Several of the more popular diets today suggest “Just say no” to wheat. According to a few, such as Wheat Belly and the Paleo Diet, wheat causes all kinds of health problems including obesity, diabetes type 2, immune system issues, and autism. I was certainly in the anti-wheat camp, and am still on the fence about it. I have added some organic, non-GMO whole wheat (because it’s nearly impossible not to), but in the interest of being fair, I will wait until there is more evidence pro or con before I either eliminate it or continue eating it. An excellent article on the latest science behind wheat and health was written by Sharon Palmer, R.D., in the April 2013 issue of Environmental Nutrition. It seems today that gluten-free is as popular as organic. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, rye, oats, spelt, kamut, barley, and others-and is harmful to those with celiac disease. But, how much hard science supports the notion that wheat is unhealthy and you should avoid it? Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D. of St Catherine University in St Paul, Minnesota, believes that wheat has become today’s diet scapegoat. She says “There is no evidence that wheat is bad for you, provided you eat whole grain, not refined. We’ve been cultivating and eating wheat for centuries, and perhaps the only bad thing about it is that for the last 50 years of eating wheat, we’ve been sitting down too much and not cultivating it ourselves. So, we’re attacking the wrong demons.” One of the more popular notions against wheat consumption is that wheat has been genetically altered by humans so that it is no longer good for us. However, Dr. Jones says that many of the plant foods you eat every day-lettuce, tomatoes, corn, apples, etc., have been modified countless times over the years through cross-breeding, yet there is no negative press on these foods. So, why wheat? One of the loudest complaints against wheat is that it causes you to gain weight, and if your wheat consumption consists of refined grains, it certainly will. Yet, a number of studies have found that people who eat more whole grains, including wheat, maintain a healthier weight. A personal note here: I eliminated wheat, along with other foods, and lost a great deal of weight. Was it solely due to wheat? I’m not sure. However, I do feel better and have more energy since I made some dietary changes. There is also the question of the rise in food and pollen allergies across the country. An article in The New York Times (2/4/13), written by Kenneth Chang, reports that medical experts largely agree that there is a condition related to gluten other than celiac disease. It is more of a description than a diagnosis: non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It is someone who does not have celiac, but whose health improves on a gluten-free diet and worsens again if gluten is eaten. It could even be more than one illness. Confused? Me too. Kristin Golden Testa could be one of the gluten-sensitive. Though she does not have celiac, she adopted a gluten-free diet last year. She says she has lost weight and her allergies have gone away. She also gave up sugar at the same time and made an effort to eat more vegetables and nuts. Others with irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis also report alleviation of their symptoms. My advice is this: If you suffer from fat that won’t go away, or have allergies, try eliminating gluten foods for three weeks. Then, add a gluten-containing food for a day or two and see how your body feels. Does it make you tired after you eat it, are your bowel movements different, do you have headaches, or do allergies come back? If yes, it may be prudent to eliminate that food from your diet. Then try another. This is what I did. I found in particular that pasta made me very sleepy-I now rarely eat it. Best of luck.
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.