The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Controversial Topic: The Dangers of Wheat

bakingbadly's picture

Controversial Topic: The Dangers of Wheat

Several days ago I happened upon a disconcerting video about wheat. The audio-based video consisted of a one-hour interview with Dr. William Davis, author of the book Wheat Belly and a renown cardiologist who claims that the habitual consumption of wheat-based products is unhealthy.

In the video, Dr. William asserts that the consumption of breads can drastically increase blood sugar levels and claims that gliadin, a protein in (genetically modified) wheat flour, is an opiate that stimulates appetite, which may lead to undesirable weight gain. In addition to that, he makes statements with implications that symptoms of asthma and fatigue can be triggered or caused by bread consumption.

Other topics broached by Dr. William includes ancient grains such as emmer and spelt, gluten-free products, and sprouted grains. However, unless I'm mistaken, he doesn't mention sourdough or its effects on human health.

You can view and listen to the described video here:

Community of TFL, what are your thoughts and opinions on this topic? As a passionate baker, I may be biased (evidenced by my conflicting feelings on the subject) but wish to learn about any potential health hazards associated with grains, flours or breads.



grind's picture

I'll give you my baguette when you pry (or take) it from my cold, dead hands

That sums pretty well up how I feel about it ... (wink)

gary.turner's picture

I don't doubt that eating grains, not just wheat, in any but modest amounts is not particularly healthy. We did not evolve as grass or grain eaters; grains did not become common fodder for humans until about 12,000 years ago. That's well past the time our dietary needs and capabilities were pretty much completely evolved. We evolved as hunter-gatherers; eating seasonal nuts, fruits, berries and meat. If you were starving, throw in a few tubers, or oysters if really desperate. We can't digest grains or legumes (beans) unless we first denature them by applying heat.

That said, it's hard to have a roast beef sandwich without the bread. And what's a birthday without chocolate cake? Whoa! Another unnatural food, chocolate.



suave's picture

We can't digest grains or legumes (beans) unless we first denature them by applying heat.

That's incorrect.  We can digest grains and all other starchy foods just fine, and heating them has very little to do with denaturing.

gary.turner's picture

Cooked grains are 30% more digestible than raw. Raw legumes are not only highly indigestible, they are toxic to one degree or another; some highly so.

grind's picture

That's more or less what my family doctor said once during a discussion about raw food.  He also said that cooked food played a big part in our evolutionary trajectory.

suave's picture

Did you notice how you switched from "We can't digest grains..." (as in we can't digest grains at all) to "Cooked grains are 30% (for which I assume you have a reference) more digestible."?  Raw legumes are toxic?  As in "peas are toxic"?

moodswt's picture

This notion promoted by the Paleo-diet that hunter-gatherers somehow all  ate only nuts, fruits, berries and meats is  uniformed and simplistic. Hunters and gatherers ate what was available! Those that lived in areas where oats and grains grew...that's what they ate! Desert people gleaned all the grass seeds they could find because that was the best available nutrition.

All things in moderation. Now, to make my grandson's favorite bread.

yy's picture

Atkins, Macrobiotic, South Beach, Vegan, Pescatarian, Low Glycemic Index, Lowfat  . . .

To each is own in the quest for a health, happiness and longevity. Scientific theories and conventional wisdom will come and go,  but my favorite diet will always consist of equal parts sanity and balance.

PastryPaul's picture

Everyone tries to push their product/service/thingamabobber. "Conventional" wisdom does indeed come and go. Remember the "don't eat more than 2 eggs a week" conventional wisdom? Ironically, it was at about the same time as liver was touted for better health, never mind that liver has tons more cholesterol than eggs. Now, we know that the cholesterol we eat has little effect. 

How about the fat-free craze? Manufacturers were able to replace fats so they did and made it sound like something we "should" do. Never mind that many low-fat products had as many calories as the regular versions.

Now they can remove gluten, so gluten-free is the "way to go." Sure, if you're alergic or intolerant to it. Problem: Many doctors are also jumping on the band wagon and telling people to avoid gluten just in case. After all, you can live without bread, so what's the harm? A little knowledge is a dangerours thing, and the medical profession is as guilty of "me too" thinking as any other. 

My brother-in-law is allergic to shellfish, he feels much better if he doesn't eat any (duh). So, let's all stop eating shellfish. While we're at it, let's stop eating eggs, milk, cheese, butter, nuts, mustard, soy, and yes, gluten. But let's not stop there.... There have been many meat recalls lately. Let's also stop eating beef, pork, and chicken. Oh my God.... there's mercury in the ocean.... better add fish to that list. We may starve to death, but at least we'd die healthy.


grind's picture

While I'm not a food scientist or nutritionist or anything really, I think one of the keys to healthier grain based eating is fermentation.  Bread has always been fermented flour/grain or what have you.  Much of grocery store bread skips the fermentation process and flour becomes bread in a couple of hours.  In fact, there are flour mixes designed to skip the entire fermentation process all together and goes by the scary name no time bread.  I know a couple of people who can only eat long fermented flour products and not their quicker incarnations.  They don't get that bloated feeling with slow rise breads.

suave's picture

The point of most nutrition books is to leverage public misperception, fear and/or your good name into a quick buck.  This one is no exception.

Crider's picture

Not yet, anyway. Monsanto is testing it on a 900 acre plot this winter, though.

However, a lot of the crap they add to supermarket bread, such as high fructose corn syrup, is GMO. A few weeks ago I made up some seitan from scratch. It was pretty easy to make and had nice texture and flavor great in a very spicy Thai red curry. It is a nice way to test one's own glutin intolerance and I'm glad to say we don't have any gluten intolerance.

bakingbadly's picture

Depending on the definition, wheat may or may not be "genetically modified".

Interspecies breeding of wheat has occurred for thousands of years since our ancestors switched from nomadic to agrarian life-styles. However, the development of recombinant DNA techniques and the creation of transgenic wheat did not occur until the 1980s and onwards.

To this day transgenic wheat is not widely accepted, whereas transgenic maize and rice are deemed more acceptable.

fancy4baking's picture

Conflicting researches with obscure goals. We even have searches assuring that including whole wheat in our dietry system reduces the risk in heart attack and illnesses of the nerves due to the richness of the bran with vitamin B series and other valuable nutrients!!!!

What i know is, eating sensibly is the key factor to avoid any disorder associated with food. Water for example, given the fact that no living entity can live without it, consuming it over the body needs will surely result in unfavorable symptoms.

Fats (saturated and unsaturated) are important to our bodies, provided they are consumed sensibly and with reason without exaggeration.

What i know also, is bread is the food that mankind have lived upon since thousands of years ago and was held in sacred position as was offered to gods as a precious offering in religious rituals.

Last but not least...IT IS DELICIOUS

So eat it sensibly and enjoy it :D

varda's picture

Guess why no one writes a book that says don't eat too much and exercise regularly.    True but not much of a sales angle.   Fortunately those of us with doctors who haven't been bought off, hear this on a regular basis.  -Varda

dabrownman's picture

us afflicted with diabetes know the exact effect of bread on each of us because we test our blodd 1 hour after eating to see wjhat our blod sugar level are.   It is different for each of us but still common none the less.  Bread being a complex carbohydrate is broken down to some kind of sugar that is not good for us.

SD and YW breads and those with whole grains are more slowly metabolized  so they do not spike blood sugar levels like white breads or those made with commercial yeasts do.   But they still spike blood sugar levels none the less.  Not as much and over a longer time but this difference makes all the difference for folks like me.  Gluten doesn't make any difference in bread sor diabetics unless you remove it by replacing it with non carbohydrate or lower carbohydrate ingredients that also have less gluten. 

I can only eat 4 half slices of bread a day if it is high in whole grains and SD /YW.  Like the one I am making today.  It;s is not that I don't like white flour baggies or David Snyder'e Pugliese Capriosso but they are not the best choice for me personally - if I want to eat bread in moderate amounts and not die from it.

bakingbadly's picture

Thank you for sharing this, Dab. My grandfather had type 2 diabetes and avoided or limited his intake of certain foods and beverages, so I'm a bit knowledgeable about the restrictions associated with diabetes.

For a while I was wondering about how whole grain sourdough affected blood sugar levels, and you confirmed my suspicions. It still raises blood sugar, but more slowly and not as drastically as non-sourdough, non-whole grain breads.

I have a question that perhaps you may answer: In terms of baker's percentage, how much starter is required to make a bread loaf safe for consumption for most diabetics?

dabrownman's picture

What is right for me may not be right for another diabetic.  What I do may not be safe for another.

Still, the amount of starter is not really an issue.  If you use 1 g of stiff starter or 20 g , I have done both, you build a levain that is large enough to raise your bread.  the 1 with 1 g may take 24 hours to make a levain to raise a loaf of bread and and the 20 g one only 4 hours.  You still end up with the same amount of levain, one just takes longer.  

bakingbadly's picture

After reading your reply, I realized my question was rather silly.

Thank you for your answer. :) 


Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

....air is polluted and we would all be healthier if we stopped breathing!
There is just so very much pseudo science out there. Eat all things in moderation don't smoke and do wear a seat belt, don't use a cell phone while driving and don't text while driving.

FuriousYellow's picture

I don't believe any of the doctors or food companies when they make ther claims about what is "healthy", or "natural". Humans can eat wheat products (in proper moderation of course) just fine without any problems. The main concern with breads is the way they are produced. The "natural" way to make bread is to slowly ferment it using natural yeast, which breaks down the proteins and starches, and acidifies the product to make it more digestible. The way industrialized bakeries do it is by using mechanical and chemical methods to force the bread to rise in an hour or less, without it properly beginning the fermentation process. This makes it very hard for the body to digest and is very hard on your GI system and glocose levels. In most cases, people with gluten sensitivities can consume naturally leavened bread just fine, and a lot of these digestive disorders werent even around before the whole industrialisation of food production was here.

Same thing goes for other foods too. Anything a major comapany can create and market to make a profit on is deemed healthy, take for instance margarine and shortening. Humans have been using meat and in particular pork fat (lard) as an energy source since basically the beginning of our existence. What makes people think that all of a sudden this is bad for you and synthetic foods like hydrogenated oils are good? There's been a lot of discussion around the interwebs about the true cause of cardiac problems in western society, and them not being apparant till after these "processed" fats came to be forced on our shopping lists. A good place to start reading is here: Sorry this is becoming a rant, but just dont believe everything that the big food corporations, the pharmaceutical companies and the doctors sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies have to say about it all. Remember they are all people just trying to convince you to give them your money. Watch what you eat and how much of it, and add diversity while keeping processed foods out when you can. Most of all, ENJOY what you eat!

lazybaker's picture

Remember when the topic of acrylamide was in the news. FDA website on acrylamide:

I remember telling myself never to eat fried foods ever again. Well, that didn't last long. Though, I do indulge occasionally. 

copyu's picture

Bread-lovers should all enjoy it, as well.

This comes from the "Gluten-Free" community and the author indicates that he felt slightly 'insulted' by the thesis of the book. He also seems to feel outraged by some of the misrepresentations and wilful corruption of the studies used to support the thesis—some of which are diametrically opposed to the good doctor's basic ideas.



Crider's picture

Perhaps the more apt title for this thread should be The Dangers of Wheat Belly.

grind's picture

I keep thinking about all those movie Teamsters I worked with who became religious followers of the Atkins' Diet so many years ago.  I would see them every morning eating 4 egg breakfasts and endless slices of streaky bacon and ham, but no toast!  Toast was the enemy.

EvaB's picture

I have never liked to eat bread I ate it under protest and still don't eat it that much. I am 61, and have diabetes and fat, both of which are not the result of wheat consumption. So that goes out the window for me!

I also have Native American ancestry and most natives didn't eat a lot of wheat or grain, we ate a lot of wild game, and fruits, not a lot of breads or bread type foods. I find that if I stick to the diet I preferred as a child I do much better with my diabetes. This leans heavily to meat (not beef either can't stand most beef these days) with lots of green vegetables, loved raw veggies as a kid, hated them cooked, and very little bread or pasta type foods.

If you consider the rise of the diabetes and heart conditions in the North in the native cultures you will see that eating has changed from a mostly meat and fat fed diet with berries and other greens mostly picked and dried in summer to eating the white man's diet of milk (most aboriginies are milk/lactose intolerant) white bread, mac and cheese, and cake and cookies with very little meat or greens or veggies other than potatoes etc.

I eat a lot of beans, and meat, I absolutely love potatoes but they do not love me, they raise my sugar levels worse than sugar ! I don't eat rice have never really liked it, although I will eat wild rice which of course isn't rice, and brown rice on occasion. Hated mac and cheese even the good stuff that was home made, and pasta is mostly really not my thing. I was a picky kid, and when I gave up being picky I wound up getting diabetes.

sam's picture
grind's picture

The baker from Sonoma speaks on fermentation, bread and health -

serifm's picture

I am fed up to the back teeth with the deluge of media hype about food. Any sort of food. Doesn't matter what kind. If you eat red meat, you're going to die. If you eat eggs, you're going to die. If you use aspartame, you're going to die. My grandmother lived to be 95 and ate whatever she liked, iincluding using artificial sweetener. I'm 75 and in excellent health. I eat what I like.

Most of these gurus are either on TV or trying to sell a book. As I said, it's all some sort of bunk and not backed up by solid research.

pjaj's picture

I heartily agree with your comment. There are far too many charlatans out there willing to jump on any bandwagon to make a fast buck, become a "celebrity", or just start yet another scare campaign. Look at the recent brouhaha about horse meat being sold as beef here in Europe. The crime that was committed was fraud, the mislabeling of food, but anyone would think we were all going to be poisoned by perfectly edible meat (provided the animals had been healthy and the meat correctly handled and stored). The question as to whether you want to eat horse is a different matter.

There's an old saying "a little of what you fancy does you good" (provided you don't fancy poison!). The critical word here is "little", in other words "all things in moderation", some wheat, some other grains, some red meat, some fish, some fruit etc. Humans have evolved as omnivores, this is fairly obvious from both our teeth which are neither those of a pure carnivore (mainly sharp flesh cutting) nor herbivore (substantial plant grinding) and the fact we can thrive on a range of vegetables, animal and insect products depending on where in the world we live and what is available. Vegetarians have certain nutritional problems with things like iron and vitamin D unless they take dietary supplements or take other precautions.

So, in conclusion, wheat is not a dangerous food unless you suffer from some form of intolerance. Otherwise it can form a basic part of your daily diet should  you so desire. But not eating it because some guy wants to make a profit from his dubious book is not a good enough reason.