The Wheat Conundrum


What if a food item thought to be healthy turned out to be not healthy? What if this food item was a major staple of the diet, commanding millions of dollars in subsidies from the government to be produced? Suppose both answers are yes, then what? How would the worlds governing bodies react? The following scenario is actually a real concern when wheat is considered. So what if wheat was incompatible with human nutrition? Now that would be a conundrum.

The purpose of the blog is not to disparage wheat. The purpose is to raise questions that need to be answered. Wheat is the third largest crop worldwide and has been an important part of the diet dating back to B.C.E. Many foods found on the shelves of local grocery stores contain wheat or wheat products and the USDA suggests wheat comprise the largest percent of the diet especially in whole grain form. The reason, whole grain wheat consumption has been linked to a reduction in chronic disease.

Yet, in developed nations where wheat intake is high, chronic disease not only persists, it’s on the rise. For many years fats have been enemy number one, especially saturated fats. However, opinions have changed in regards to fats which further muddies the waters of health. Disagreements do exist with regard to wheat and that is why we are stuck in this conundrum.

Those for wheat will say that whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. Those against believe that grains were not meant to be consumed by humans. The evidence is split with both positive and negative results. In one corner whole grain wheat consumption has been linked to a reduction in circulating blood lipids, reductions in body weight, and better blood sugar control. On the other hand, new technology and understanding has led to increasing incidence of coeliac disease and non-coeliac wheat sensitivity (NCWS).

The problem with wheat is that the case can be made by both sides quite convincingly. Supporters are steadfast because of the strong agreement that exists amongst researchers while detractors are still searching for a conclusive piece of evidence to support their claims.

A brief survey of the literature on wheat suggests that intolerance to gluten is the culprit, however, gluten related diseases only make up a small portion of wheat intolerance. Coeliac disease is devastating but only accounts for 1% of the population while NCWS is still difficult to define both symptomatically and mechanism of action. Yet withdrawal of wheat from the diet has been an effective treatment for Coeliac, NCWS, and even IBS for many years.

Outside of gluten related disorders it is possible the high starch content of wheat may be responsible for GI discomfort. A recent study in the Nutrition Journal (El-Salhy and Gundersen 2015) suggests that incomplete digestion of starch molecules may lead to IBS symptoms in individuals. The resulting small starch molecules are fermentable by gut bacteria which may explain the gastrointestinal issues experienced in IBS. The study also makes mention of a potential link between wheat induced IBS and obesity.

One final aspect of wheat which may contribute to the disagreement with regards to health is the amount of the grain that is consumed in a processed form. The majority of wheat based food products are made from wheat flour which has been stripped of important nutrients. None more important than fiber. The refined wheat food products lacking fiber might as well be sugar because of the similar effect it has on glycemic control.

The wheat conundrum is one of many nutrition related issues that must be addressed for the propagation of health. Is wheat friend or foe? There is certainly enough cause for concern despite the evidence that whole grain wheat may be beneficial.

If this blog has caused uncertainty, removing grains, especially wheat from the diet is a viable option. Replace crackers, breads, pastas, and cereals with fruits and vegetables. That is all for this installment. Stay tuned to for more from the perpetual athlete.

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Bill Fredericks

Bill Fredericks

Bill Fredericks

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One thought on “The Wheat Conundrum”

  1. This is very good information…Im soaking it all up …4 my good!
    I am trying really hard to do whats healthy for me day by day!

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