Wheat Belly and Grain Brain #9
In the sixth chapter, Wheat Belly reviews celiac disease. Celiac disease is a serious disease and if you have it you should avoid wheat and all gluten containing products. Yet the book tries to make a case that wheat is the primary cause of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), another, much more common condition. Yet when you dig down through the book and its sources, there is simply no scientific evidence to support this theory. Every study cited that shows benefits of going gluten-free refers to celiac patients, not to non-celiac irritable bowel sufferers. So the author falls back on his personal experience:
Eliminate wheat, acid reflux improves, symptoms of IBS improve. Unfortunately, this effect has not been quantified, though investigators have speculated on how large a role gluten plays in nonceliac sufferers of IBS and acid reflux. I have personally witnessed complete or partial relief from symptoms of IBS and acid reflux with gluten removal from the diet many hundreds of times, whether or not celiac markers are abnormal.
So the only scientific evidence to support the author’s position is personal experience. Well, maybe the book will present closely kept records and published scientific research to verify this claim. No. It doesn’t. It simply asserts this without any support. But that’s not the worst of it, the book goes on to state something that I think is very controversial and probably dangerous:
All is not lost if you have celiac disease. Food can be every bit as enjoyable without wheat, even more so. One of the essential but unappreciated phenomena regarding wheat and gluten elimination, celiac and otherwise: You appreciate food more. You eat foods because you require sustenance and you enjoy their taste and texture. You are not driven by hidden and uncontrollable impulses of the sort triggered by wheat. Don’t think of celiac disease as a burden.
Think of it as a liberation.
Celiac disease is a burden, regardless of what Wheat Belly or other books might tell you. Celiac disease sufferers have been harmed materially by the explosion of people who want to eat “gluten-free” food. As Dr. John McDougall points out in his March 2013 newsletter:
“If you are one of the few people with celiac disease, then avoiding gluten is crucial to your health. You cannot cheat! With the popularity of “going gluten-free,” for unsubstantiated reasons, the importance of this dietary restriction for the truly needy has been diminished. Waiters at restaurants become used to customers asking for “gluten-free dishes” and then failing to object when a few whole wheat bread crumbs appear as a decoration on top of their potato soup. Since wheat, barley, and rye did not cause any apparent distress in the previous 99 customers, the waiters and chefs think, “It can’t be all that important.” But it is for that one percent.”
In addition, patients with celiac disease do suffer, even when on a gluten free diet. They appear to have generally altered immune function. According to a 2012 meta-analysis published in Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics by Dr. Eslick at the University of Sydney, celiac patients have higher overall mortality than patients who do not have it and they get a specific type of lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma more frequently than those who do not have the diagnosis. Some liberation!
The seventh chapter of the book tries to make the case that wheat causes type two diabetes. This chapter is full of innuendo, without a shred of evidence to suggest that wheat consumption actually causes diabetes. All we get is more danger words around wheat and personal anecdote. Once again, the statistics that show that the US is a very fat, sick nation are trotted out as proof that wheat is the problem, even though nothing in the literature supports this hypothesis. Even some of the very articles the book cites to claim wheat is the problem actually suggest that fat and sugar consumption are the problem.
One of the bedrock studies Wheat Belly uses to show how severe the diabetes epidemic is comes from Dr. Crawford at The Queen’s University of Belfast. This study looks at diabetes rates in Ireland over time. It states: “Most of the increase (in diabetes) occurred between 1880s and 1911 … During this period, sugar and fat consumption in Ireland rose sharply.” We can actually look at what happened to carbohydrate consumption during this time in Ireland, as the book tries to blame all diabetes on this issue. Carbohydrates dropped from 79% of calories to 66% of calories, the article shows. Even as carbohydrate consumption dropped, sugar consumption doubled, meaning healthy starches like wheat and potatoes fell at a much faster rate. Fat consumption rose from 9% of calories to 24%. In modern America 24% of calories from fat would be considered a very low fat diet, yet it is enough to provoke diabetes at a high rate. So more fat and less starch = more diabetes, just the opposite of what the book claims, even when we look at the book’s own sources.
Again, the data are clear and overwhelming: eating more whole grains and starchy carbohydrates reduces the incidence of diabetes. Populations that eat the starchiest diets have the lowest rates of diabetes. Dr. Crawford’s study showed that in 1839 the Irish got 87% of their calories from carbohydrate, almost all from white potatoes, yet the death rate from diabetes was only 2 cases per million population. In the USA if we had death rates from diabetes like that, only 600 people would die per year from diabetes instead of the 63,000 who die now, a 99% reduction. To put that 600 deaths number in perspective, 450 people die annually in the US from falling out of bed!
A study published in The Journal of Nutrition by Dr. Ma from Tufts University in 2012 showed that high blood levels of alkylresorcinols, found only in whole grains, predicted low body weight. Dr. Belobrajdic from Adelaide, Australia published a 2013 article in Nutrition Journal that said:
Dietary patterns featuring wholegrain cereals are associated with reduced risk of T2D (Type 2 Diabetes). Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of large, prospective studies consistently demonstrate that frequent consumption of wholegrain foods improves metabolic homeostasis and delays or prevents the development of T2D and its complications in a variety of cohorts, albeit mostly of European ancestry. Two to three serves daily of wholegrain foods reduced the risk of T2D by 20-30% compared to about 1 serve (sic) a week. Randomised, controlled dietary studies in humans and other experimental research provides evidence of a causal relationship between wholegrain consumption and diabetes prevention. Furthermore, wholegrain foods improve indices of diabetes risk, including glycemic control, fasting plasma insulin and glucose, and insulin sensitivity and also
So the advice from Wheat Belly is shockingly bad. Rather than cutting out starchy carbohydrates including wheat (unless you have celiac disease or wheat allergy), if you want to avoid diabetes, you should eat them as a staple of the diet.