We see the gluten-free label everywhere, leading us to believe that there must be something inherently wrong with wheat. But is gluten really all that bad for us?
Wheat isn’t as bad for your health as you probably think it is
Recent books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain suggest grains, particularly wheat, can lead to serious cognitive impairment and health issues. They certainly can, especially if you have a sensitivity to wheat or suffer from celiac disease, or an allergy to gluten, the protein in wheat. But for most of us, this is not an issue–even if we think it is. In fact, whole grains have been a healthy part of the human diet for thousands of years.
Health expert Marion Nestle notes that foods containing whole-wheat, “which have been prepared in customary ways (such as baked or extruded), and eaten in recommended amounts, have been associated with significant reductions in risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a more favourable long term weight management.” We’re not talking Wonder Bread here. This is whole grain wheat, rye, barley, or spelt that can all be part of a healthy diet.
Gluten allergies have only been diagnosed on a large scale in recent years, and those individuals afflicted can experience a higher than usual occurrence of gas, bloating and other common allergy symptoms. But according to research published in the recent issue of the Journal of Cereal Science, people who aren’t allergic to wheat or gluten will not have those symptoms. The researchers concluded that “no data justifies a negative opinion about whole-wheat products in a healthy population,” reports Food Navigator.
According to the study authors, books like “Wheat Belly and “Grain Brain” didn’t take into consideration overall dietary habits, over-consumption and the activity level of individuals, all of which are important considerations. “These discussion fail to take into account that obesity has a multifactorial causation,” they wrote. “Whole-wheat consumption cannot be linked to increased prevalence of obesity in the general population.”
Wheat is one of the only major grains that is not genetically modified. It’s mostly U.S.-grown and is an excellent source of protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
And as Nestle points out, there are myths about wheat’s impact on our health:
Proliferation of wheat products parallels obesity and is causally related. No, it does not.
Wheat starch differs from starches in other foods in especially undesirable ways. No, it does not.
Whole wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than sugar. No, it does not.
Wheat contains opioids that make people addictive. No, they do not.
Eat wheat sensibly, just as you would add any grain to a healthy diet. Avoid the white, refined wheat products. Adhere to Michael Pollan’s rule about junk foods–eat as much you want, as long as you make them yourself. That’s a sure fire way to cut down the number of cupcakes and Cinnabons that give wheat a bad name.