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Wheat is killing us or maybe saving us

I can put up with a lot of abuse, but when you start attacking the ham sandwich I enjoy for lunch, I get defensive.

Dr. William Davis, a U.S. cardiologist has written a book called Wheat Belly which I understand (I haven’t read the book) describes in great detail how and why wheat and whole wheat products are killing us. They make us fat and they contribute to a wide range of life-threatening diseases.

In an interview Davis says: “The biggest nutritional blunder ever made in the history of man on earth, is the release of a high-yield (wheat) plant so destructive that its removal allows cure from an incredible range of health conditions — all while being condoned, even encouraged, by ‘official’ agencies.”

You’d almost think he was talking about a nuclear bomb rather than wheat. Davis says in one way or another wheat causes or worsens arthritis, ulcerative colitis, diabetics, acid reflux, joint pain and swelling, leg edema, migraine headaches, chronic sinus congestion and infections, asthma, depression and anxiety, obesity, binge eating, bulimia, severe constipation, and panic disorder. As a 60-year-old bread lover I’ve got a few of those things going on that I chalked up to general overeating and lack of exercise. Good to know that wheat is my only problem.

And not only is his book critical of food manufacturers and suspect food nutritionists and researchers, he takes a solid swipe at the wheat breeding industry, claiming breeding practices over the years have created this Frankenstein monster crop that in no way resembles the original, healthy, natural wheat grown in biblical days. In the interview, Davis says, “Modern wheat is not the product of genetic modification in the sense of the phrase as used by geneticists; it is the product of techniques (cross breeding) that are far worse: cruder, less precise, and often bizarre.”

This was the first time I have heard this attack on wheat, although I know people do suffer from celiac disease and gluten allergies. Since this guy is a doctor it must be true, right? But I couldn’t just throw today’s roast beef sandwich in the biohazard container under our kitchen counter without checking a bit further.

What do some of the wheat promoters in Canada have to say about these claims? Dr. Nancy Ames, a food scientist with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Winnipeg, has looked at the Wheat Belly claims, and in a recent presentation she pointed out that Davis uses anecdotal experiences with patients to provide “evidence” for his recommendations rather than clinical trials. And she says conclusions in the book are not based on the stacks of scientific, peer-reviewed nutrition articles, or on double-blind randomized clinical trials.

She says there is growing evidence that whole grain cereal products protect against the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, cardio-vascular disease and cancers. I especially liked the part where she pointed to a recent study that showed people consuming more than three servings of whole wheat per day had 10 per cent less abdominal fat than the subjects who ate no whole wheat bread.

I also checked with the Canadian Wheat Board. They’ve produced a handy fact sheet, now available on their website, called “The Value of Wheat.”

Here are just a few of the facts:

  •  Wheat is the most important source of plant protein in our diet.
  •  Unrefined whole wheat is a good source of fibre, manganese and magnesium, as well as fibre and wealth of other essential nutrients.
  •  Research shows that people who eat more whole grains may have a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and some cancers.
  •  The same breeding process to produce wheat is used with fruit and vegetables, and all are subject to strict regulations.
  •  The rate of people suffering from celiac disease has not changed, although the number of adults being diagnosed is increasing due to a greater awareness and improved diagnostic skills. The Celiac Association estimates one in 133 people are affected by celiac disease.
  •  The notion that people will lose weight on low carb diets (no breads) is false. Studies show no evidence to support this claim.

The full fact sheet can be found on the CWB website at: www.cwb.ca/nutrition. Click on the Hot Topics heading and then click on the branding and marketing page.

What should I do?

Should I eliminate all wheat from my diet to avoid Wheat Belly, or bulk load on granola because it is saving my life?

As a 60-year-old who could stand to lose a couple pounds, I have been down the good nutrition and diet road a few times. Actually I used to have a winter home on Atkins Drive in South Beach next door to the Scarsdales. I knew them all.

My extensive research on healthy living, which I know more about than actually practice, tells me regardless of all the sure-fire diets and scare tactic books the solution is to eat anything you want — but eat right and exercise, and practice moderation. And remember, when you’re over 50, moderation means that a small piece of apple pie once a year adds three pounds you’ll never lose. †

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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