I’ve written a few posts about how the Wisdom of Crowds is changing what we see offered in restaurants and grocery stores. Thanks to books like Wheat Belly, numerous blogs and discussion groups in social media, more and more people are figuring out they’re better off without wheat and other grains.
Well … you didn’t think the grain industry would take that lying down, did you? We’re talking about the most profitable sector of the food business, and one of the most profitable industries on the planet.
The grain industry is pushing back with media articles I’m going to start calling the Save The Grain Campaign. Let’s look at a couple of recent examples.
We’ll start with an online article titled 5 Unintended Consequences of Going Gluten-Free:
A gluten-free diet is becoming more and more popular for a variety of reasons. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness estimates that 1% of the American population has celiac disease, the autoimmune disease triggered by gluten. An NPD Group study from 2013, however, showed that 30% of Americans are trying to cut back on or completely avoid gluten in their diets.
Hmm, you’d almost think there are benefits to giving up gluten even for people who don’t have celiac disease. Or maybe it’s just a fad. I don’t know.
Going gluten-free, though, isn’t without it’s downsides.
But learning the difference between its and it’s has very few downsides.
Here are 5 things to think about if you’re cutting gluten from your diet.
1. You may be missing out on important vitamins. We started enriching staples in the American diet — through flour, mostly — with iron and B vitamins for two reasons: we’re notoriously bad at getting our recommended daily value, and deficiencies cause things like birth defects and anemia.
Well, that and the fact that if you live on wheat flour that isn’t fortified, you’re prone to birth defects and anemia.
While people suffering from celiac disease physically can’t absorb most nutrients, if you’re cutting out gluten without really thinking about all the nutrients you get from wheat products, you may find that you’re not doing your body any favors. Inside Tracker explains some of the nutrients you’ll need to actively seek out when you go gluten-free:
Fiber, which helps your body slow the absorption of sugar into the blood and works to improve digestion, as well as helps you feel full for a longer period of time.
Folic acid, a B vitamin that the federal government mandates manufacturers to add to their wheat-based products.
Iron, which many U.S.-produced wheat flours are fortified with and helps the body move oxygen to your muscles and organs, but few gluten-free flours are iron-enriched. An iron deficiency can make you anemic and weak.
Got that, folks? Don’t, for heaven’s sake, eat vegetables for fiber and meat for B vitamins and iron. You need your gluten foods to get the iron and folic acid that are artificially added.
2. It can get pricey. If you’ve started a gluten-free diet, regardless of the reason, you’ve probably noticed that many of the staples in an American diet revolve around wheat. Most of the popular foodstuffs made traditionally — cereal, bread, etc. — will have a lower cost at checkout than those now being made with ingredients and processes new to their processing plants.
So don’t worry yourself about the costs of treating asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, Sjogren’s, psoriasis, arthritis, migraines or diabetes. You’ll save almost a dollar when you buy wheat bread vs. gluten-free bread.
3. You may gain weight. Many people jumping on the gluten-free train are hoping to lose weight by cutting gluten from their diets. Men’s Fitness reports that many of the replacements for wheat flour used by manufacturers — cornstarch, rice flour — are more calorically dense than their wheat counterparts.
Man, that’s enough to make me consider basing my diet on meats and vegetables instead of cornstarch.
If you do have celiac disease, you may notice a quick increase in your weight once you cut gluten out of your diet. Celiac.com explains that one of the effects of gluten on the system of someone with the autoimmune disease is that nutrients aren’t absorbed well, or at all. Removing gluten and restarting your nutrient absorption means you’re actually going to start feeding your body, and you may see some weight gain.
Okay, you silly celiac sufferers: Do you really want to start absorbing nutrients again if it means you might gain weight? Stick with the wheat and stop trying to actually feed your body. You’ll look better in a swimsuit — and remember, wheat is fortified with important nutrients your body needs even though you can’t absorb them well, or at all.
4. The slightest bit of gluten can make you miserable. Especially if you have celiac disease! While you’re eating gluten regularly, your body slogs through the reaction, but if you cut gluten from your diet, the tiniest bit can cause a major reaction.
Once again, you silly celiac sufferers, listen up! Your body has learned to slog through the reaction to a food that makes you sick. Trust your body on this one. If you stop eating the food that makes you sick and then eat it again later, you could feel really sick! So just keep eating it.
And to all you alcoholics out there, I’m warning you: If you stop drinking a pint of whiskey every day and then later decide to drink a pint of whiskey, you’ll feel really, really sick! So don’t be an idiot – keep drinking so your body doesn’t forget how to slog through the reaction.
5. Your cholesterol may rise. If you have celiac disease and your body hasn’t been properly absorbing nutrients, you may have particularly low cholesterol. At the point when you begin to normalize, though, your cholesterol may jump up.
And as we all know, cholesterol is a killer. So keep eating the food that makes you sick and prevents you from properly absorbing nutrients so you can continue to have particularly low cholesterol. (But be sure to choose fortified wheat products, because they contain important nutrients you can’t properly absorb.)
The next article in the Save The Grain Campaign comes from the CBC in Canada and is titled Wheat Belly arguments are based on shaky science, critics say. Normally I start with a quote from the top of an article, but in this case I think it’s more instructive to pull a quote that explains why the grain industry is scared @#$%less of Dr. William Davis and his Wheat Belly book:
Kellogg’s, the world’s largest cereal maker, has seen its biggest drop in sales since the 1970s. Food companies are selling off their struggling bread divisions, while wheat sales are plummeting across Canada.
That’s because millions of people are going wheat-free, influenced by best-selling health evangelists and celebrities who say wheat is responsible for everything from fat bellies to breast cancer to schizophrenia.
So yeah, I think it’s safe to say the grain industry is none too happy with Dr. Davis. When I had dinner with him in December, I told him – only half-joking – to please say out of dark alleys.
Here are some other quotes from the article:
Critics say the anti-wheat claims made by leading health crusader Dr. William Davis are based on shaky science, an investigation by the fifth estate has found.
Newsflash: Dr. Davis’ critics are criticizing him. Stop the presses.
Davis and others in the anti-wheat movement are changing the way people eat — 56 per cent of Canadians now report they’re cutting down on foods such as bread, breakfast cereals, pastas and pastries.
That can’t be good. That means the Canadians are missing out on important nutrients. And if they have celiac disease, they may gain weight and see their cholesterol rise once they begin absorbing nutrients.
But the fifth estate’s investigation found that experts in the scientific community say scientific claims made by the anti-wheat movement are questionable at best.
Joe Schwarcz, a chemist at McGill University dedicated to demystifying science and debunking big claims, says, “This is one of these arguments that has one smidgen of scientific fact to it, which is then exploded into a whole blob of nonsense.”
Schwarcz says he hasn’t seen any evidence that wheat has addictive properties, as Davis claims in his book. Schwarcz also says “opioid peptides” are produced when some foods are digested. But just because they can bind to opiate receptors in the brain doesn’t mean they produce a morphine-like effect.
It appears that Davis based this claim mainly on one study of rat brains, done on dead rats in 1979. The fifth estate could not locate any study on humans that conclusively proves wheat is addictive.
That’s a bit like saying the fifth estate could not locate any study on humans that conclusively proves orange hats cause brain cancer. The studies haven’t been done. But let’s suppose for the sake of argument that wheat isn’t truly addictive. So what? I only care if it’s good or bad for me.
Davis also links wheat to mental illness such as schizophrenia. But the study he based his research on was conducted in 1966 …
Um … meaning it’s not valid? It’s past the expiration date?
… and after almost 50 years of research, no one consulted by the fifth estate could point to any definitive study that specifically links wheat to schizophrenia.
Um …meaning researchers have spent nearly 50 years trying and failing to find a link between wheat and schizophrenia? I’m pretty sure the accurate statement would be something like as far as the fifth estate can determine, nobody has conducted any further research on the subject since 1966.
What about Davis’s claim that today’s wheat is not wheat at all, but a “modern creation of genetics research”?
Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have been studying the genetic profiles of 37 varieties of wheat grown in Canada since the 1800s, to discover if wheat’s basic protein structure has been altered in any way.
Wheat geneticist Dr. Ravi Chabbar is heading up the Saskatchewan project and is paid to advise the grain industry, but this particular project is being funded by the federal government.
Oh, well, if this study is funded by the federal government, it couldn’t possibly be biased. It’s not as if Canada is a major wheat exporter or anything.
Dr. Chabbar says that over time, wheat has been modified to produce high-yield crops. But when it comes to wheat’s proteins – gluten and gliadins – the basic structure of “ancient” and modern wheat is the same.
So we have this stuff that only grows two feet tall, with an abnormally thick stalk, and yields ten times as much per acre as traditional wheat. But nothing’s really changed in the proteins. Trust us on that one. The fact that rates of celiac disease have increased by 400% in the past 50 years is a coincidence.
Yoni Freedhoff, a family doctor and diet expert who runs a nutrition clinic in Ottawa, says the eating guidelines touted in Wheat Belly are similar to other carb-free diets that get results by dramatically reducing the carbohydrates and calories people eat.
He argues that the difference here is Davis, not any miracle cure: “This just took it to another level with a very charismatic doctor, who has a presentation that to me is reminiscent of an evangelical preacher.”
Dr. Davis would be flattered to know he’s considered charismatic, but the news site did its best to minimize the charisma.
More than five years ago, I wrote a long piece about how to bias a news story on my other blog. (If you read it, don’t leave a comment there. That blog is dormant until I have more time.) The CBC article provides some fine examples, but perhaps I should have mentioned that selecting pictures is also a neat way to color a story. Media outlets do it all the time.
Suppose the president gives a speech demanding some new tax or regulation the media types support. You’ll probably see a picture like this accompanying the story:
Who could possibly oppose a tax or regulation proposed by such a confident-looking leader? We are literally looking up to him in the photo.
Now suppose that after months of the president insisting that if you like your policy, you can keep your policy, it turns out you can’t actually keep your policy – and even the media types are upset (or perhaps just embarrassed that they dutifully repeated the lie without bothering to read the Federal Register and look like shills as a result). When the president faces the press to give his version of a mistakes were made but not by me speech, you’re more likely to see a photo like this:
The confidence is gone, and unless my eyes are deceiving me, we’re even looking down on the man a bit.
Anyway, you get the idea. Picture selection is no accident. Media types choose the picture that conveys their attitude about the subject.
Hi-res video is a great source for getting exactly that picture you want, especially if the subject is talking. When we talk, our mouths adopt funny shapes, our eyes open and close, etc. Take a video of a person talking, I guarantee you can find some unflattering frames. Or some flattering frames. Take your pick.
When I wrote about my interview with Dr. Davis back in December, I chose this frame from a video clip:
Dr. Davis looks intelligent and confident. That was, of course, my intention. Now here’s the shot the CBC people chose for their article:
He looks belligerent and slightly scary … like some evil genius out to destroy the wheat industry.
Back to the article:
But the fact remains that despite the vast majority of scientists and health organizations not supporting much of what Dr. Davis says, more and more people are giving up grains.
Yup. That’s because despite what the vast majority of scientists and health organizations say, people are learning about the benefits of giving up wheat and other grains via the Wisdom of Crowds. They’re trying gluten-free diets, seeing positive results, and sharing those results with the crowd. They’re ignoring the vast majority of scientists and health organizations because they’re tired of being given advice that doesn’t work.
And there’s nothing the Save The Grain Campaign can do about it.