Wheat? Which wheat?

Did you know the products we eat made from flour (white, brown, whole wheat) is not made from the same grain we’ve called ‘wheat’ for millennia?

I received a copy of Dr William Davis’s WHEAT BELLY book for Christmas. He claimed, with much scientific backup, that ‘beer bellies’ so frequently seen on men is much more likely due to excessive carbohydrate consumption, especially products made from flour, than excess beer. In particular, he points the finger at one of the proteins found in wheat flour called gliadin.

Gliadin is a protein and associated with glutens which cause many people to react unfavourably to products made from flour. Symptoms of varying severity can result, up to and including coeliac disease which can be fatal. What Dr Davis claims is that the gliadin found in flour today is vastly different from gliadin found in flours ground from the type of wheat grown in the past.

Back in the fifties and sixties when I was a child I remember fields of Manitoba wheat swaying in the breeze, rippling, undulating from here to there all the way to the horizon. It was a fascinating sight – no parts of the field were still – yet it was a coordinated dance, a choreographed wonder. I can remember the wheat was taller than me in those days, well over a metre. Those fields are now gone, replaced with short ‘dwarf’ varieties of ‘wheat’ with heavy cropping heads held on short stalky stems – a grain producing grass which has huge genetic differences from the wheat of my childhood. Ninety percent of wheat grown today is this heavy cropping substitute.

So what’s the problem? Farmers are producing up to ten times the grain from their fields. And nobody is complaining about the excessively mild taste nor the light and fluffy bread and goodies bakers can produce using this new grain.

The problem is that more and more people are having adverse reactions to flour. Dr Davis says when products made from flour are digested, the gliadin becomes an ‘exorphin’ – or an appetite enhancing, brain-changing chemical which reacts with the opioid receptors in the brain. What happens when we take in exorphins like morphine or heroin? We become addicted, and Dr Davis claims this addiction to gliadin has fuelled the obesity epidemic in the world today.

The symptoms he attributes to gliadin intake include cerebellar ataxia, all sorts of allergic responses, tummy discomfort, behavioural outbursts, inattention (how many more ADHD kids are there around today?), maybe even the autism spectrum (ditto about Asperger’s kids today) right up to exacerbating the symptoms of the major psychotic disorders like bipolar and schizophrenia.

For most of us the problem is more insidious; we are just enticed to eat more floury products and our hidden addiction means we feel we cannot do without them. And we get fat. Dr Davis points to studies that show if we cut wheat from our diets, we naturally consume 400 calories less per day without realising it. And that’s because we get over our addiction to gliadin and stop craving floury sweet treats – plus bread, pizza, pies and all savoury products made from wheat too.

Can you cut wheat from your diet? At first it is difficult because we do have to battle the addiction (and we have so many flour based products in the pantry we ‘need to eat up’) but it can be done. Emerging from the other side is a freedom. We no longer slaver over cupcakes, toast, croissants, pastry, breakfast cereals, sandwiches or heavy gravies.

Is WHEAT BELLY a good read? It certainly is. The diet he recommends is similar to the recommendations I make in ‘FULL STOP – eat until you’re full and stop gaining weight’ even though he, naturally, puts more attention on this one hugely important source of carbohydrate, the new ‘wheat’ (and everything made from it).

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