Let’s take a closer look.
In The War on Wheat, an investigative report for show The Fifth Estate (the closest thing Canada has to Sixty Minutes), Davis admitted that’s he’s done no scientific studies on wheat. Davis merely stopped eating wheat himself and came to the conclusion that he felt better. This is basically his message to you: Stop eating wheat and all your health problems will go away.
Here are the four major issues he has with wheat as laid out in The War on Wheat:
1) Wheat is addictive. Davis paints wheat as being as addictive as alcohol, nicotine and heroin. “It’s addictive because it contains opiates,” he says. According to The Fifth Estate, the main evidence Davis uses to back up his “wheat is addictive claim” is a 1979 study done on (dead) rat brains. There has been no study on humans that draws a similar conclusion. Dr. Joe Schwarcz, a chemist at the University of McGill in Montreal, says, “There is no evidence that wheat is addictive.” He points out that the peptides (opiates) found in grain are also “found in spinach and dairy and a whole range of other foods.” Schwarcz adds that the reason people eat a lot of foods with wheat in them is that people like food that contains wheat. “It’s not a physical addiction to wheat,” he says.
2) Wheat causes cancer. According to The Fifth Estate report, there has never been any research done that directly connects eating wheat to cancer. While research has linked obesity with cancer, lots of people are overweight for reasons other than eating too much wheat.
3) Wheat has been linked to mental illness – Davis states that wheat causes Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS), depression bi-polar illness, paranoia, anxiety and schizophrenia. The proof Davis offers is a January 1966 article about schizophrenia. The Fifth Estate points out that after nearly 50 years there has never been any definitive research that links wheat to schizophrenia.
4) The wheat today is not your grandfather’s wheat – In his PBS-aired Wheat Belly: Total Health special, Davis points out 10,000 years of wheat-eating represents one half of one percent of man’s 2.5 million year existence, implying that it’s relatively new to our diet.
He then points out that today’s wheat “is not your grandfather’s wheat.” (Which implies that if it was your grandfather’s wheat, it would be ok.) He goes as far to label wheat today as being “frankenwheat.” He claims it has been altered by scientists who have only one goal in mind: increasing yield. The Fifth Estate took this concern to the University of Saskatchewan that has been studying wheat for the past 100 years. They analyzed 37 different strains of wheat from over the past 100 years and found that the protein structure of the wheat throughout is similar.
Over the years, wheat has been altered by “natural breeding methods.” There is no genetically modified (GMO) wheat for commercial sale. In a February 12th, 2012 blog post titled “Wheat is NOT genetically-modified” Davis says “hybridization, backcrossing, and mutation-inducing techniques” are “worse than genetic-modifications,” but offers no proof to back this up.
At the end of The War on Wheat, Davis admits when questioned that “anecdotes do not actually equate to science. Anecdotes are provided for human interest because it makes fun reading. People want to hear about people like themselves. But if I wrote a book only about the science which, by the way I’d love to do, but sad to say, most of the public would not read it.”
To Davis’s credit, he does point out that most gluten-free foods are nutritionally not very good due to what they replace the gluten with (rice flour, corn starch, tapioca starch, potato flour, coconut flour, almond flour—all of which add either fat or empty starches to a diet) and that the best foods anyone can eat have only one ingredient.
But in terms of his Wheat Belly diet, he admits it’s never been endorsed by any medical associations or food scientists.”
So where does that leave us? While there are people with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity (about 10% of the population) for whom it makes medical sense to avoid wheat that contains gluten, for most of us, wheat and other grains are an important ingredient in a balanced diet. Be sure to include WHOLE grains so you are getting all the nutrition, and enjoy them in moderation.