Common Sense Canadian

The War on Wheat

PostedOctober 19, 2012 by in International

War on Wheat

Read this story from on the new diet and movement building around the bestselling book Wheat Belly and growing concerns about the health impacts of wheat. (Oct. 8, 2012)

An increasing number of books, blogs and celebrities have fingered wheat as the cause of a variety of conditions, from obesity to heart disease, as well as a host of digestive problems.

One of the most talked-about health books right now is Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health, a New York Times bestseller by U.S. cardiologist Dr. William Davis.

Earlier this year, reality-TV star Kim Kardashian made headlines when she announced that she had cut wheat from her diet.

“I think people are willing to do anything to alleviate their digestive concerns and try anything to resolve their weight issues,” says Susan Watson, a registered dietitian in Winnipeg, about the growing anti-wheat movement.

“From a general health standpoint, unless you’re celiac or have a diagnosed wheat intolerance, cutting any food group or any food product completely out of your diet is not generally recommended,” says Watson.

The antipathy to wheat is partly attributable to a growing awareness of celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that affects approximately one in every 133 people in Canada. Celiac disease occurs when the small intestine is unable to properly digest gluten, a protein that appears in wheat as well as other grains such as barley, rye and spelt.

For celiacs, eating gluten-rich foods can make it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients, which can lead to everything from anemia to osteoporosis.

There is also another subset of people who suffer “non-celiac gluten sensitivity,” which can include an allergy to wheat.

Although celiacs and the wheat allergic may experience similar symptoms, such as cramps and diarrhea, “a wheat allergy does not damage the intestine, whereas celiac disease does,” explains Novella Lui, a Toronto-based dietitian.

Going Gluten-Free

In any event, doctors and naturopaths generally counsel celiacs and those with non-celiac gluten sensitivity to go gluten-free.

As a result, gluten-free guides have sprung up all over the place, including such high-profile titles as The G-Free Diet by Elisabeth Hasselbeck, co-host of the popular U.S. daytime talk show The View and a celiac herself.

But the current anti-wheat trend isn’t simply a response to celiac disease. In fact, it is increasingly being pitched as a healthy choice for everyone, which is what Davis argues in Wheat Belly.

Raises Blood Sugar

Davis says he discovered the harmful effects of wheat several years ago, “when I made myself diabetic by accident.”

Despite being on a low-fat, vegetarian diet and jogging up to eight kilometres a day, Davis found that his blood sugar was inexplicably spiking.

It didn’t become clear to him what was going on until he began doing research into how to prevent heart disease. Then he learned that it was impossible to control the risks of heart disease – such as coronary atherosclerosis – if the patient was diabetic or pre-diabetic.

And one of the things that raises blood sugar is wheat, which is the basis of everything from bread to pasta to pastries.

“The glycemic index of wheat is very high, and wheat products dominate the diets of most Canadians and Americans,” Davis said during a phone interview from his office in Milwaukee, Wis.

Not only does wheat raise blood sugar, but Davis says that in the digestion process, one of the proteins contained in wheat — gliadin — becomes “degraded to a morphine-like compound” that creates an appetite for even more wheat.

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