‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Quit Your Wheat Belly Aching

Today we're talking a food fad that's grained, I mean gained, momentum over the last few years and sadly looks like it's here to stay. There are those who take random, unsubstantiated, nonsensical health advice from a growing number of annoying and ill-qualified persons who persist in propagating preposterous fictional poppycock... But on the bright side, it gives me something to write about. Here's the anticlimactic handle: Is wheat making us fat? This two-part series will examine some claims made in the popularised book 'Wheat Belly' and the trendy 'Paleolithic Diet'.

Just as one should question the dubious dubbing on 'Glee', we should also question snap claims that any one certain food is responsible for a multifaceted issue like obesity.

Let's explore some root facts before we crop grains from our lives: Wheat is the most cultivated cereal grain worldwide and is relatively rich in micronutrients, including minerals and B vitamins. Of the wheat today:
  • 95% of wheat grown and consumed is bread wheat, which is relatively new; thought to have arisen spontaneously in Turkey about 9,000 years ago from the hybridisation between a cultured form of wheat and a related species of wild grass
  • 5% is durum wheat, typically pasta wheat
  • Small amounts of primitive wheats like spelt, einkorn and emmer are grown for specialist health foods
(L-R) Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt, Kamut
Since it's going to crop up in the minds of many readers, here's a quick note on gluten: The wheat grain has hundreds of individual proteins that are necessary for structural integrity, metabolism and storage. Gluten accounts for about 80% of wheat protein and is a major storage component. Read more about gluten.

The book 'Wheat Belly' (2011) and the recently popularised 'Paleolithic Diet' propose wheat and its consumption have adverse health effects. Claims that obesity is caused by one thing: wheat, rather than the over-consuming and sedentary lifestyle many of us are accustomed to, is simply absurd.

For the sake of brevity, we'll stick to just four of the unsubstantiated claims made in the book. 

1) "Modern wheat" contains the unnatural protein 'gliadin' "created by genetic research in the 60s and 70s". Davis (the author) explains how we are all 'susceptible' to gliadin because “gliadin binds into the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite, such that we consume 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year”.

Shall we?
  • Gliadins are present in all wheat lines
    • Seeds of some ancient grains (Graziella Ra, Khorasan wheat/Kamut) contain greater amounts of gliadin than modern lines... Whaaaat?
  • Genetic engineering of wheat is certainly possible, but "GM wheat" has never been grown or marketed commercially... Anywhere
  • "Selective breeding" is arguably genetic modification... But not really. It's the same process used in livestock breeding (and domesticated dogs) and there's no evidence suggesting it impacts nutrition or health benefits
    • Annnd let's not forget our 7th grade science class: Mendel's peas... You know, that monk dude who played god with pea colour and shape. Yes, clearly the plot of selectively bred, mutant, obesity-causing wheat is a Roman-Catholic conspiracy developed in the 1800s
2) “The proliferation of wheat products parallels the increase in waist size” 
  • This statement insinuates that a correlation between two variables can be considered a true causal relationship... Not so:
    • There is a strong positive correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks. That is, as ice cream sales increase, so do the number of shark attacks. Is it reasonable to conclude ice cream consumption causes shark attacks?
  • Let's also not forget that the proliferation of wheat has a profoundly longer history than the fairly recent increase in obesity. Oh, and obesity occurs in populations that eat little wheat, like many Asian countries
Such a shame to stop when I'm on such a roll. But tune in next week for the next installment of Quit Your Wheat Belly Aching where we'll discuss the Paleo diet in more detail and two more unsubstantiated claims made in 'Wheat Belly'. It starts to get good when wheat is accused of having opioid qualities causing 'wheat withdrawals'. In the interim, fingers crossed you don't 'Amy Winehouse' yourself over a bowl of pasta. They'll try to make you go to rehab...

7 comments:

  1. Great post - this book and theory fails on so many levels. The only people who need to avoid wheat/gluten are those with coeliac disease and those intolerant to it. Demonising wheat/gluten is like someone telling us we need to avoid all peanuts because they're toxic based on the severe reaction that some people have to them.

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    1. Thanks Tim. Good analogy with the peanuts. It all comes back to moderation and critical thinking. If someone said chocolate is killing us, I think a lot of people would be diligently reviewing this claim before cutting chocolate out of their diets (at least, I would be!)

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  2. Hi Thalia,

    What are you thoughts on grain free diets to help with diagnosis such as ADHD & Autism,

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    1. Hi Maring,

      The jury is still out. There is a small body of research that suggests it may help, but at this stage it's not enough. You can get the child tested for celiac disease, if the biopsy and serology are positive, a GF diet is necessary. GF diets are a challenge for 'typical' people, let alone an autistic person, which is why I wouldn't recommend it on a hunch.

      Hope that helps!

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  3. I eat wheat and lived with arthritis pain no wheat no pain and feel better than ever! I don't support your ideas at all.

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    1. Thank for your comment. These Wheat Belly articles are discussing the lack of research/validity in the Wheat Belly book in the hope of educating consumers about what the science actually shows.

      I've not researched the wheat-arthritis connection and there may be validity to that - perhaps a topic for a new article?

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