Balancing the Wheat BellyIt seems everyone is talking about wheat these days, but what they’re saying is not necessarily good.
Part of this can be blamed on Wheat Belly, a book by Dr. William Davis, an American cardiologist. The book, which became an international bestseller, claims wheat is responsible for the majority of North America’s current health problems. According to Dr. Davis, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, skin conditions and even hair loss can all be linked to the consumption of wheat. He claims the wheat North Americans eat is vastly different from the plant originally consumed by humans. But are any of these claims true?
Dr. Ravindra Chibbar and Professor Dean Spaner are two scientists who have some problems with Davis’ claims. They’re not the only ones, as other researchers and nutritionists have writ- ten papers refuting the cardiologist’s arguments.
Chibbar, a professor in the department of plant sciences at the University of Saskatchewan and a member of the science advisory board at the Healthy Grains Institute, has read Wheat Belly and has issues with the book.
“The first observation I have is that the book is based on some kind of anecdotal evidence and doesn’t pass the rigours of science,” said Chibbar.
If researchers or academics wish to publish a paper in a scientific journal, the results are reviewed by peer experts, who examine the scientific methodology to assess the results of the study. Wheat Belly didn’t go through this kind of scientific review process.
“It’s just a book. And when I read it, my impression is that it is just based on anecdotal evidence, people coming to his office and him making claims from that. My first impression of the book is that what he’s saying is based on one or two or four or five people walking into his clinic. That doesn’t make science,” said Chibbar, who added that scientific literature doesn’t back up Davis’ claims.
In one section of the book, Davis talks about the hybridization of wheat and how it has changed the consistency of the gluten. Spaner, a professor and wheat breeder at the University of Alberta, was quick to negate Davis’ information.
“Wheat is not hybridized,” he said. “There’s no hybrid wheat grown in North America. Wheat has been bred through traditional methods for the last 100 years, which includes crossing amongst other wheat or relatives of other wheat.”
Wheat has been domesticated, but the process began about 10,000 years ago.
“That’s nothing new, and was part and parcel of the development of civilization,” said Spaner.
In his book, Davis said wheat has changed the most in the last 50 years, but Spaner said this has no scientific credibility. He said wheat has been bred to be shorter, but changes that happened about 5,000 years ago are more significant than anything that has happened in the last 50 years. The breeding focus in the last 50 years has been to shorten the height of both wheat and rice, to prevent lodging and add to the ease of harvest.
Both Spaner and Chibbar said the processing of wheat may be causing problems for human health.
“Wheat and rice are two dietary staples that are mainly eaten by humans,” said Spaner. “But in the modern world, wheat is mainly consumed as a processed food commodity. In that, Davis might have some claims. We don’t really eat ‘wheat’ anymore. We eat ‘processed wheat’ and processed food is bad for you.”
Chibbar said that Davis’ claims about how wheat can be detrimental to human health can be explained by a number of factors, including overabundance of calories, cheap food and changes in lifestyle.
Davis declined to be interviewed.