A staple of the human diet has been coming under increasing attack from some health professionals.
One of the more recent salvos was fired by William Davis, a Wisconsin cardiologist and author of the book Wheat Belly, in which he provides 16 pages of reference information from the 1960s to the present supporting his argument that eating wheat is harmful to the body.
Davis advocates the elimination of wheat in the human diet, instead recommending a low carbohydrate diet.
He believes modern wheat is not the same physically, biochemically or genetically as what was grown in the past.
‘The plant is very different and the effects on humans is very different,” said Davis.
“The changes made to wheat extend far beyond gluten.… When modern people consume wheat, there is an average increase in calorie intake of 400 calories per day.”
He said this is at least partly responsible for North America’s obesity epidemic. The gliadin protein in wheat increases appetite and as a result increases calorie consumption, he added.
Davis said the average human can gain more than 41.7 pounds per year as a result of wheat consumption.
Eliminating wheat could see acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis conditions improve or disappear, he added.
Davis said his argument is supported by a 1960s Philadelphia study that explored human digestion of wheat. The research project examined people suffering from schizophrenia and the way wheat consumption affected their condition.
The schizophrenics involved in the study experienced an increase in paranoia and hallucinations when they ate wheat, he said.
Davis said another wheat property harmful to humans is lectin, a protective protein present in many other plant-based foods that humans consume.
Wheat lectin is indigestible by humans. He said once it gains access to the small intestines through the consumption of wheat, it will affect the body’s ability to screen nutrients and bacterial byproducts travelling through the blood stream.
He believes that this is the reason for higher rates of inflammatory and autoimmune diseases in wheat consuming populations.
Davis said an increased blood sugar level in the body is another harmful health effect of wheat consumption. Amylopectin-A is a carbohydrate unique to wheat that raises blood sugar higher than other food.
Two slices of whole wheat bread will raise blood sugar higher than most other food once it is digested, he said.
Higher blood sugar leads to higher blood insulin levels, which causes insulin resistance and belly fat.
He said people with belly fat could suffer from health conditions such as diabetes, arthritis, cancer and heart disease.
However, Davis’s view on wheat is not shared by all in the medical community.
Mary Ellen Camire, a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine, does not recommend that the public avoid the consumption of wheat products.
“There are people who have a true medical condition and wheat protein is not good for them, but that shouldn’t apply to everybody,” said Camire.
“Wheat provides a lot of nutrients, specifically energy and protein but also minerals and vitamins.… Breads and pastas and other wheat based foods … are an important contributor to those nutrients.… When people skip wheat … there is a tendency for them to become deficient in things like B vitamins.”
Camire said whole grain products such as wheat help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and obesity.
The “consumption of whole grain wheat will suppress the rise in blood sugar after a meal” rather than increase it, she said.
The fibre in whole wheat helps slow down digestion and reduces the amount of sugar absorbed in the body, she added.
Camire recommended avoiding refined carbohydrates such as white flour because meals made with white flour tend to increase the blood sugar level in the body when compared to meals made of whole wheat.
She said the U.S. government recommends that at least half of our grain intake be whole grains.
Canada’s food guide recommends the consumption of whole wheat pasta, bread and cereals as important to a healthy diet.