The Case Against Wheat?

wheatWheat, the staff of life, has been used by nearly every major civilization since the dawn of time, or at least the last 9000 years. This isn’t necessarily a good indicator that something is good for you, but it certainly does show that we’ve evolved to live with and consume wheat—and other grains, for that matter. However, recently we have seen a whole slew of negative press about wheat.

I believe in a firm adherence to “innocent until proven guilty.” Why wheat is gaining such a bad reputation for something no one has proven it has done is beyond me.When looking at something which has sustained life for so long in the history of humanity, we ought to be more critical in our analysis before we simple toss it aside, or worse, demonize it.

So, let’s be more critical. I recently ran into an article which I would consider to be in the top 10 worst scientific articles I have ever read. It began by defining gluten as “glue” as per the words Latin root. With no further explanation, this implies a degree of ancientness to this view of gluten. The description of gluten as a glue actually comes from a household management book written by a Mrs. Beeton in the mid-1800s—hardly scientific. Furthermore, just because something acts like glue doesn’t mean our bodies react to it like actual glue. Take that horrible sticky and healthy juice that gets all over your hands when you cut raw zucchini, for example.

Phrases like “massive threat,” and “doesn’t that sound creepy?” taint wheat as something inherently evil. However, the supporting evidences used for these inflammatory comments are perfect examples of bad science. Journal articles are cited, but upon in-depth analysis, I found every article to be either specific to a particular disease not caused by wheat consumption and therefore not applicable to general claims, completely unassociated with the consumption of wheat, or so poorly conducted and written that no significant conclusions can be made. Not all scientific studies are created equally, and the quality and applicability of the research is incredibly important.

The uses for wheat products are another scare tactic used in consumption-deterring efforts. “They use wheat-derived substances to make paint!” Statements like these mean nothing, good or bad, with regards to the healthfulness of wheat. Not every ingredient in every harmful product is bad for us. Commercially made ketchup shouldn’t be a staple, but tomatoes are awesome. High fructose corn syrup isn’t good for us, but for most people corn is.

I say “most people” for a reason, because this takes us to the most important fallacy of the anti-wheat agenda. There are diseases out there which would contraindicate the consumption of wheat. Most of these are genetic, others are caused by other factors, and some have unknown causes. Further, in some individuals, a low tolerance for gluten or other wheat-related substances has been demonstrated using elimination testing. I can’t and won’t negate the importance of these things. However, nothing I have found has convinced me that wheat is bad for the general population as a whole, or even in a majority.

It is bad science to ignore the specificity of science findings to make general claims. I have yet to understand why this is being done. I’ve witnessed many marketing scams to promote new products to the public by demonizing current practices, but why wheat? I know the gluten-free market is huge, but with 2 million celiac disease sufferers—and that’s just one of the disease which gluten-free benefits—do they really need to market to everyone to make a profit? Is it greed in the health food world which has created such a stir? I don’t want to make any sort of claim to that effect, but I can’t seem to figure out why we need to make everyone believe that wheat is poison.

My conclusion is this, we are all different. How’s that for you? Our bodies are all completely different. We have different genetic make-ups, different propensities, different biological weaknesses and strengths, and require different nutrients for optimal health. While there are basic guidelines which can be followed—i.e. vegetables are good and candy is bad—even that has its pitfalls. For example, not all vegetables should be eaten raw by people who suffer from familial hypercholesterolemia. So, quit being a dupe and believing everything you read. Work to understand your body and your individual health needs. The key to a long and healthful life is paying attention. Scientists—and I know because I am one—do not know everything. You are not a piece of a large standardly deviated puzzle. You are an individual. Sometimes a bowl of ice cream ultimately does more good than harm, and wheat is not the devil.