A few years ago Dr. William Davis launched a crusade against eating wheat with his best selling book Wheat Belly. Wheat, and of course gluten, which is the main protein in wheat, were blamed for America’s expanding waistline and a litany of health problems. However, no scientific evidence has been found to support Davis’ indictment of wheat. In fact, recent research suggests that wheat and other whole grains can be a useful food in your eating plan for weight loss.
Wheat and waist size
Wheat Belly advocates eliminating wheat and all other grains that contain gluten (barley, rye) from your diet. His reasons include a correlation he draws between increased consumption of wheat products and the increase in the average American’s waist size.
Scientists from Maastricht University, citing reams of scientific evidence, published a detailed rebuttal of Davis’s claims in the Journal of Cereal Science. They pointed out that it is a mistake to suggest that an increase in consumption of wheat products have caused waist sizes to grow. If that made sense, you could also say increases in sales of cars and mobile phones, as well as the average speed of winners of the Tour de France could also be attributed to the dreaded Wheat Belly.
Fact vs. fiction
The Maastricht scientists use evidence to disprove many of the Wheat Belly claims, including that whole wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than sugar (not even close), and that gluten proteins called gliadins are more addictive than opium. The truth is that although a peptide contained in gliadins was found to get rats high, it can’t even be digested by humans.
Davis also claims that genetic engineering has made wheat unhealthy for humans. But to date, no genetically engineered wheat has ever been grown anywhere in the world.
Whole grains and weight loss
Wheat gets a bad rap because most of the wheat people eat is refined for production in pasta and commercial baked goods. Refining takes away all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy oils, leaving only starch. However, a study from Tufts University is the most recent to suggest that including whole grains in your diet can actually help you absorb fewer calories and speed up your metabolism.
Among the findings, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, after eight weeks, people in the study who ate a diet with whole grains lost an extra 100 calories a day compared to participants who ate the exact same diet, except for replacing whole grains with refined grains.
Fiber and metabolic rate
The calorie difference could be accounted for by the fiber in whole grains that interfered with the digestion of calories from the other foods included in the diet. The whole grain group also burned more calories due to an increased resting metabolic rate compared to the refined grain group.
Fad diets such as Wheat Belly and the gluten free craze are discouraging millions of people from eating nutrients that provide innumerable health benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Research also suggests that people who include whole grains in their diets live longer than people who don’t. The Tufts study also suggests that they may be leaner, as well.