calories in must equal calories out.” 

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