Is Wheat-Free Better for You?
To bread or not to bread, that is the question – “Ham and Omelet” by Shakespeare
Dear Fun and Fit: I was wondering if you could either discuss, or give me some good sources of information about the new “no wheat” trend. What I have heard about it is that wheat has been completely altered from the wheat of our parents’/grandparents’ generations and is not the same crop, as addictive as some drugs, and can cause numerous health problems including substantial weight gain in the belly region. Danielle, Torrance, CA
Wow, that is quite the question! Since we are neither nutritionists nor dietitians, we will present some research and links to help guide you, but not give advice on your timely question about wheat-free (and its popular cousin, gluten-free) eating.
Celiac disease is an immune disorder triggered by gluten (a protein found in grains) in genetically predisposed individuals. There is a loss of small intestinal villi, small finger-like projections that significantly increase the surface area for absorption of nutrients. Celiac disease is being diagnosed with more frequency than ever before (it’s estimated that 1 in 250 Americans has it), so there is a correlation between the higher rates and grains.
In a study that just came out last week, researchers found that consumption of bread on a daily basis, particularly wholemeal, was good for cardiovascular health. They go on to mention that it’s associated with a lower insulin concentration, and that eating bread helps prevent insulin resistance.
Also, according to Harvard you can help prevent cancer, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and constipation by eating whole grains (not refined wheat that strips away more than half of its B vitamins, 90% of Vitamin E and virtually all of the fiber).
Gastroenterologist Joseph Murray at Mayo Clinic led a study that found that young people today are 4.5 times more likely to have celiac disease than in the 1950s. “Celiac disease has become much more common in the last 50 years, and we don’t know why. It now affects about one in a hundred people (note that the study above said 1 in 250). Celiac disease could be a significant public health issue.”
As to what exactly has changed over the past 50 years to cause this rise in celiac disease is up to researchers to fully answer, but it is true that wheat is different than what it was for our grandparents. The linked article talks about the changes in wheat, highlighting the ways it has been genetically modified.
An interesting book called “Bread is the Devil,” by Heather Bauer, R.D., C.D.N., puts forth a case for bread being on the wrong side of the weight loss “battle,” so you might want to check it out at the library. You might also enjoy our radio interview with Nicki Anderson, 5 Nutrition Mistakes Women Make. Scroll down as Nicki’s comments on wheat-free, gluten-free, and other eating trends are interesting and filled with quick stats and advice.
Having said all that, Alexandra will not knowingly eat GMO food (genetically modified organisms), and she does a lot of baking using flour. She does not have a weight problem.
One thing you might like to do is compare the rates of celiac disease in the U.S. to those in Europe, where they eat a lot of pasta and bread, but it’s usually whole grain and non-GMO. Then compare obesity rates. From there, you can decide if a wheat free / gluten free diet is right for you. As to your question about it being addictive, so far most of that claim is anecdotal, not research-based. There is a really good write-up about the true definition of “wheat addiction” and the small bit of research that has been done so far.
So is wheat the devil or the cardiovascular savior? We leave it to you to decide for yourself. We’re just that nice. And half-baked.
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