Let me start this post by stating that I know, for sure, that eating wheat causes problems in some people. My best friend is wheat intolerant – even the tiniest bit reduces her brain function to zero and affects her emotions to the point where she goes from the mild-mannered Dr Jekyll to the evil Mr Hyde within seconds and it’s not a pretty sight. But is wheat really the Devil it’s made out to be? Everywhere you look there is someone, somewhere, spouting the evil-ness that is the humble wheat-grain and it is apparently responsible for everything from constipation to schizophrenia. I find that hard to believe.
Wheat is, apparently, high in salicylates so is avoided on a low salicylate diet. It’s low histamine, but many on a low histamine diet still avoid it for reasons I can’t quite work out. It’s not allowed on the Paleo Diet (the diet allegedly used by pre-modern man) as we are not ‘designed’ to digest grains and it’s a total taboo on the low carb diet (obviously). It apparently raises blood sugar (though diabetics aren’t told to void it, strange that) and gives us osteoporosis, arthritis and even cataracts. It apparently makes us fat, crosses the brain barrier and binds to opiate receptors to make us into what amounts to a wheat junkie. Dr William Davis, an American cardiologist and author of the bestseller Wheat Belly goes so far as to say that wheat has “caused more harm than any foreign terrorist can inflict on us”. Maybe we should send out a Task Force to drop bombs on our wheat fields and kill the little blighters if they’re that much of a threat?
If wheat is truly so evil why are governments the world over sitting on their lazy backsides and letting the slaughter continue? Because, my friends, it’s a load of old tosh for the most part. Anthropologists can’t even agree on what ancient man ate: some say we had a largely vegetarian diet, while others say we were rampant carnivores. They all agree our ancient ancestors gathered and ate nuts, yet in the past 100 years there has been an epidemic of children born with a life-threatening nut allergy (strange if we are innately ‘designed’ to digest nuts). They also can’t agree on how far back we should delve into our gut history: 2,000 years, 20,000 years, 200,000 years? And then there’s geography. Ancient man who lived near the sea would have eaten a vastly different diet to those living inland, in desert regions or in the mountains. People in Australia would have been subjected to vastly different species of animals, fruits and plants than those living in the UK. The bottom line being that humans evolve to suit their environment and that includes modern man.
If it weren’t for wheat, most of the world’s populations would truly starve to death, and so would our cattle and pets (wheat is used in most commercial dog foods for instance). I think we paint the past with a rosy glow and forget that many of our ancestors died of malnutrition, or had awful diseases like scurvy and rickets. Whilst it’s true that modern man’s stomachs weren’t originally designed to digest wheat, neither were they designed to digest 90% of other modern foods yet I don’t see rice (also a cereal grain) being subjected to the same hate campaign as wheat. My ancestors have been eating wheat for hundreds of years, but rice only began to be imported into the UK for mass consumption in the 1970s – if my body classed any food as ‘foreign’ it would be rice, not wheat, alongside imported fruits like mangos and vegetables like sweet potato which have only been available to buy in the UK in the past 20 years.
Purists would have us live on a diet of buffalo meat and wild berries, which IMHO doesn’t meet anyone’s standards of a balanced, nutritious and healthy way to live (I’d personally starve to death as I’m vegetarian and berries are classed as high histamine, not to mention the fact we’ve never had buffalo in the UK). Even as little as 200 years ago my ancestors were on average 12 inches shorter than me, the increase in height being solely attributable to my nutritious modern diet, the cross-bred super fat wheat-stalk included.
I get truly concerned about information online advising people to cut out whole food groups like wheat and dairy, without any evidence that their problems are down to eating these particular foods and without any input from a dietician to check that they are maintaining an adequate balance of essential proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. I personally have had a stomach biopsy to check for gluten allergy and it is negative, yet I still have people telling me I should cut out wheat because “it can still cause a problem, even if it’s not showing up on tests”. Er, no it really can’t. If I were allergic to wheat it would have shown on my biopsy, blood tests or skin prick test. If I eat too many whole grains like high fibre bread they cause me no end of gut problems, but not because I’m intolerant to wheat. My issue is that wholegrain wheat is high in fibre, and fibre bulks up my poop. The bulkier my poop is the more it stretches my intestines and the more it gets stuck trying to get through my lax ileocecal valve, backing up and causing me problems. Any high fibre food, eg. brown rice and too many spuds, does the same thing. This is due to my faulty connective tissue and nothing whatsoever to do with what I’m eating.
There is so much we don’t know about how our bodies work and what happens when things go wrong. There are people who have problems eating certain foods, me being one of them as I’m struggling with high histamine foods. But this isn’t an issue with the food per se, it’s a problem with my mast cells over-reacting to the food. The problem is with my immune system, not the food, and we’d do well to bear this in mind when branding any food as “bad”. The reasons for the increase in immune system problems like nut allergy and mast cell diseases over the past 100 years are as yet unknown, and are sadly likely to remain unknown in my lifetime. I’ll ponder some more on my trigger-happy immune system while I’m eating my morning toast, my lunchtime sani and my evening pasta bake and, what’s more, I’ll enjoy every mouthful 😉 .