Thursday, September 20, 2012

What About Wheat?

Yikes! What are we doing to ourselves? We have heard a lot about high fructose corn syrup ruining our health, and about carbs giving us obesity. Now it’s wheat’s turn. I wasn’t thinking about wheat much, except as a high-carb food that I avoid, until I read this article, called “Banishing Wheat Belly: The Drawbacks of a Wheat-dominated Diet.”
I found it in a little free publication called Natural Awakenings, at Willy Street Coop, home of many wonderful foods. The link is from the online version of Natural Awakenings.

Is eating wheat damaging us?  Is wheat a genetically engineered monstrosity? Americans really put away wheat products. We love our bread, cake, pie, cookies, pancakes, and foods with wheat lurking in them without our noticing. Is this article correct?

The article is very impressive.  It is a Q&A interview with Dr. William Davis, a Milwaukee based preventive cardiologist.  He points out that wheat is high on the glycemic index, which is well known, and foods made from it raise blood sugar very high, higher even than table sugar. He said he asked his diabetic and pre-diabetic patients to remove all wheat from their diets, and on average they each lost about thirty pounds and had relief from arthritis and joint pains, acid reflux, migraine headaches, edema and irritable bowel syndrome, plus other conditions; some diabetics became non-diabetics and pre-diabetics became non-pre-diabetics. He says he feels better on this diet today at age 54 than he felt at age 30.

The doctor tells us what the problem is. He says that typically we (who are we?) consume twenty percent of our calories as wheat. He says that a wheat dominated diet compromises health in many people who are and are not afflicted with celiac disease.  Eating a lot of wheat exposes us to a starch known as amylopectin A, which converts more easily to blood sugar than most carbohydrates and causes blood sugar and insulin problems.  If that isn’t enough, he tells us that wheat has a gliadin protein which is an opiate that stimulates appetite and addictive eating behavior.  He also says that wheat has changed. In the 1970s, a geneticist at the University of Minnesota developed a hybridized strain of high-yielding dwarf wheat, which now comprises ninety-nine percent of all wheat grown worldwide; this gave us the  amylopectin A and gave us insulin problems to a great degree.  Older wheats are gone, and our health problems are here.

What are we to think of all this? Well, Dr. Davis has written a book and has a blog. The book is Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health. I didn’t try to find it, but I found his blog easily:  I found out that he practices medicine in Milwaukee. He has lots of information on his blog. It looks ok to me.

Then I looked to the other health gurus that I read. Lo and behold, Dr. Mark Hyman agrees with him in his recent book, The Blood Sugar Solution. He says that the gluten in wheat is a big problem for a lot of people, a lot of the American population, some of whom don’t know it is a problem. They eat wheat products and have various health problems, including obesity, pre-diabetes, asthma, joint pain and fatigue, and they treat them with drugs. Hyman says that our bread is a “Frankenfood” and a “super-starch.” (p. 107).

Dr. Neal Barnard has less to say.  In his recent book, 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart, he favors a vegetarian diet including whole grains, but points out that some foods, including wheat, are triggers for joint pain; if they cause symptoms, don’t eat them.

Suzy Cohen, also known as Dear Pharmacist, has a book called Diabetes Without Drugs, in which she says that the gluten in wheat is tied to many disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, joint pain, muscle aches and fatigue.

Here’s another one. Dr. Joseph Mercola, on his widely read website,, gives information on celiac disease and gluten intolerance. He also says that today’s wheat is harmful and has more gluten due to hybridization. He talks about problems with wheat and other grains. Dr. Mercola would have us turn away from all of them.

Dr. Davis is not alone. My hastily gathered panel of medical experts (see above) says that removing wheat from the diet removes a list of health disorders from the person. They also say that people who tell their symptoms to many doctors are told to use drugs to treat the symptoms. It seems to me that healing the disorders the natural way is the way to do it.  I am not here to say that it is easy to give up those chocolate chip cookies when they sit on the plate and call to you.  What I am saying is that wheat has a dark side.  We can make decisions that will make us feel better without the cost and side effects of drugs.

Giving up wheat is hard. It’s everywhere and in almost everything. These medical people are real killjoys. Alas.