Ancient Wheat Was Superfood?

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Duck Dodgers (who posts comments here now and then) wrote a long post on the Free the Animal blog titled How Wheat Went From Superfood To Liability.

Don’t worry; he’s not encouraging you to toddle down to the Olive Garden for a bowl of pasta and stop for some (ahem) “whole-wheat” bread on the way home. His point, as briefly as I can state it, is that ancient wheat was a nourishing food — which we turned into garbage through modern milling and refining.

I enjoy Duck’s Free the Animal guest posts because he fires arrows at the sacred cows of paleo and low-carb.

What?! You enjoy that?!

Yes, I do. We don’t learn in an echo chamber. We learn by being challenged, and by being willing to change our minds. At one time, I believed all the horsehocky about saturated fat clogging our arteries, red meat causing cancer, etc. I changed my mind because people challenged my beliefs. Thank goodness they did.

I encourage you to read the entire post. Go ahead, I’ll wait …

Okay, with that out of the way (and in case you didn’t read the post), I’ll pluck some quotes and add my own comments. As you’ll see, I think Duck makes some excellent points, but I’m still not persuaded ancient wheat was a superfood.

So, how did cultures regard wheat and whole grains before the industrial revolution? According to the historical literature, wheat was not some kind of sub-par caloric filler or cheap energy. Every culture had its superfood and wheat was, hands down, the superfood of Western civilization. Whole wheat is not just calories and nutrients. It contains of all sorts of phenolics, carotenoids, sterols, β-glucan, resistant starch, inulin, oligosaccharides, lignans, and other phytonutrients. Much of the health benefits of wheat are believed to come from these phytonutrients.

Economist Thomas Sowell once said that when his students declared this or that to be good or bad, his next question was: compared to what?

Duck makes a convincing case that ancient wheat was far better than the refined garbage people eat today. But was a wheat-based diet healthy compared to a hunter-gatherer diet?

Anthropologist Jared Diamond famously called the switch to agriculture the worst mistake in the history of the human race, based largely on observations of human remains.  Some quotes from his article in Discover:

In some lucky situations, the paleopathologist has almost as much material to study as a pathologist today. For example, archaeologists in the Chilean deserts found well preserved mummies whose medical conditions at time of death could be determined by autopsy. And feces of long-dead Indians who lived in dry caves in Nevada remain sufficiently well preserved to be examined for hookworm and other parasites.

Usually the only human remains available for study are skeletons, but they permit a surprising number of deductions. To begin with, a skeleton reveals its owner’s sex, weight, and approximate age. In the few cases where there are many skeletons, one can construct mortality tables like the ones life insurance companies use to calculate expected life span and risk of death at any given age. Paleopathologists can also calculate growth rates by measuring bones of people of different ages, examine teeth for enamel defects (signs of childhood malnutrition), and recognize scars left on bones by anemia, tuberculosis, leprosy, and other diseases.

One straight forward example of what paleopathologists have learned from skeletons concerns historical changes in height. Skeletons from Greece and Turkey show that the average height of hunger-gatherers toward the end of the ice ages was a generous 5′ 9” for men, 5′ 5” for women. With the adoption of agriculture, height crashed, and by 3000 B. C. had reached a low of only 5′ 3” for men, 5′ for women.

At Dickson Mounds, located near the confluence of the Spoon and Illinois rivers, archaeologists have excavated some 800 skeletons that paint a picture of the health changes that occurred when a hunter-gatherer culture gave way to intensive maize farming around A. D. 1150. Studies by George Armelagos and his colleagues then at the University of Massachusetts show these early farmers paid a price for their new-found livelihood. Compared to the hunter-gatherers who preceded them, the farmers had a nearly 50 per cent increase in enamel defects indicative of malnutrition, a fourfold increase in iron-deficiency anemia (evidenced by a bone condition called porotic hyperostosis), a threefold rise in bone lesions reflecting infectious disease in general, and an increase in degenerative conditions of the spine, probably reflecting a lot of hard physical labor.

A six-inch crash in height, with a rise in dental defects and infectious diseases (bearing in mind that the Dickson Mounds natives were growing maize, not wheat).  Other anthropologists have made similar observations.  When we took up farming, our health declined.

To be clear, Diamond doesn’t argue that grains induced those problems directly. He writes that perhaps when humans became farmers, the crops squeezed out a more varied and nutrient-dense hunter-gatherer diet, leading to malnutrition.  But it’s clear that switching from a hunter-gatherer diet to a grain-based agricultural diet didn’t make us taller or healthier. Quite the opposite.

Back to Duck’s post:

Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, not only recommended bread as a health-promoting staple, but he was keenly interested in experimenting with different preparations of wheat.

If wheat was so deleterious, you’d think that Hippocrates would have noticed it and warned against its consumption instead of recommending it for the prevention of disease.

Hippocrates was not alone. Avicenna recommended bread as a key staple of the diet. Paracelsus believed that wheat had mystical properties, and Aristotle thought foods made from wheat suits our bodies best. And, what we see over and over again in the historical literature is that wheat was once considered to be the most nutritious and most important edible plant in the entire vegetable kingdom. Bread was known as the Staff of life—it was the de facto superfood for agriculturalists.

Setting aside the appeal to authority, I’d ask the Sowell question again: compared to what? If Hippocrates was getting good results with his patients by having them substitute wheat for pork and green vegetables, then I’d say he was onto something. But we don’t seem to have that information. Maybe the wheat replaced swill.

Much of Duck’s post quotes doctors from previous centuries who recommended wheat as a health food. Okay, fair enough. That’s interesting at the very least.  But given how often established medical opinion has turned out to be wrong over the centuries, I wouldn’t consider it solid evidence that ancient wheat was a superfood and didn’t cause health problems.

In both of his Wheat Belly books, Dr. William Davis blames the gliadin portion of gluten for causing many, if not most, of what he considers to be wheat’s deleterious effects. The ability of gliadin to increase gut permeability has been well established in recent years and is not, as far as I know, controversial. (If you Google “gliadin intestinal permeability,” you can read from now until you retire.)

Duck’s main point in his post is that milling and refining wheat turned it into health-sapping garbage. I agree wholeheartedly. But unless ancient wheat didn’t contain gliadin or we were somehow protected against the effects on gut permeability, I suspect wheat has always had the ability to induce auto-immune reactions. Perhaps those reactions weren’t linked to wheat because everyone ate the stuff.

I’m reminded of something I read in The Emperor of All Maladies, a hefty book about the history of cancer: when a doctor first floated the idea that smoking causes lung cancer, the vast majority of other doctors and researchers scoffed. They continued scoffing for years.  As the author (an oncologist) explains, it’s been historically difficult for doctors to accept that something causes a disease if 1) nearly everyone is exposed to it, and 2) most of them never develop the disease.

At one time, nearly everyone smoked. Doctors smoked. The banker smoked.  Your neighbor smoked.  Your in-laws smoked.  It was considered normal behavior. Heck, everyone does it, and few of them develop cancer, so it can’t be the smoking. Move along, let’s find the real cause.

When reading that passage, I thought, Hmm, just like with wheat. Everyone eats wheat, so it can’t be bad for us.

At a dinner some years ago, a friend I hadn’t seen in ages asked why I was skipping the bread and pasta. When I told him, he was incredulous. What?! How can wheat possibly be bad for us? Almost everyone eats wheat! People have been eating wheat since biblical times!

Well, yes. But from what I remember of the Bible, healing the sick was one of the real crowd-pleasing portions of the Jesus show.

True, we’ve been eating wheat for as long as we’ve been civilized. We’ve also had diabetes, cancer, heart disease, psoriasis, asthma, arthritis and schizophrenia for as long as we’ve been civilized. Wheat may have caused or contributed to all of them – even if, as with smoking and lung cancer, no single one of those diseases afflicted most people.

Back to Duck:

In his book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, Dr. William Davis claimed that modern hybrids of wheat are to blame for all modern health issues. However, this is not supported by the scientific literature—nor is it supported by France’s lower levels of chronic diseases despite considerably higher wheat intakes.

Ahh, those wacky French. Truth is, I’m not sure what to make of them. They’re twice as likely to smoke as Americans, but have lower rates of heart disease … yet I wouldn’t cite them as proof that smoking doesn’t cause heart disease. I suspect that the American diet of HFCS, refined flour and industrial seed oils creates a perfect storm for inducing disease, which the French avoid by shunning the HFCS and seed oils and embracing natural animal fats.  They might still be better off without the wheat.

Or perhaps someday we’ll learn that the French are healthier than us because spending an hour with your mistress before heading home for dinner with the wife and kids prevents nearly all chronic diseases. Chareva disagrees with that hypothesis and offered evidence that anyone who tests it will end up sleeping in a chicken coop.

Duck’s hypothesis is more interesting, despite not involving mistresses:

By 1953, Newfoundland had enacted mandatory fortification of white flour. By 1954, Canada and a number of US states had enacted the Newfoundland Law. Southern states in particular were eager to enact the law, to reduce pellagra, that had become prevalent during the Great Depression. These states typically mandated fortification of flour, bread, pasta, rice and corn grits.

In 1983, the FDA significantly increased the mandated fortification levels—coinciding with the beginning of the obesity epidemic. 1994 was the first year that obesity and diabetes statistics were available for all 50 states. Notice a pattern?

Fortifying flour may have ended the deficiencies of the Great Depression, but it appears to have significantly worsened chronic diseases.

Furthermore, wheat flour fortification may explain the popularity of non-celiac gluten sensitivity we see today in fortified countries (it was extremely rare prior to fortification). As it turns out, iron fortificants have been shown to promote significant gastric distress, even at low doses and pathogenic gut profiles in developing countries. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is virtually unheard of in unfortified countries, like France, which consume 40% more wheat than Americans.

That’s the most eye-opening section of the post as far as I’m concerned. Before reading the brief history that Duck cites here, it never occurred me to that fortifying grain could make it worse. If gliadin didn’t cause gut permeability back in the day (still a big IF in my book), that could be the explanation.

As far as modern wheat goes, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: Norman Borlaug, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his part in developing semi-dwarf wheat, was a good man.  He set out to prevent mass starvation, and he succeeded. Given a choice between semi-dwarf wheat or watching my kids die of starvation, I’ll take the wheat every damned time.

That being said, I still believe semi-dwarf wheat is something those of us who aren’t starving should avoid. Duck makes a good case that milling, refining and fortifying wheat turned it into a health hazard. But the changes in semi-dwarf likely threw gasoline on that fire. Here’s a quote from Wheat Belly Total Health:

One important change that has emerged over the past 50 years, for example, is increased expression of a gene called Glia-α9, which yields a gliadin protein that is the most potent trigger for celiac disease. While the Glia-α9 gene was absent from most strains of wheat from the early 20th century, it is now present in nearly all modern varieties.

Now let’s mill it, refine it, and fortify it. Awesome.

Dr. Davis believes the change in the gliadin gene is the reason celiac disease has increased by 400% in the past 50 years — and that’s a genuine increase, by the way, not a case of better diagnosis.  Researchers realized as much when they compared blood samples from 50 years ago to recent blood samples.  The modern samples were four times as likely to contain antibodies triggered by celiac disease.

Duck, on the other hand, believes fortification is the likely culprit.  It’s an interesting possibility.

Back to Duck:

Nor does Dr. David Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers, explain how humanity enjoyed its highest levels of intellectual achievement while largely eating wheat and other grains as staple foods—enjoying unprecedented population growth and longevity as well.

I can explain that one. In a previous post, I mentioned Conquests and Cultures, by Thomas Sowell. One of the book’s main points is that economic specialization is required for cultures to advance. If pretty much everyone has to hunt and gather food, there will be no pianos, printing presses, telescopes or steam engines. There’s no doubt that agriculture led to economic specialization, and thus civilization and intellectual achievement.

But that doesn’t prove eating grains had a positive or even a neutral effect on our brains. It simply means that in a civilization where farming allows most people to do something else, Mozart becomes a composer and Voltaire becomes a writer. In a paleo society, Mozart is the hunter who sings those amazing songs around the campfire, and Voltaire is the hunter whose clever stories amuse his pals during the long walks home from a hunt. They may have had genius IQs, but we’ll never know. We do know that human brains have, in fact, been shrinking since their peak size roughly 20,000 years ago.

Another point Sowell makes in Conquests and Cultures is that civilizations advance through cross-pollination of ideas, technologies and resources. Throughout history, cross-pollination was often the result of large-scale conquest. (Sowell doesn’t ignore or excuse the brutality of conquest, by the way.)  Conquering an inhabited territory requires a large army (another example of economic specialization), which requires a large population, which requires agriculture.

In Europe and the Middle East, the “crop of conquest” was wheat. In the Western Hemisphere, it was maize that enabled the Aztecs and Mayans to build cities and raise armies large enough to establish empires. But again, that doesn’t prove the conquerors were healthier or smarter than the tribes they subjugated. It only proves that farming enabled them to raise and feed large armies.

Okay, time to wrap up. This is already a long post about a long post. To summarize:

Duck believes ancient wheat was a nutritious food, not a health hazard. Maybe, but I remain skeptical. Maybe ancient wheat was good, maybe it was neutral, maybe it was bad but not nearly as bad as the stuff sold today.  I still think it’s likely wheat has been provoking auto-immune reactions in susceptible people since the dawn of civilization.

But whether wheat was good or bad back in ancient times, the refined and fortified garbage sold today is a health hazard. On that we totally agree.  So unless you want to go out and find some ancient wheat (which Duck explains how to do in his post) and give it a try, my advice remains the same:

Don’t Eat Wheat.


132 thoughts on “Ancient Wheat Was Superfood?

  1. Nads

    I don’t think it helps to sort the wheat from the chaff, pun intended, that the anti wheat people like Dr Davis and Dr Perlmutter also say to give up sugar and all carbs.

    The most significant difference I found in my health and wellbeing was from when I gave up sugar. Although I have since given up wheat except for trace amounts, and many carbs, amd vegetable oils.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Dr. Davis doesn’t say to give up all carbs. He says to keep the carbs low enough to avoid blood sugar spikes, but also recommends green bananas, raw potato, etc. as sources of resistant starch in his latest book.

  2. Stipetic

    Religion has always had a huge role as far as how bread has been percieved historically. According to my wife’s grandparents (old Greeks), I’m committing blasmphemy for not feeding my kids bread. After all, wasn’t it part of Jesus’ last meal? Also, I think Duck confuses superfood with availability. The anthropological record, as pointed out by Jared Diamond, and many others whom you quote, is quite clear that there was a decline in human health correlated closely with the introduction of wheat. Just look at the anthropological dental record and that becomes even clearer. All this predates fortification. The effect of fortification is an interesting subject, but it cast a dark shadow on wheat, and other grain, byproducts if they needed fortification in the first place.

    1. Richard Nikoley

      “Just look at the anthropological dental record and that becomes even clearer.”

      We did. It’s actually addressed in the post Tom cited. Basically, closer examination suggests it was mechanical wear from primitive milling techniques (sand and grit in the flour). Weston Price addresses this too.

      He also found that in the remote Swiss villages he visited, the diet is: whole kernel rye bread they milled themselves, dairy, and meat about once per week. His examination of teeth: 3% (or perhaps .3%, can’t recall) cavities. Even at 3% though, it’s a 10th of the 30% average he reported populations eating processed foods.

      1. Stipetic

        Have Duck look at the entire dental data. The wear and tear seen is a totally different issue and not related to wheat ingestion per se, and most of this wear and tear data is from the paleolithic. Lots of old geezers during those times with teeth grinded to the bone. This is not a marker of adverse health. It actually shows the paleolithic diet was healthy. I’m talking caries here (paleolithic versus onwards). The record is quite clear, to me.

        1. Richard Nikoley


          First, just to remind everyone, the Duck Dodgers posts are a collaborative effort between the original Duck, myself, and two to three others usually. All this stuff gets tossed around in email for weeks, sometimes to the tune of hundreds of exchanges. Then the original Duck does the main draft, which gets tossed around more and then finally, I edit and usually add stuff of my own (in this case, I wrote the intro, the conclusion, and a few other things in-between). The original Duck writes his own comments; however, in some cases those are collaborated upon as well.

          I’ve actually been stressing this for a while (in the posts). I just wish to point out that there might be some names you’d recognize amongst the collaborators and it’s not just one guy out there. We keep it all anon, because what’s posted should be about the material, not personalities and credentials.

          So…The Duck Dodgers has looked into the entire [dental] record and our conclusion is that tooth decay is a common problem for all animals with teeth (even dolphins…who eat no grains, or even carbs). The problem for wild animals is that they have to have teeth, just as they have to be mobile, see, hear, etc. Else, they die, probably get consumed by other animals in most cases, and there’s a lack of evidence.

          Tooth decay and significant missing teeth (reasonable to presume at least some were mechanically extracted if decaying—just like Tom Hanks did on that island) are well established in the pre-agricultural Paleo record…even Neanderthal.

          What it all ads up to for us is that it’s very presumptuous to single out grains, per se, as the just-so cause of skeletal problems, including tooth decay. Moreover, we believe that emphasizing spotty-at-best anthropological records IN PLACE OF actual observations of real living people smacks of convenient narrative and confirmation bias.

          Weston Price was a dentist who observed real people, studied their teeth and their diets extensively, worldwide…I’ll remind everyone…and he developed a whole list of “wise traditions” that he believed contributed to healthy teeth and skeletal structure. He also had ideas on what compromised both by comparing identical genetic stock (twins, often enough) who had gone to live in civilization…and eating grains, per se, was not among them, but rather the lack of vitamins and minerals at large…and importantly, including soil depletion. This would have been an understandable mistake in early agriculture because people just didn’t know until they learned the hard way through crop failure. So, we conclude that the message of Price is that Physical Degeneration is a problem of insufficient nutrition. You can single out grains to prop up your Paleo narrative, but if you do, two plausible explanations come to mind: soil depletion as just mentioned, and also processing to remove the germ…analogous to eating egg whites and tossing the yolk.

          Here’s a quote from a 1892 book by Erastus Wiman in the post, quoting a “prominent English physician”:

          “Wheat and water contain all the elements necessary for man, and for the hard working man, too. Where is the man that can exist on our present white bread and water? There is an old joke about doctors being in league with undertakers; it would rather appear as if the millers and bakers were in the doctors’ pay, as if, were it not for them, and for the white bread they are so zealous in producing, the doctors would have less to do. Separating the bran from the flour became fashionable at the beginning of the present century. This fashion created the dental profession, which, with its large manufacturing industries, has grown up within the last two generations. It has reached its present magnitude only because our food is systematically deprived of lime, of salts and phosphoric acid, the creators of nerve bone, and tissue, which especially are so signally absent from our modern white bread.”

          Back to Weston Price. Here’s a widely integrated post by Chris Masterjohn on understanding Weston Price. Amongst other things, it covers with references the fact that tooth decay is an ancient problem, even in the Paleo, and also amongst wild animals, even marine mammals.

          Note particularly the sections on how tooth decay is ancient and how lots of wild animals get tooth decay.

          On balance, I find I pretty much have to dismiss all the convenient narrative concerning the Garden of Eden paleolithic as being spoiled by the advent of grains and their by-products. It’s the processing and making of by-products and combining them into engineered crack-food that’s the more Occam’s Razor explanation of health woes.

          1. Jean Bush

            Bravo, Richard, well said.

            Anyone wishing to discover the truth behind the “healthy whole grains” hype should read:

            Whole Grains, Empty Promises by Anthony Colpo, a crack researcher and nutritionist.

  3. Waltermcc

    Very nice post Tom.

    I sent a comment to Richard after his post. Growing up in the 50s and 60s, calories from animal fat averaged about 70%, the remainder going to carbs and protein. Compare Mom’s buttered scrambled egg, buttered toast and glass of whole milk (5-10% carb) versus Wheaties, sugar and skim milk (95% carb). That animal fat likely protected us against any harmful effects of wheat, industrial or otherwise.

    I think those who grew up under the influence of government “science” and its scaremongering about animal fat consumed so little fat that their health was already ruined at a young age. Even though I think Davis was too extreme with his own scaremongering, he is helping many who still have reversible health and weight issues. As I said to Richard, some of the physical and medical transformations on Davis’ blog are significant, to put it mildly.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Take away the protective animal fat and replace it with inflammation-inducing seed oils, I suspect any negative effects of grains on the gut are multiplied.

  4. carol

    I think what many modern persons do not think about with wheat is its storage capabilities. It was a superfood because it could be stored for years. All the grains were the foundation of human civilization because it allowed populations to overcome famine years or years of bad weather. Anyone who has tried to live off their own little plot of land understand just how important that can be.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Sure, and that’s also why grains allowed for travel, trade and conquest. Travelers (including soldiers) could carry a whole lot of food with them.

      1. Richard Nikoley

        They could also haul along domesticated animals for milk, who could feed off the landscape. You can get one whole heck of a lot more calories from a single animal by consuming its milk rather than slaughtering it.

    2. Joseph Shaughnessy

      About 35 years ago, my wife and I and very small children lived on 3 acres in Kearney Missouri (near KC). We had two gardens and lots of farmer neighbors. This area also has a lot of Mormons. One of the duties of Mormon families was to insure that the household always had a years supply of food in case of bad times. I was not a Mormon, but this idea of having survival food appealed to my (raised during the cold war) dystopian visions; in order to protect my family. I ended up purchasing about 20 five gallon plastic plastic buckets of wheat (packed in Nitrogen) and other supplies. Also purchased an electric mini-mill and a hand crank mill (in case of no electricity). My wife was a stay at home mom and was embracing the “earth-mother”aspect of her personality. She began making weekly bread bakes, starting with wheat and a sourdough starter and usually made about 4 loaves of what was the best tasting bread I ever had. We got our milk from a local farmer in gallon jugs with 4” of cream on top. After about 5 years, we moved to Pennsylvania because of my new job, but it was great while it lasted. We took the wheat with us to Pennsylvania and then on to Florida. I hauled that wheat along for about 25 years, or about 20 years past the point that we still made bread. I threw it out about 10 years ago, even though it was still good. The children I was trying to protect had grown up, graduated from college and moved away. In any event, wheat keeps for a very long time.

  5. Arturo Silva

    Somehow I’m reminded of Tom Standage’s “A History of the World in 6 Glasses”, and his proposition that beer likely predated bread as the first form of grain consumption in history (at least in the Old World), and possibly a driving force for the agricultural revolution. Aside from being addictive and offering a much sought-after buzz for ancient humans, the beer was also sometimes safer to drink than local drinking water, and it kept far longer than more perishable alcoholic beverages at the time, such as wine. And as an extra kicker, it was made using largely-inedible grasses, freeing up common wine-making staples for human consumption — the use of agriculture to grow more wheat didn’t have to focus on nutrient density or quality since these were never edible to begin with.

    By the time the byproducts of beer-making were discovered to make a delicious food-like substance called “bread” after being baked, the virtues of beer and all the grains used to make it were probably entrenched in a good light.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      The conclusion is obvious, then: restaurants need to stop putting breadsticks on the table and start putting out steins of beer.

    2. Firebird

      Beer was the drink of choice on ships (along with other alcoholic beverages) because the alcohol kept fresher much longer than water.

  6. Josh

    Personally, I object to the term ‘superfood’ on many levels.

    First, I am by nature a skeptic. Tell me that somebody is the world’s greatest ball player and I look to find a reason that is wrong. Superfood gives people the idea the one or two foods will cure their ills or make them much more than they are. In reality, it is, IMHO, balanced nutrition that allows for a wide variety of nutritious foods including meat, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, grains, beverages and probably a few things I have not thought of before my morning coffee. Coffee – the only true superfood. If there is one. 🙂

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Well, that’s a definition issue. Duck was merely arguing that ancient wheat was nutritious and not harmful.

  7. Firebird

    “Nor does Dr. David Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers, explain how humanity enjoyed its highest levels of intellectual achievement while largely eating wheat and other grains as staple foods—enjoying unprecedented population growth and longevity as well.”

    This was also during a time when beef was the staple meat and fowl was considered a delicacy. The fine folks at the USDA have flip-flopped that.

  8. Tatertot

    What a great article to wake to, Tom. I was hoping that the conversation would expand.

    I look at the wheat issue as a gut issue, plain and simple. The “carbs” involved are another matter. The gliaden everyone discusses as causing “leaky gut’ is described heavily in the literature on celiac disease. The actual mechanism by which it induces greater gut permeability is not fully understood, and the exact same mechanism is also invoked by lauric acid, a main component of coconut oil. As stated in this 2010 review on Tight Junctions and intestinal permeability:

    “In recent years, much has been discovered about the structure, function and regulation of TJ (Fig. 1). However, the precise mechanism(s) by which they operate is still not completely understood. The discovery of zonula occludens toxin (Zot), an enterotoxin elaborated by Vibrio cholerae that reversibly opens the TJ, increased our understanding of the intricate mechanisms that regulate the intestinal epithelial paracellular pathway.”


    “Our group has generated evidence that gliadin induces increased intestinal permeability by releasing preformed zonulin.55,56 Intestinal cell lines exposed to gliadin released zonulin in the cell medium with subsequent zonulin binding to the cell surface, rearrangement of the cell cytoskeleton, loss of occludin-ZO1 protein–protein interaction, and increased monolayer permeability.56 Pre-treatment with the zonulin antagonist AT1001 blocked these changes without affecting zonulin release. When exposed to luminal gliadin, intestinal biopsies from celiac patients in remission expressed a sustained luminal zonulin release and increase in intestinal permeability. Conversely, biopsies from non-CD patients demonstrated a limited, transient zonulin release, which was paralleled by a reduction in intestinal permeability that never reached the level of permeability seen in CD tissues. Interestingly, when gliadin was added to the basolateral side of either cell lines55 or intestinal biopsies,56 no zonulin release was detected.”


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yeah, I think we’re getting back to the notion that all disease begins in the gut. The same paper suggests that type 1 diabetes begins with intestinal permeability. If milling, refining and fortifying wheat increases permeability, that might explain the sharp rise in type 1 diabetes among kids.

  9. Richard Nikoley

    Hey Tom:

    Fair critique/rebuttal I’d say. I’m sure Duck will have more to add, but just a couple of things from my end.

    First, it’s my hope that people view “superfood” in the context of the times it grew a civilization, and not what it has become. I don’t think there’s much disagreement in terms of what it is now is not particularly good, both because of hyper-processing and enrichment (though the pesky French are still anomalous on one score, since they mostly eat refined wheat with bran and germ stripped away).

    Second, it’s difficult to compare it to a hunter-gatherer diet, since that’s the diet of small, homogenous tribes of people with only primitive divisions of labor. Wheat built Western Civilization, which means it’s the root of what sprung up in terms of a population explosion, mass division of labor and specialization, and also, importantly, animal husbandry such that way, way more people could approximate an HG diet or at least acquire those animal-derived nutrients on a massive scale that HG tribalism could never have done and didn’t over the preceding hundreds of thousands of years.

    Of course, whether one thinks modern civilization is a good thing or a disaster is not our argument. It just is and we know what did it: wheat.

    Finally, we don’t think wheat is a modern superfood simply because there are so many nutritional options available. Or, nothing should really be a “superfood” now, because we can practice hyper-omnivory. Even staple food is questionable, since a person need not limit themselves to grains, root vegetables, or legumes. They can have them all.

    I have, however, been doing an experiment using complete whole grains as breads and cereals, as a staple and reducing consumption of potatoes and beans accordingly. I’ll be posting on my impressions of that soon, once enough time has passed. I can say though: so far so good. It will be nice to be able to hopefully have these options as part of my diet for better variety in taste, texture, and convenience.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I didn’t take Duck’s use of “superfood” to mean “Man can live on bread alone.”

      Modern civilization is a good thing on balance. I want Mozart to be a composer, not a hunter who sings amazing songs nobody outside his tribe will hear.

      In “Conquests and Cultures” Sowell also makes the point (as did Jared Diamond) that a hunter-gatherer existence requires a HUGE amount of land per person, roughly a square mile each, and that of course assumes we’re talking about land with enough animals to hunt and plants to gather. I like living in the sticks, but I’m glad there are cities nearby, not just vast expanses of sparsely populated land.

  10. Angel

    The leaders and geniuses of civilization were likely NOT eating diets composed mostly of grains. They were the elite, and they were eating meat. Grain based diets were largely for the laboring lower classes.

    Hunter-gatherers may not have had civilization as we know it, but from what little I know, they didn’t have large scale malnourishment either. Small tribes were generally egalitarian enough to share high value foods like meat with the whole tribe.

    The price of civilization (in addition to modern diseases) appears to be significant advancement for some, and impoverishment for the majority. I seriously doubt that most of that class differentiation was merit-based (at least at the beginning), given that most modern people are likely descended from competent and reasonably intelligent hunter gatherers. Perhaps some enterprising epigeneticist could attempt to explain how poor diet over many generations creates a entrenched lower class of people with greater physical and mental deficiencies compared to the well fed elite. Hopefully that same epigeneticist will also explain how a nutrient-dense diet can return the impoverished class to full and robust physical and mental health within a generation or three.

    And then there are the vegans and vegetarians, who are almost exclusively middle or upper class, confounding the whole study, but probably not for long, given what we know about how deficient those diets are. Apparently one of the privileges of modern wealth is being able to starve yourself and still maintain your position in society.

    1. gabriella

      ‘Apparently one of the privileges of modern wealth is being able to starve yourself and still maintain your position in society.’

      Angel: agreed.

    2. Dave

      Excellent points! I would add to this that, perhaps initially, the nutrients from grain farming were decent enough to spur population growth without undue malnutrition. However, soil depletion has been an age old agricultural problem. As these growing populations depleted the soil, they began to experience the dark side of agriculture and grain consumption.

      In a post above, Richard Nikolay invoked Weston A. Price, referring to the Swiss farmers who had excellent dental health. While much is said about the “displacing foods of modern commerce,” Dr. Price also wrote about “soil depletion and plant and animal deterioration.” Being a subsistence farmer on marginal land is worse than eating “displacing foods of modern commerce” when you look at the diseases and deformities suffered prior to WW2 in many parts of the world. I’ve little doubt that the people Dr. Price visited enjoyed excellent health due to living in regions of good soil fertility that, combined with geographical isolation and local traditions, prevented the declines often seen in other parts of the world.

    3. Kieran

      I thought that (at least in Europe north of the Alps and Pyrenees; Mediterranean may have been different) wheat was a privilege for the upper classes, while the labouring peasants’ staples were barley, oats or rye. The upper classes did have more meat (at least more red meat), but they also had more wheat.

      It seems to have been similar in the Andes, where the lower classes often had potatoes or quinoa, while the upper classes had corn. Often it seems the lower classes had more nutritious alternatives concerning staples – however what the upper classes had was both leisure and choice/variety, as opposed to hard labour and a monotonous diet.

  11. Richard Nikoley

    …One more quick point.

    We tried to find something…anything…written about the “deleterious effects” of wheat or other cereal grains and came up with nothing. Literally only praise and marvel on a…literally…Biblical scale.

    It’s only after the Industrial Revolution with its “refinements” that you begin to find written criticisms of grains—but even those are exclusively focused on the refining practices (some of which are included in our post) and not the foodstuff itself.

    I understand that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but while it’s easy to find heaps and heaps of praise, we could find no pre-industrial criticisms. Not a single one.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Yeah, that’s a fair point, but it could simply be that people didn’t trace their ailments — and there were plenty of those — to the wheat, as with smoking and cancer for hundreds of years. Back in the days when illness was considered the result of sin or a test of faith handed down by God, nobody would blame the bread everyone ate.

      I suspect there have always been people vulnerable to the effects of gliadin, but the milling/refining/fortifying wildly increased the number of those vulnerable.

      1. Duck Dodgers

        “it could simply be that people didn’t trace their ailments — and there were plenty of those — to the wheat”

        This seems highly unlikely. Virtually every pre-industrial medical authority was obsessed with the digestive process. I find it unfathomable that they couldn’t have figured out that wheat was problematic.

        And in fact, even in the times of antiquity they knew that people with acute diseases did not fare well with wheat. As HIppocrates wrote:

        Hippocrates wrote:

        “Barley-gruel seems to have been correctly selected as teh most suitable cereal to give in these acute diseases and have a high opinion of those who selected it. Its gluten is smooth, consistent and soothing.”

        These are clearly the words of an authority who spent a great deal of time paying close attention to how people responded to different kinds of foods in response to diseases. And what he basically says is that one has to have a healthy gut to tolerate wheat. That’s not entirely surprising given the compounds in wheat.

        It’s no wonder that modern dyspeptic guts have trouble with wheat. But that doesn’t make wheat the cause of our problems. It just means that not everyone can tolerate wheat.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          Healthy gut, or perhaps merely an adapted gut. People whose ancestry goes back to Ireland or Scandinavia seem to have the lowest tolerance. From what I’ve read, those were the last regions to take up wheat as a food.

          I’ve got mostly Irish blood myself, which is probably why wheat is particularly problematic for me. My older daughter inherited that trait as well. Eat wheat, an hour or later she gets red itchy patches on her arms she calls “da bumps.” We are, of course, talking about the modern crap wheat here, but it nonetheless has a worse effect on her than any of her pals.

          1. Duck Dodgers

            I’m not sure it’s genetics. Have they found wheat genes? Our gut flora are mainly responsible for us being able to tolerate a wide variety of foods.

            For instance, if you are lactose intolerant it does not mean you cannot have milk. The majority of the Masai—who drink upwards of a liter of milk per day—are actually lactose intolerant. It’s the gut flora that allows them to tolerate milk.

            It can take a few weeks to become acclimated to wheat (or milk) if you haven’t had it in awhile or have disrupted gut flora. Make no mistake, it requires supporting a certain group of gut flora to metabolize the various wheat compounds.

            Two n=1s…

            Me? It took me 3-4 weeks to become accustomed to eating wheat again. I experienced fogginess and joint pains the first week, which subsided over time. Now I feel excellent on (real) whole wheat.

            Another reader had the severe red itchy bumps on his legs after eating wheat, but they went away after a month of eating real wheat.

            It would seem possible that Non Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is mainly attributed to mal-adapted gut flora—not necessarily genetics.

            Interestingly, Hippocrates also noticed that the gut needs time to acclimate to new foods…

            Hippocrates wrote

            “But it is surprising to learn how much distress, trouble, wind and colic in the stomach is caused by eating barley-cakes when one is accustomed to bread”

            I remember also seeing that even the Eskimos reacted to their seaweed each year it came back into season. Same thing happens to beans if you haven’t had them in awhile.

            And I doubt anyone ever acclimates to wheat when their gut is being bombarded with iron fortification—it just messes with the gut.

            1. Duck Dodgers

              Perhaps. However, Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is considered to be a questionable disease and no one is sure if it even exists.

              Wikipedia: Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

              As no biomarker for diagnosing this condition is available, its diagnosis is made by exclusion of other gluten-related disorders, namely by excluding celiac disease and related autoimmune disorders and excluding wheat allergy…There is a lack of scientific consensus as to whether NCGS exists or not. It is as yet unclear whether those who report improvement of symptoms under a gluten-free diet are in fact sensitive to the substance gluten or whether they may be, rather, sensitive to other substances in wheat, or to which extent the “fad component” to the recent rise popularity of the gluten-free diet plays a role in the perception of symptoms.

              As Alessio Fasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment recently said, “the vast majority of individuals on gluten-free diets have no business being gluten-free, because, for them, there is no medical necessity.”

              Now, you and I both know that people can become sensitive to wheat, but let’s be clear that there’s currently no evidence that non-celiacs have genetic issues with wheat.

            2. Tom Naughton Post author

              No current evidence, I’ll grant you. But again, let’s not assume science has identified every effect of every gene. I don’t think we’re even close to that.

              Your position seems to be that nobody could have a genetic intolerance for wheat besides celiacs. We’ll have to agree to differ on that. Given that wheat is a relative newcomer in places like Ireland, I think it’s entirely possible that people from there and other regions are not genetically adapted to a food the vast majority of their ancestors didn’t eat. Celiac is largely genetic and certainly the most damaging form of wheat intolerance, but I sincerely doubt it’s the only form of wheat intolerance that can be inherited.

            3. Richard Nikoley


              The problem is, whose genes? Your 30,000, or your gut bacteria’s 3 million? See, while in terms of organisms, out bacteria outnumber our cells by roughly 10-to-1, their genes outnumber out by roughly 100-to-1.

              Moreover, bacteria can basically change their genome; In essence, they can lend or borrow genes from other species when needed.

              So, appealing to genes is now muddier than ever.

              Moreover, celiac, while very bad, is rarely deadly; whereas, peanut allergy is. It’s genetic, right? Well, yes, in a sense (you know the punchline, right?), but not so fast.

              Gut Bacteria Show Potential to Block, Even Treat Peanut Allergy


            4. Tom Naughton Post author

              Not denying the gut-bacteria side of the equation. After all the recent information on the gut microbiome, I’d say dysbiosis is the likely explanation for the spike in peanut allergies.

              But given that celiac is largely genetic, I also consider it likely (as opposed to Duck, who considers it highly speculative) that there are other inherited forms of wheat intolerance.

              Chareva’s mom is highly allergic to walnuts. Not gluten, peanuts, shellfish, or anything else we know of. Just walnuts. In her case, it seems unlikely to be a gut bacteria issue — I’d expect to see more than one form of intolerance if the source was a messed-up gut. I doubt there’s any course of prebiotics, probiotics, etc., that would stop walnuts from putting her in a coma. So to me, that says the issue with walnuts is a renegade gene somewhere. And by extension, it seems likely some people have genes (whether identified or not) that make wheat problematic.

            5. Richard Nikoley

              Tom, perhaps you missed my point. If you Google it, you’ll find that peanut allergy too is “genetic.” Well, recent research now shows it’s probably at best a contributing factor. Kinda like genes are responsible for you being tall enough to bump your head on door frames, but it’s not the cause.

              Of course, one solution is to absolutely avoid open doors everywhere. 🙂

              Keep in mind also that having a particular gene (say for a particular kind of cancer) doesn’t mean you for sure get it. Same story. Other stimuli in play and my bet is that most of that is going to play out to be gut related.

              Hell, I have a file right now of at least 200 newly discovered associations with gut dysbiosis I haven’t even had time to skim yet. Damn Google alerts. Crammed inbox every morning.

            6. Tom Naughton Post author

              I understood the point. My point is that some people will have negative reactions to certain foods because of genetic factors, regardless of the health of their gut microbiome. I would be beyond surprised if there aren’t people who really and truly can’t handle wheat because of genetic factors, regardless of the health of their gut microbiome.

            7. Richard Nikoley

              Ok, so given this is now reduced to some very few people even a normal gut won’t help–or angels dancing on pin heads–can we then turn emphasis to why this ought to be a major dietary paradigm (or dogma, depending upon religious upbringing)?

            8. Tom Naughton Post author

              Heh-heh … I’m not yet convinced it’s very few people.

              I’m being logically consistent here. When some people report that a VLC diet caused them all kinds of problems, the VLC zealots jump up and down and insist no, no, no, EVERYONE should be able to thrive on a VLC diet, so if you’re not, it means you have deep metabolic issues you need to fix, etc. etc. My reply (much to the chagrin of many readers) is that most of our paleo ancestors did not live on VLC diets and so there’s no reason we should all be genetically coded to thrive on them. Raging debates ensued:


              Same goes for wheat — even ancient wheat. It’s been a human food for an eyeblink in evolutionary terms, especially in northern climates. It wasn’t a human food at all for some groups until the last century. There’s no reason we should all be genetically coded to eat it without experiencing negative effects, any more than we should all be genetically coded to eat grass. So while it’s clear that modern milling and refining has turned wheat into a health hazard for many people who would otherwise be fine with it, I’m nowhere near ready to tell people if they can’t eat wheat (even unrefined ancient wheat) without negative effects, it means they have a problem with the gut microbiome they need to fix. Could just be they shouldn’t be eating the stuff, period.

            9. Richard Nikoley

              Tom, you’ve been among the best in terms of considering new ideas and challenging old ones…

              …Well this is kinda the whole point, side from the fact that more recent research is showing that grains were being consumed way earlier than the narrative narrates (and someone just posted a YouTube in comments on my blog of our “cousins”…baboons…using diversionary tactics to raid a field of ripe grains and chowing down raw until chased off. Sure, this couldn’t have happened with out agriculture, but, as can be seen, this is very micro, primitive agriculture…not mass scale.


              The truth is, we can never know when primitive agriculture began for sure, because all evidence would have decayed and even primitively plowed swaths of land would have grown over without any trace to detect. Agriculture basically begins in ‘the narrative’ with writing. That’s how we know. Anthropologically, we’re only left with stuff stuck between teeth and residue in mortars. But, that there are mortars is itself significant. I doubt they were only used to make guac.

              Epigentics was the first chink in the armor of the human genome project, where we’re basically going to reduce everything to math. It basically only took showing sets of genetically identical twins who lived differently, environmentally, who were way different to signal “ok, next?. ” We have genes, but we are by no means their prisoners. They can be expressed differently, good or bad, and it’s back to individualism via mind and circumstance, not something the State gets to take easy advantage of, presided over by inbreds. 🙂

              Now, the microbiome threatens to set the whole thing back to where all the mass variable super-computer crunching has been expanded by 100 (and you know what that means in exponential calculation terms). Basically, double a penny every day for 100 days.

              The point is, I now believe the the evolutionary—or genetic, as you put it—narrative has been found wanting and that want is just at the beginning.

              So, I think that’s about all I have to add to this micro thread in the macro comments.

            10. Tom Naughton Post author

              Agreed there. It’s comforting in a way to realize there’s way more we don’t know than we do know. (And I won’t even get into the known unknowns vs. the unknown unknowns.) Because if we know pretty much everything and this is the best medical science can do, it’s not encouraging.

            11. Duck Dodgers

              Well, I don’t think everyone can eat wheat. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, even Hippocrates recommended barley for those with acute diseases, who did not do well on wheat. Different strokes for different folks.

              But, I’m still not sure we need to be DNA coded to eat something as a staple. Humans aren’t at all designed to eat seaweed, but many Japanese individuals possess the genes for the consumption of the algal polysaccharide porphyran in their microbiomes, which are rarely found in North American and European individuals.

              Your ability to digest compounds that can’t be degraded with human enzymes come from the help of microbes—whether it be from acquiring flora or fermenting foods.

            12. Duck Dodgers

              Tom said: “Your position seems to be that nobody could have a genetic intolerance for wheat besides celiacs.”

              Nah. Never said that. I’m just saying that it’s highly speculatory at the moment.

              “Given that wheat is a relative newcomer in places like Ireland, I think it’s entirely possible that people from there and other regions are not genetically adapted to a food the vast majority of their ancestors didn’t eat”

              Well, the problem with this is that—despite what we may see on Internet chat forums—Irish Americans are no more susceptible to celiac disease than anyone else is.

              However, what we do see in the literature is this:

              Mortality in Celiac Disease, Intestinal Inflammation, and Gluten Sensitivity (2009)

              Celiac disease is common, occurring in about 1% of the population,[8,9] although the majority of cases are undiagnosed.[10] The number of persons actually diagnosed as having celiac disease varies from country to country, depending on physician awareness of the varied clinical manifestations and the availability of blood tests for the condition.[11] The rate of diagnosis is high in some European countries such as Finland, where in some regions 70% of cases are diagnosed.[11] Within the United States, the rate of diagnosis is increasing, both in adults and children,[10,12] although only a small fraction (estimated at <5%) of cases are diagnosed.

              In other words, most countries have a 1% celiac rate. But, the variability you tend to see from Ireland to the US is due to the number of people who are actually diagnosed.

  12. Bob

    Lets presume you are a castaway on a remote island with absolutely no food . only fresh water to drink . you would maybe last a few weeks then die ! But Wait ! a crate of loaves of bread washes up ! ( I Know !! lol ) . You last a whole lot longer than a few weeks . So , bread at that point would be considered a health food , along with any sugary snacks that washed up .
    people in ages gone by ate what was available to keep them alive long enough to reproduce .
    trouble today is choice ! far too much of it , and in my opinion its the myriad of combinations of fats carbs etc thats screwing us up

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Too many combinations of refined foods and garbage our bodies don’t even recognize as food — like industrial seed oils.

      1. Duck Dodgers

        Correct. Even Hippocrates talked about how one should (obviously) not consume raw wheat. There are many foods you shouldn’t eat raw. Mushrooms are a good example, you unlock their benefits by cooking them (Reishi, chaga, etc).

    1. Richard Nikoley

      Oh sure. it’s commonly called porridge. Boil whole grains in water, milk, or a combo. Add honey, maple syrup, fresh or dried fruit, or whatever. They can also be puffed. Of course, we must remember that technically, all food preparation is “processing,” which would include butchering an animal. 🙂

      One of my favorite is teff, the oldest known grain, from the land of the original humans, Ethiopia. It’s a gluten free grain as well. It’s what they make injera with, that big spongy tortilla they put your food on in Ethiopian restaurants. Also of note: they ferment it to make the injera.

      Anyway, you can take the whole grains, which are tiny, toast them in a skillet until they begin to pop, add water and boil for about 10 minutes. Nice nutty porridge and a little maple syrup (high in manganese, an iron inhibitor) goes well.

    2. Joseph Shaughnessy

      I have been wheat free since November of 2011. Even so, my distrust is modern wheat and I am more open to ancient wheats. Every few month I will make and consume farro. It takes a long time to cook – usually 45-60 minutes. I will simmer it in water and beef broth (or turkey or chicken broth). I cook in a large skillet with the lid on, adding fluid as the Emmer wheat adsorbs the fluid. At the end, it is a little sticky with a nice nutty flavor plus the flavor of the reducing broth. Usually served as a side dish to replace rice or potatoes (which I also eat less than I used to).

  13. Vicente

    Duck says:

    “Dr. William Davis claimed that modern hybrids of wheat are to blame for all modern health issues. However, this is not supported by the scientific literature

    “ALL modern health issues”? I would like to see the source of that claim because it seems to me like Duck is twisting Dr David’s words to make them easy to be discredited. I’m not say that is the case, I’m just saying what it looks like.

    Has anyone read the article Duck uses to refute Dr. Davis books?
    – It was published in the Journal of Cereal Science (it’s not a joke).
    – It claims once and again wheat is good using studies where whole grains are shown to be better than refined grains (it’s not a joke)
    – It says ” prevalence of CD in the United States was 0.71%”, “our conservative estimate is that gluten sensitivity affect at least 5-10% of the population”, “wheat allergy […] occurs in about 0.3-3.0% in adults and children” (it’s not a joke)

    They are pro-wheat guys and they admit at least 1 out of 10 people should avoid ingesting gluten. How on earth can this article be used to claim Dr. Davis is deadly wrong?

    From another pro-wheat article:

    “There are some data to suggest that following a gluten-free diet may ameliorate gastrointestinal and/or systemic symptoms in individuals with systemic lupus erythematosus, dermatitis herpetiformis, irritable bowel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, thyroiditis, and psoriasis. Gluten-free diets have also been used by patients with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).”

    This is a list of diseases even pro-wheat guys acknowledge…

    Quotes from scientific articles:

    First quote:

    “When we analyzed separately the effect of the modern grains from that of the ancient grains, we found that modern dwarf varieties (Manitoba and Claudio) behave differently from the old varieties (SenatoreCappelli and khorasan) in terms of chemokine secretion. Analyzing the differences in terms of CXCL10 secretion stimulated by modern vs. ancient grains, we verified that these differences were always significant, both in NCGS patients and in healthy controls (P < 0.01).”

    Second quote:

    “it is concluded from these data that in general the toxicity of modern wheat varieties has increased”

    Third quote:

    “This study demonstrates that gliadin exposure induces an increase in intestinal permeability in all individuals, regardless of whether or not they have celiac disease”

    My point: Don’t Eat Wheat.

    1. Duck Dodgers

      Vicente, I am not the enemy. I am merely digging through the history and pointing out that not everybody agrees with the anti-grain crowd. Last time I checked, The Journal of Cereal Science was a serious journal.

      Your quotes aren’t exactly rock-solid either. The first quote is about reactions by NCGS individuals (i.e. only relates to people who literally react to wheat, perhaps initially from disrupted gut flora). I’ll also point out that many scientists do not consider NCGS to be a real diseases—it’s mainly code for a messed up gut or IBS (i.e. a bad gut).

      The second quote has been challenged by a more recent paper. As it turns out, certain ancient types of tetraploid wheat (e.g.; Graziella Ra, Khorasan wheat/Kamut) have even greater amounts of total gliadin than modern wheats. Einkhorn has the least reactivity of any wheat, but Einkhorn was considered to be a minor cereal at best—it didn’t have enough gluten to make decent bread and could only really be consumed as gruel.

      The third quote seems like hand-waving given that recent challenge and the fact that lauric acid has the same exact effect, as mentioned in these very comments.

      Celiacs should not eat wheat. Everyone knows that. NCGS appears to be a sign of disrupted gut flora—it’s not really considered to be a real disease. If wheat makes you ill, don’t eat it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that healthy individuals need to avoid it. We shouldn’t bully people into thinking that there is only one answer to this puzzle.


      1. Vicente

        Hi Duck,
        I am sorry if I was disrespectful to you.

        You didn’t answer my remarks:

        0) Did Dr. Davis say “ALL modern health issues”?

        1) At least 1 out of 10 people will suffer health complications from eating wheat. Not only celiacs. Do you agree with that?

        2) The article you used to refute Dr. Davis’ books uses the usual falacy that wheat is good because whole-grains are better than refined grains. Enough for the Journal of Cereal Science, but not enough for me. Do you agree they do that?

        3) The patients in my first quoted article “complained of one or more gastrointestinal (bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea/constipation, nausea, epigastric pain, gastro-esopagheal reflux, aphthous stomatitis) and extra-intestinal (tiredness, headache, joint/muscle pain, arm numbness, ‘foggy mind’, dermatitis/skin rash, anxiety, depression, anemia) symptoms/manifestations with an early onset (a few hours or days) after gluten ingestion”

        No wheat-allergy and no celiac disease.

        The scientifists tested their cells, not their testimony: and their cells showed a different response to wheat proteins when compared with a control group. That, to me, is enough to assume that NCGS is a real condition, because cells don’t lie. And they reported a hell of a list of health problems.

        Moreover, have a look at figure 3 of the article. The response to modern wheat varieties was also greater in the control group, when compared with ancient wheat varieties.

        That is related to my second quote: wheat has been changed. May be modern wheat is more toxic (as the article I linked says) or may be it is “as toxic” (as the article you linked says), but it is a different wheat. It is a fact. A man won a Nobel prize for that change, so it is not easy to say it is all from Dr. Davis’ imagination. I don’t say you said that, but the grain lobby says that. My point is there has been a significant change in wheat: we can’t assume the health effects are the same as for the old wheat.

        4) Related to my third quote, I don’t know if you are saying that wheat doesn’t increase the permeability of the gut. If the article I linked were right, would you say wheat is a health hazard for everybody?

        5) I have a final question: my sister-in-law has suffered from fibromyalgia for years. Do you think it is possible that gluten exposure is the ultimate cause of her suffering? The important word is “possible”.

        I do think it is possible, so I see gluten as a Roussian roulette, where you have nothing to win.

        6) wheat and sugar are processed foods. The advice for the general population should be: eat real food, avoid processed foods except for an occasional treat. But they say: use wheat to reach the 50-60% carb recommendation.

        I do think we need dietary guidelines based on real food, not processed food.

        Best regards,

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          I’ve read both of Dr. Davis’ books and interviewed him twice. He does not blame wheat for all our problems. He’s no fan of sugar, seed oils, or processed foods in general. He’s on board with the benefits of resistant starch.

          He wrote the books to point out the health problems related to wheat, which is of course promoted by many nutritionists as the be-all-end-all of healthy food. He and Duck would disagree about ancient wheat, but they’re very much on the same page when it comes to the modern refined stuff.

        2. Duck Dodgers

          “0) Did Dr. Davis say “ALL modern health issues”?”

          It’s implied. The book is literally called “Wheat Belly.” The overall message seems pretty clear. We can agree to disagree about the overall message.

          “1) At least 1 out of 10 people will suffer health complications from eating wheat. Not only celiacs. Do you agree with that?”

          Not sure. My main point is that I just haven’t seen much convincing evidence that the sensitivities experiences by non-celiacs are actually caused by wheat itself. The sensitivities seem to be caused by other factors (poor gut flora for instance, perhaps exacerbated by adulterations in the flour).

          “2) The article you used to refute Dr. Davis’ books uses the usual falacy that wheat is good because whole-grains are better than refined grains. Enough for the Journal of Cereal Science, but not enough for me. Do you agree they do that?”

          I don’t agree that it’s a fallacy. It’s pretty well known that whole grains are better than refined grains.

          “3) The patients in my first quoted article “complained of one or more gastrointestinal (bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea/constipation, nausea, epigastric pain, gastro-esopagheal reflux, aphthous stomatitis) and extra-intestinal (tiredness, headache, joint/muscle pain, arm numbness, ‘foggy mind’, dermatitis/skin rash, anxiety, depression, anemia) symptoms/manifestations with an early onset (a few hours or days) after gluten ingestion”

          No wheat-allergy and no celiac disease.”

          Signs of bad flora and a dyspeptic gut. In healthy individuals, your flora are responsible for degrading the wheat compounds that would otherwise cause problems.

          “The scientifists tested their cells, not their testimony”

          Precisely. In a healthy individual, most of the compounds would be metabolized before they had a chance to do damage to blood cells. Some exposure is ok, as that is part of the nature of oral tolerance (i.e. we don’t always need to cower from exposure to antigens). In a compromised individual (auto-immune, leaky gut) they may have too much exposure to those antigens.

          “Moreover, have a look at figure 3 of the article. The response to modern wheat varieties was also greater in the control group, when compared with ancient wheat varieties.”

          Again, we are talking about compromised individuals, not healthy individuals.

          “My point is there has been a significant change in wheat: we can’t assume the health effects are the same as for the old wheat.”

          Perhaps. The discussion has mainly turned to increased levels of ATIs (natural pesticides) through breeding practices. It’s a complex subject as the other compounds in whole wheat may be protective for all we know. Junker et al. claimed that there is a “drastic” increase in ATIs. but his main reference doesn’t actually say that and a 2015 paper states that there are no comparisons between modern and ancient wheat in the published research. So, the jury is still out and it’s all speculatory at the moment. That could change though.

          Please understand that we never set out to prove that modern wheat is amazing or anything like that. We simply wanted people to know that wheat was historically considered to be pretty amazing up until about 200 years ago. It’s just a history lesson.

          “4) Related to my third quote, I don’t know if you are saying that wheat doesn’t increase the permeability of the gut. If the article I linked were right, would you say wheat is a health hazard for everybody?”

          No. Just because something (like lauric acid) increases intestinal permeability for half and hour or so doesn’t mean that it’s a health hazard. Your body needs to be able to present some antigens (hazards) to the immune system in order to recognize that it’s foreign (i.e. oral tolerance). So, it can be beneficial to be exposed to small amounts of these foreign compounds (xenobiotics). When someone has a leaky gut, their body lets too many of these compounds into the body, and that’s counterproductive. You can’t take the example of an auto-immune patient and apply to healthy people. It doesn’t work that way.

          “5) I have a final question: my sister-in-law has suffered from fibromyalgia for years. Do you think it is possible that gluten exposure is the ultimate cause of her suffering? The important word is “possible”.”

          I’m sorry to hear that. Nobody knows what causes fibromyalgia. I suppose anything is possible, but if gluten were even related then other factors are surely involved (leaky guts, compromised flora, etc.)

          “I do think it is possible, so I see gluten as a Roussian roulette, where you have nothing to win.”

          If that’s your feeling, then don’t eat wheat. Easy solution. We never said anybody has to eat wheat.

          “6) wheat and sugar are processed foods. The advice for the general population should be: eat real food, avoid processed foods except for an occasional treat. But they say: use wheat to reach the 50-60% carb recommendation.”

          I believe they say to favor whole wheat and whole grains—not just “wheat” per se. They say that because there are believed to be health benefits in the various fibers, phenolic and phytonutirent compounds found in grains. It’s an easy way to obtain those compounds, but not the only way.

          “I do think we need dietary guidelines based on real food, not processed food.”


  14. Duck Dodgers

    Excellent post, Tom!

    I think you wrote a very balanced counter opinion to the article. The point of our original post was not to judge or decide if wheat was a superior food or not, but rather to point out that our ancestors believed it was the most nourishing vegetable you could eat—even up until the Industrial Revolution, and even when our modern array of vegetables were available as staples (potatoes, maize, spinach, etc). I don’t profess to have all the answers, but we at least wanted people to consider the idea that wheat itself may not be the villain.

    At any rate, I too have always wondered about the skeletons and teeth of early Neolithic people. When I first heard that years ago, it convinced me to give up grains. However, I believe that argument is short sighted.

    As you mentioned above, the idea that grains are not a good food for humans comes from the “porotic hyperostosis” study of ancient skeletons, that you mentioned. The bones of early farmers were found to have lesions which were thought to be due to iron deficiency as a consequence of eating grains instead of meat.

    However, it only became clear a few years ago (2009) that the lesions were not due to iron deficiency, making the original hypothesis rather flawed.

    The causes of porotic hyperostosis and cribra orbitalia: a reappraisal of the iron-deficiency-anemia hypothesis. (2009)

    So, the original hypothesis is obsolete—yet it is still used to claim that grains are problematic. The skeletal lesions were perhaps due to episodes of starvation or something else. We don’t really know. But, I’m not sure why grains would be assumed to be the only culprit of causing such lesions and skeletal issues. Now that the original hypothesis has been deemed obsolete, another explanation is needed.

    Keep in mind that societies became larger, infections were more rampant, and food was scarce at times. Societies were adapting and there was a lot of turmoil. Mass starvation was also said to have happened as early farming practices depleted the soils to oblivion.

    I’ve also always wondered about the high levels of cavities in early Neolithic skeletons. Turns out that the kinds of cavities they got were very different than the ones we get today from our modern sugar-laden diets. In ancient times, poor dental health and cavities were caused by “attrition“—the wearing down of teeth due to grit and sand left from early millstones. Attrition broke the enamel, which led to dental abscesses and promoted cavities.

    See: Teeth and Bread in Ancient Egypt (1972)

    This is very different from the sugar-promoted cavities we have today. Arteriosclerosis has been linked to dental infections. If we wanted to, we could probably link all of their health issues to poor dental health and starvation, but that too would be highly speculative.

    The point being is that it’s very easy to create a narrative both vilifying and defending grains. Yet, we at least did find evidence from both Sir Robert McCarrison and Dr. Weston A. Price showing cultures who were thriving on traditional grains.

    I do think you wrote a very balanced opinion to our post, and not only did I enjoy reading it, but I’m also a fan of your work. Nevertheless, I hope you will incorporate this updated research into your own hypotheses.


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      It’s all interesting stuff, Duck, and I’m glad you dug it up. We should continually challenge our set beliefs, and in turn challenge the challenges, which is why I wrote a reply. So far, I think Diamond’s supposition — crops squeezed out a more varied and nutritious diet and left populations vulnerable to crop-failure starvations — makes the most sense.

      1. Duck Dodgers

        Yep. I can agree with the idea that relying on wheat left populations vulnerable to famines.

        The Romans got shorter, not necessarily because of wheat—because they always had wheat. They likely got shorter because they over expanded the empire and people were not getting enough food. They got bread (bread and circuses), but we all acknowledge that ‘man cannot live on bread alone’.

        Good stuff, Tom.

  15. David

    I wonder if any of the seemingly contradictory evidence is due to differences in preparation. I’ve been reading lately about sourdough bread and how the fermentation process can consume much of the gluten (depending on how and how long the dough is fermented).

      1. Duck Dodgers

        Hippocrates certainly noticed that different preparations had different effects on health. But there is no set rule. Sourdough is likely easier to digest, but it is not a requirement.

        For instance, the Hunza—and many Indian cultures—ate Chapati, which is a flatbread that is not sourdough and not fermented (it’s unleavened). The Hunza were observed by Sir Robert McCarrison to be in excellent health (he was their doctor for 7 years). Of course, the modern Hunza are in very poor health, ever since they gave up their traditional diet.

        1. Anand Srivastava

          The Wheat Chapati is not a very old food. Indians actually did not have much wheat except for the Punjabis who had Sanjha Chulha (tradition of cooking together in a tandoor, the Indian oven) to bake their fermented bread. Rest of the Indians ate mostly rice, millet and Barley. Millet and Barley were made into chapatis. During the famine immediately after Independence, we got cheap imported wheat. This caused a move to using wheat, and people carried over their methods of making the grains to wheat. I wouldn’t conclude that chapati is a healthy way of eating wheat, just because Indians are eating this way.

          1. Duck Dodgers

            My understanding is that chapati dates back at least to the 16th-century. Not exactly a modern food. We also see unleavened flatbreads throughout ancient history. It’s not like unleavened flatbreads are a new invention.

            I suppose you can dismiss McCarrison’s observations, but by doing so you’d be discrediting one of the most prominent physicians of the 20th century. McCarrison was irish by the way. 🙂

            For all we know, sourdough may be best, but the point is that it wasn’t ever said to be a requirement.

  16. Galina L.

    It looks for me that it is a normal development of human civilization – we as individuals get weaker and less healthy, but our whole society progresses in technical and scientific fields. Wheat fits perfectly into human history. Weaker humans need more progress, more technical achievements allow weaker individuals to live complete life.

      1. Galina L.

        Duck produced a well written piece on Richard’s blog about a wheat contribution to the development of our civilization. While a weaker human population promotes progress, that progress in turn weakens us. Progress means more food, more sanitary life, more powerful medical treatments, less need to worn yourself with a backbreaking work. However, we have reached the point when getting more progressive weakens us too much, and many of us try to figure our on which positions to step back in a less developed past because we want to minimize the downside. We self-impose food limitations, move more on purpose, avoid hand sanitizers and unnecessary vaccinations, try to limit powerful medicine only for the last resort situations. Everything has risks and benefits, at the moment a wheat consumption doesn’t have enough benefits to justify risks.

  17. egocyte

    As a French (so excuse my English), it’s always difficult to know what is specific about your own food habits. What I’ve seen from traveling abroad is that the French specificities are: we cook our own food and don’t buy much prepared stuff, we drink water and wine during meals, we eat three times a day and rarely between meals, we take a real break and we eat with other people. Sadly, these tendencies are slowly disappearing. About the food itself, in Northern Europe (UK, Netherland) I was depressed by food because everything felt soft, sugary, overcooked, fried, breaded and predigested. I missed real food with real taste. We do use vegetable oil, but for roasting and not much for deep frying. Also about the bread itself: our bread is very different. The French baguette has a hard crust, and a firm crumb, it has nothing to do with predigested sliced bread (but we find more and more of this type of bread in stores).
    I don’t know if this information helps, I now must leave, my mistress is waiting.

    1. Richard Nikoley



      Je ne sais pas si tu connais mon histoire, mais je vivais et mangé avec les Français dans les années 90, pendant 2 ans.

      What you say was 100% my experience. I ate plenty of baguette, also the most pungent of cheese (a very ripe munster, shmeared on a crusty baguette, chased with red wine, was my fav).

      Anecdotally, I’d come at the end of 1989 after living 5 years in Japan, but most meals being on American navy ships over that course. Then, six months in America for French school at Defense Language Institute, where I ate on my own. So, by the time I get to France, I’m late 20’s and had begun to pack on the pounds, perhaps 15-20 more than when I graduated college (165 pounds).

      Within 3 months in France, eating like a King, eating like they ate (my very first meal on arrival in Toulon, on the FNS DUQUESNE, was boudan noire…blood sausage, served with mashed potatoes…un classique…loved it), no restrictions or dietary dogmas—and especially, le petit every morning just like they do, coffee or tea and baguette with butter and jam or honey…and I was down to my college weight which I easily maintained over those three years.

      Gained them all back with interest once I returned to the US in 1992.

      One could do well to just find out how traditional French really eat and just do that, drop the dogmas and reductionist narratives. Hell, you might even be able to take up smoking. 🙂

      1. egocyte

        Good to know it’s not only my feeling. I wish my my dear compatriots could keep those habits. Sadly they’re slowly taking the worst of the US (food habits) and not the best (music, TV series and cinema)…

  18. Bob Niland

    Agriculture made it possible for us to be having this discussion today. Hunter-gatherer populations do not develop technologies any more advanced than can be easily carried from camp to camp. But agriculture came at some cost, which is finally being looked at, and for which sustainable alternatives exist. That said …

    In the referenced FTA article, I would like to have seen some discussion of what the anthropological dental record has to say about all this, and the implications of AMY1 evolution.

    My understanding is that fossils prior to agriculture aren’t just lower in dental caries, they show none at all. Your dentist needs to make payments on the BMW, and does not want you to gain any insights into what that might be about.

    AMY1 has been in the press lately, as some investigators argued that the increase in AMY1 copies means we’ve thus evolved to require carbs. I’m thinking the AMY1 was more of a coping, and an only partially successful genetic response to an increasingly grain-based diet, and, alas, a factor in the dental problem, as we can turn amylopectin into glucose before we even swallow it.

    “…gluten, the most nutritious of all the vegetable principles…”

    For anyone toying with the idea of consuming heirloom wheats, emmer contains more gluten than runt mutant goat grass (sold to you as “semi-dwarf hybrid wheat”). Some people still think gluten is a superfood. So-called health food stores sell it as seitan. Fasano’s work is pretty clear on the gut consequences.

    From the FTA article: “Dr. William Davis claimed that modern hybrids of wheat are to blame for all modern health issues.”

    Why didn’t Duck actually quote Davis on that? Perhaps because he never said it. Anyone who reads Wheat Belly Total Health, the earlier Wheat Belly, or even a random assortment of WB Blog articles will clearly see that the specific novel hazards of modern wheat are only one of several major problems with modern diet.

    The Wheat Belly Blog also frequently features stories of people who have zeroed-out wheat, and then get re-exposed. The reactions can be pretty awful, for something with aspirations of being a human superfood, or any kind of human food at all, really. Are all of these anecdotes from celiacs? Doubtful, and it’s any easy experiment to try at home. Quit for a month or two. See what happens.

    I’m always willing to be mistaken, but the FTA article didn’t suggest anything to reconsider for me. I think you [Tom] have analyzed it pretty well.

    One thing I do agree on is that folic acid fortification is a mistake, and, by the way, one the FDA is poised to repeat with corn flour. A considerable portion of the population has MTHFR polymorphisms that are incompatible with FA. If you aren’t consuming grains, of course, it’s moot. The FDA needs to be watched very carefully on the entire topic of folates.
    Disclosure: I contribute on the Wheat Belly Blog. Click my username here for details.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      To further clarify the point Thomas Sowell made in “Conquests and Cultures,” it wouldn’t matter if Hunter-Gatherer Man had the genius to conceive of something called “the piano” … he couldn’t possibly find all the raw materials (wood, ivory, iron ore for steel strings) in his area. Most technologies depend on materials from multiple areas, so they could only be developed after agriculture allowed for cities, economic specialization and long-distance trade. That’s the gift of agriculture, but again, it doesn’t prove agriculture made us any more intelligent. It enabled us to apply our intelligence to designing and making new things from new materials available via trade.

      In one chapter, Sowell describes all the technologies (and sources of the materials for those technologies) employed by the British when they conquered territories in the Western Hemisphere. The natives never stood a chance. From a technological perspective, it was literally them against the world.

    2. Duck Dodgers

      Bob said: “the specific novel hazards of modern wheat are only one of several major problems with modern diet”

      Bob, nice to meet you! I just see it a little differently. If that was Davis’s actual message, then I suppose he should have titled the book “Modern Belly,” and not “Wheat Belly.”

      Bob said: “My understanding is that fossils prior to agriculture aren’t just lower in dental caries, they show none at all”

      Not exactly. You can find cavities in just about any species of animal, going back about almost 600 Million years ago:

      From: Caries Through Time: An Anthropological Overview

      “Caries is a very old disease and it is not exclusive of the human species. Evidences of dental lesions compatible with caries have been observed in creatures as old as Paleozoic fishes (570-250 million years), Mesozoic herbivores dinosaurs (245-65 million years), pre- hominines of the Eocene (60-25 million years), and Miocenic (25-5 million years), Pliocenic (5-1.6 million years), and Pleistocenic animals (1.6-0.01 million years – Clement, 1958; Kear, 2001; Kemp, 2003; Sala et al., 2004). Caries has also been detected in bears and other wild animals (Pinto & Exteberria, 2001; Palamra et al., 1981), and it is common in domestic animals (Gorrel, 2006; Shklair, 1981; Wiggs & Lobprise, 1997)…

      …The unquestionable oldest evidence of caries comes from a fossil found in 1921 in Broken Hill, Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) during the exploration of a zinc mine. The specimen denominated Broken Hill 1, a Homo rhodesiensis cranium (African version of the Homo heidelberguensis 650,000-160,000 BP) shows extensive dental caries and coronal destruction. Except for five teeth, all the rest is affected by rampant caries and several crowns are almost completely destroyed.

      Secondly, it’s not like cavities were rampant. In 2009, Rühli investigated 85 Egyptian mummies and wrote, “Eighteen percent of all mummies in case reports (n=85) showed dental disorders. Out of these, nine mummies showed severe abrasion of teeth and seven individuals apparently suffered from carious lesions.”

      So, severe attrition was observed and only 7 out of 85 mummies actually had carious lesions, which were likely promoted by attrition (dental attrition is well known to increase the risk of caries). The Rühli paper made the media with everyone claiming that Egyptians had a “nightmare array of dental diseases…including cavities.” Yes… it’s not exactly surprising given that they were basically eating sand and grit in their breads.

      Basically what we may be seeing here is a trend that matches up with the increased use of early millstones, which deposits sand and grit in the food. I suppose you can just make the jump to carbohydrates, but you’d be ignoring these factors in the process.

      Bob said: “AMY1 has been in the press lately, as some investigators argued that the increase in AMY1 copies means we’ve thus evolved to require carbs”

      Well, the story itself is evolving. A new study published just the other day just added more fuel to the fire.

      Natural selection at the brush-border: adaptations to carbohydrate diets in humans and other mammals

      Dietary shifts can drive molecular evolution in mammals and a major transition in human history, the agricultural revolution, favored carbohydrate consumption. We investigated the evolutionary history of 9 genes encoding brush-border proteins involved in carbohydrate digestion/absorption. Results indicated widespread adaptive evolution in mammals, with several branches experiencing episodic selection, particularly strong in bats. Many positively selected sites map to functional protein regions (e.g. within glucosidase catalytic crevices), with parallel evolution at SI and MGAM. In human populations five genes were targeted by positive selection acting on non-coding variants within regulatory elements. Analysis of ancient DNA samples indicated that most derived alleles were already present in the Paleolithic. Positively selected variants at SLC2A5 (fructose transporter) were an exception and possibly spread following the domestication of specific fruit crops. We conclude that agriculture determined no major selective event at carbohydrate metabolism genes in humans, with implications for susceptibility to metabolic disorders.

      So, not just AMY1.


      1. Tom Naughton Post author

        In the terrific book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human,” the author presents evidence that our brains increased in size after two important dietary changes: one, eating meat (beginning with scavenging) and two, cooking food to make it more bio-available. Much of the cooked food consisted of tubers.

        We can debate (and probably will) whether or not grains introduced specific new problems, but it’s clear starches in the form of tubers were part of the paleo diet in many regions long before agriculture.

        1. Richard Nikoley

          But also, the whole cooking thing in terms of starch is kinda red herring that some—Cordain in particular—absolutely refuse to even whisper about even though well aware of.

          Tigernuts. Raw starchy tubers even a baboon can (and do) harvest and eat raw. Hominoids as early as 2.3 million years ago could gather a full day of calories in a couple of hours. Just pull up grass from moist marshes and chow down on the hazel-nut-like orbs in the roots.

          In macronutrient terms, they mimic breast milk. In micro nutrient terms, they are more nutritious on average than red meat.

          1. Tom Naughton Post author

            I’ve been meaning to thank you for introducing tiger nuts to your readers, me included. We order the big bags now, and I eat some almost every day. My digestion has never been better. I’ve gotten two of my co-workers hooked on them too.

            We’re looking into growing a patch of them on the farm next year.

            1. Richard Nikoley

              Tom, I didn’t know and I’m really glad to learn that. Yea, for what I hear they grow like weeds. Tim planted some from the bags he ordered and they sprouted up and multiplied.

              Persoanally, I like the ones with the skin and I soak them for a day or two and they take on a water chestnut consistency for me, reminding me of Chinese food, laf.

            2. Tom Naughton Post author

              The “grow like weeds” aspect appeals to me greatly. It would be nice to have a home-grown foodstuff that doesn’t need to be babied to survive.

      2. Bob Niland

        >> …the specific novel hazards of modern wheat are only one of several major problems with modern diet…

        > I just see it a little differently. If that was Davis’s actual message, then I suppose he should have titled the book “Modern Belly,” and not “Wheat Belly.”

        If you aren’t familiar with the back story, Dr. Davis, a cardiac MD, was evolving dietary approaches to preventing, arresting and reversing heart disease. When (in 2006, it appears) he suggested to his patients to try wheat elimination, the floodgates opened, with client after client reporting startling relief from a bewildering array of unrelated ailments. Further research led to the book in 2011.

        The Wheat Belly title is both a blessing and a curse, and has now become a Brand that is not trivial to tinker with. WB was not the first book to advocate wheat-free eating, or low net carb, or high fat, or avoiding inflammatory foods, but I doubt most readers here can name any prior to it. Wheat Belly was the first such to become a persistent NYT bestseller, and it got a lot of people reconsidering consensus diet.

        The title (and bagel cover art) was a big part of making that happen, but came with a limitation – people see it and sometimes assume they know the whole message. Further, sometimes you can’t even give people a copy of any of the books, because they assume you are making some passive-aggressive snarky remark about their belly. Sigh. Millions rescued. Some pass. Still a big net win. Brilliant title, all things considered.

        People often sail into the WB blog assuming it’s only about losing the wheat, and are surprised to learn it’s entirely grain-free, very low net carb, high fat (borderline keto at the moment), moderate protein, has strong advice on specific fats, various crucial supplements, specific alternative sweeteners, and avoidance of various hazards associated with modern agriculture and food processing, and more. It also now emphasizes optimizing gut biome (and FTA probably had a role in that). The WB name, of course, captures none of these key details, even though the current Wheat Belly Total health is about dramatically more than wheat, and may be the most comprehensive book on optimized human nutrition presently available.

        Had the original book name been, say, Cureality Body, would it have become a dietary phenomenon? Would it have been effective to name the follow-up book Cureality Total Health?

        If readers are unaware of the name Cureality, that’s the point. It’s one of Dr. Davis’ web sites (an evolution of the former Track Your Plaque, and no longer exclusively focused on cardiac health). If you haven’t heard of it, that speaks to this Wheat Belly branding conundrum.
        Disclosure: I contribute on the Wheat Belly Blog. Click my username here for details.

        1. Richard Nikoley

          “People often sail into the WB blog assuming it’s only about losing the wheat, and are surprised to learn it’s entirely grain-free, very low net carb, high fat (borderline keto at the moment), moderate protein, has strong advice on specific fats, various crucial supplements, specific alternative sweeteners, and avoidance of various hazards associated with modern agriculture and food processing, and more.”

          Bob, thanks for your perspective which is far more than what I chose to quote. As background, I was an early fan of Dr. Davis. Had email exchanges with him and he extended a free subscription to his track your plaque endeavor way back, like 2009-ish, asking me to participate on the forums. Sadly, it just wasn’t my focus and I didn’t have the time.

          To your quote, I recall his Jimmy Moore interviews being some of my favorites back when. He had a slightly different message, which as I recall, was heavy of veggies and low on protein. Can’t recall what his view on fats were but you have to eat something.

          The Duck Dodgers did a whole, about 17-post series about how the Inuit are never in kerosisis, have never been measured in ketosis, and have excellent BG response (all the while in my blog comments, people try to do a HFLC Inuit diet and a cookie shoots their BG to 200).

          Something is amiss.

          I know that it’s very fortunate to come up with something that delivers immediate results, as I did when I advocated Paleo LC for years, lost 60 pounds myself. But my blog was still there and eventually, many people, myself included, had problems. No, we didn’t resort to grains but long story short, higher carb solved lots of problems. Potatoes and legumes.

          Since Paleo, LC, Wheat Belly, or whatever narrative you like was manifestly wrong about carbohydrate qua lifestyle and per se, the next step is to investigate whether they were wrong about wheat and grains too (in whole form, white and yolk in whole).

          That’s what I intend to do. I have a BIG bet that they are. I very much dislike distinctions of convenience (aka meaningless) and worse, conflation of convenience (aka no CRITICAL distinction).

          1. Tom Naughton Post author

            I remember the posts about Inuits not being in ketosis. Very eye-opening. That was also around the time I found that to stay in ketosis, I had to go VLC AND restrict protein to perhaps 50 grams per day. That’s when I decided this can’t possibly be good for me, nor can it possibly resemble the diet of my ancestors, who wouldn’t have restricted protein. The lesson I took from that is that if you can’t handle starches without glucose spikes or choose to avoid starches for some other reason, at least go big on protein. If memory serves, Inuit males consumed something like 240 grams of protein per day, according to one of those posts.

        2. Duck Dodgers

          While everyone focused on my judgement of Dr. Davis, few here seemed to notice the point of that sentence, which is that Dr. Davis’s hypothesis doesn’t really match up well with the actual timeline of metabolic issues. The earliest digestive and metabolic issues came as people consumed more refined grains and refined sugars (i.e. William Banting types). While, the “obesity” epidemic began, in earnest, in the mid 1980s. We believe this coincides with the FDA’s 1983 increase in iron fortification levels by 40%.

          Dr. Davis blames modern hybrids of wheat for causing obesity and Davis attempts to line up the timeline by saying, “The mid- and late-1980s also marks the widespread adoption by U.S. farmers of the genetically-altered semi-dwarf variants of wheat to replace traditional wheat.” He doesn’t give a reference for this as far as I can tell.

          If we do our own research, we see that the “widespread” adoption of semi-dwarf wheat was mainly seen in California from 1964-1975. It seems that other regions never really adopted more than 10-20% of hybrid wheat during the key stages of the obesity epidemic. By 1993, 58 percent of
          the total U.S. wheat acreage was sown to semidwarfs. This doesn’t appear to match up with the timeline that Davis claims.

          According to The Economist, “By 1963 95% of Mexico’s wheat was Borlaug’s variety, and the country’s wheat harvest was six times what it had been when Borlaug set foot in the country.” Mexico’s obesity epidemic began in the 1980s with the introduction of “transnational food companies” offering processed junk foods. Again, this does not match up with Davis’s hypothesis. Borlaug’s hybrid dramatically changed the food supply of Mexico, Pakistan and India, decades before any of those countries had obesity epidemics.

          In France, semi-dwarf wheat significantly increased yields starting in 1960, lifting France’s yields gradually over decades to become one of the largest producers of wheat in the world. They didn’t increase yields so dramatically using ancestral wheat. According to FAOSTAT, the French consume 40% more wheat than we do in the US.

          I don’t understand how people bought into Davis’s timeline and associations. The introduction and adoption of semi-dwarf wheats do not appear to correlate in the US or in any other countries. If Davis were correct, we would expect to see spikes in obesity whenever modern wheat entered a country. But we don’t see that at all as far as I can tell.

          1. Tom Naughton Post author

            My dad once told me that my ethnic mix (mostly Irish with a slice of German) produces a hot-headed nitpicker. So let me toss some nitpicks into the discussion.

            One of your documents cites a sixfold increase in yield per acre with semi-dwarf wheat. Davis says a tenfold increase, possibly because further developments in yield continued after the sixfold increase noted in the 1960s. We’ll look at both numbers.

            By 1993, 58% of acreage was sown to semi-dwarf. At six times the yield per acre, that would mean 89% of the wheat harvested would be semi-dwarf. At 10 times the yield, it would be 93% of all wheat harvested.

            This document ( says that by 1979, 29 percent of U.S. wheat acreage was semi-dwarf. At six times the yield, that’s 71% of the harvest. At 10 times the yield, it’s 80% of the harvest. So by 1979, at least 70% and perhaps 80% of the wheat harvest in the U.S. was semi-dwarf. And as the 1993 figure shows us, the percentage of wheat acreage growing semi-dwarf kept exanding.

            Davis is correct. By 1980, most of the wheat was semi-dwarf.

            1. Duck Dodgers

              Good catch, Tom! But, you didn’t mention that the same document says, “Semi-dwarf wheat was planted on about 22 percent of US wheat area in 1974 and roughly 29 percent in 1979.”

              At 6x the yield, that’s 63% of the harvest in 1974.
              At 10x the yield, that’s 74% of the harvest in 1974.

              So, the overwhelming majority (63%-74%) of the US wheat harvest was semi-dwarf by 1974. And the semi-dwarf harvest only increased by 5-10% from 1974 to 1979. And we’re supposed to believe that was the trigger for the mid-1980s obesity epidemic spike?

              Makes no sense. The timeline is way way off. It’s just not believable. Particularly when we look at the introductions of semi-dwarfs around the world (Mexico, Pakistan, India, France) which did not produce their own obesity epidemics. I really don’t understand why nobody has mentioned this until now.

              Meanwhile, there is actual scientific literature showing that mandatory fortification strongly corresponds to obesity and diabetes, across a variety of different countries. We also believe the effect is accelerated in developed countries due to the use of refined oils, which appear to significantly increase iron absorption, as does HFCS.

            2. Tom Naughton Post author

              Indeed. In his book and interviews, Dr. Davis says semi-dwarf wheat began taking over the wheat supply in the 1970s, and by the end of the 1980s, nearly all wheat products sold in the U.S. came from semi-dwarf wheat. He says that change, combined with an overall increase in wheat consumption, was a major factor in the rise in obesity. (Keep in mind obesity is a creeping condition for most people; a few pounds extra pounds per year until you gain those extra 25 or so that push you into the obese category.)

              This USDA chart shows wheat flour consumption per capita over time. There’s a sharp rise beginning in the mid-1980s.


              You may recall recent headlines that obesity appears to have peaked 10 years ago or more and is somewhat on the decline, at least among kids. The same USDA chart shows a decline in wheat consumption starting around 2001.

              These are mere correlations and prove nothing. We can certainly still question whether wheat was the cause — and as far as I know, Davis has always called wheat a primary cause, not the only cause — but the data support the correlations he has cited.

            3. Tom Naughton Post author

              The fortification angle is quite interesting, to say the least. But I don’t see this as an either/or proposition. I’m viewing all of these factors as possible pieces of the puzzle that deserve exploration. It’s difficult to separate the pieces in some cases. For example, the near-total-takeover by semi-dwarf wheat nearly coincides with the 1983 increase in fortification levels you mentioned in your post, which also coincides with a sharp uptick in overall wheat consumption, at least in the U.S. We could say they’re all correlated with the rise in obesity. So is a big uptick in sugar consumption.

              I tried to find per-capita consumption figures for Mexico similar to those I found for the U.S. No luck. All I found was a document describing a drop in wheat production in Mexico in the ’70s due to a water shortage. Another document said that corn is still Mexico’s staple crop, or at least it was when the document was produced. It would be interesting to see year-by-year consumption figures for Mexico and the other countries you mentioned, since we don’t know (or at least I don’t know) how much was exported, or replaced previous imports, or fed a growing population. If you’ve got per-capita consumption figures, please pass them along.

            4. Tom Naughton Post author

              This chart, by the way, shows obesity beginning to trend upwards around 1976.


              This one shows a serious uptick around 1978.


              So again, whatever we choose to finger as the cause of obesity, it’s simply not accurate to say Dr. Davis’ timeline is way off. It appears to be spot on, in fact, at least in the U.S.

            5. Duck Dodgers

              Tom, the best prevalence data we have is CDC’s NHANES surveys, which go back to 1960 (was called NHES back then). It shows a slight increase in obesity prevalence between the 1960-1962 survey period and 1976-1980 survey period (13.4 – 15%), then a rapid increase between the 1976-1980 and 1999-2000 survey periods (15 – 30.9%).

              NCHS: Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity, and Extreme Obesity Among Adults: United States, 1960–1962 Through 2011–2012

              There are really only three data points representing three multi-year surveys. They give the impression that the obesity epidemic began on the day after the second survey was completed, but my guess is that the upwards trend was more of a curve. It’s hard to say exactly which year the uptick actually happened.

              Tom said: “which also coincides with a sharp uptick in overall wheat consumption, at least in the U.S”

              Except France always consumed more wheat than us and remained quite thin through the same period. While the US government told people to eat more (fortified) grains, the iron theory may even explain why our appetites actually increased and caused us to eat more. A brand new study shows that high iron intakes may increase appetites. So, the 1983 increase in fortification may have caused people to eat more.

              “We could say they’re all correlated with the rise in obesity”

              I think we could only say that if we actually found a correlation between semi-dwarf wheat and obesity in other countries. 🙂 Unfortunately, we just don’t see it as far as I can tell. Otherwise it’s pure speculation.

              You have to remember that semi-dwarf wheat quickly spread to many countries after its introduction. Here, I even found a report on the worldwide spread of semi-dwarf wheat:

              Impacts of International Wheat Breeding Research in the Developing World, 1966-1990

              Do take a look at the Appendix listings for its adoption in each country. None of those countries had obesity epidemics that match up with the introduction of semi-dwarf wheat.

              The report was released by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). CIMMYT was a pilot program sponsored by the Mexican government and the Rockefeller Foundation to develop Borlaug’s semi-dwarf wheat and spread it around the world.

              Here are the wheat consumption per capita trends, from FAOSTAT. Mexico consumes less wheat than we do—you’re right, they favor maize—but notice how France and Pakistan have always consumed considerably more wheat than the US, but neither had an obesity epidemic during their transitions to semi-dwarf wheat.

              Pakistan consumes an enormous amount of semi-dwarf wheat per capita, is one of the largest wheat producers in the world, and has one of the lowest obesity rates in the entire world. And of course France has half the obesity that we do and only became overweight recently, coinciding with when they quit smoking from 1995 to 2000 and they likely got a bit hungrier. Neither Pakistan or France fortify their flour, though Pakistan just began the process of mandating fortification.

              Anyway, the point of all this is that there seems to be zero evidence that the introduction of semi-dwarf wheat caused obesity in any other country in the world. It’s a bogus association as far as I can tell.

              Davis certainly never controlled for wheat adulterations, like fortification. He just blamed a food that didn’t seem to affect the rest of the world at all.

            6. Tom Naughton Post author

              Well, it’s an interesting puzzle with many pieces. Going purely by correlations (for what those are worth), I see that per-capita consumption of wheat in France remained more or less level — actually declined a bit — from 1968 to 2002. So we could, for example, note that France had no increase in consumption and no increase in obesity during that span. In the U.S., there was a spike in wheat consumption, and a rise in obesity. More wheat in France overall (except in 1995, apparently) but also considerably less sugar and processed food in general.

              India apparently began consuming more wheat per capita in the 1980s — their rise in consumption nearly parallels the rise in U.S. consumption over a 20-year span — and is now considered the third most obese country in the word.

              (For the record, I believe the likely culprit for the rise of obesity in places like Mexico, India and Pakistan is importing our junk foods in all their sugar-laden, seed-oil-laden glory. A hazard of becoming prosperous enough to import Coca-Cola and Pop-Tarts.)

              France has been steadily consuming more wheat since 2002 or so according to the chart, and I see articles online claiming obesity there has nearly doubled in the past 10 years — in a country without fortification, if I remember correctly. The French consumed more wheat in the 1960s than now but didn’t have an obesity problem … but that was before the semi-dwarf wheat took over.

              See what I’m saying? You could drive yourself nuts trying to pick apart all these correlations with all these intertwined factors. As Dr. John Ioannidis has pointed out in several articles, you can find correlations to make almost any point you want to make. He’s the guy who studies old studies and declared that 80% of the conclusions based on correlations have turned out to be wrong.

              No, of course obesity isn’t all about wheat. Sugar, seed oils, gut dysbiosis, qutting smoking, environmental estrogens, hell, we can probably name a dozen potential contributors. But if we’re going by correlations (again, for what those are worth), we do see a rise in obesity rates within several populations more or less corresponding with a rise in their wheat consumption — unfortified wheat in the case of France over the past decade.

              Not saying fortification isn’t part of the puzzle. What I’m challenging is the temptation to say that since we’ve spotted a correlation with fortification and obesity in some country-to-country comparisons, that is now THE CORRECT ANSWER, end of story, so all other factors and correlations must be discarded.

              By the way, I interviewed Dr. Davis on camera last December. I pointed out that he blames wheat for obesity, while Dr. Lustig blames sugar. He replied that it’s both, then said research shows that as people eat more wheat, they also crave more sugar. I don’t recall if he cited a specific reference to back that up, but the point is that he believes sugar is definitely a big part of the problem. And again, he doesn’t claim that switching to semi-dwarf wheat will, in and of itself, make people obese. For obesity, he mostly blames the increase in overall wheat consumption. His main complaint about semi-dwarf wheat is the increased expression of particular gliadin proteins that he believes provoke increased gut permeability and all the health problems that follow.

              I found this article about wheat in France interesting, by the way:


              “After consulting MANY sources, it turns out that the biggest similarity between American and French flour is that they both come from wheat and both contain some sort of starch and protein from this wheat. Otherwise, factors such as “ash content” (minerals left in flour from the grain), gluten (insoluble protein), and starch are completely different. Where many French flours have as little as 8-9% gluten content, American flours will have 15-16%.

              What’s more, is that the French have two types of flour, “Hard” and “Soft”. The soft, used frequently for pastries and baking, has a minimum of only 7% gluten, and a maximum of 10.5% flour. King Arthur flour in the states has about 14%!”

            7. gollum

              The iron overload hypothesis is very intriguing. Whether it is the answer to the obesity riddle or not, they raise some valid points, and we should watch our iron intake maybe (especially gentle and other men).
              It seems also the first rational explaination of Milchig and Fleishig dietary laws, which have irked me for quite some time. Of course, to accept it, we would have to accept that the ancient Iudaeans ate meat infrequently, being goat herders they probably just fed on apples. Mhmhmm. If this is correct, they must have known very much about digestion and chemistry too, since the Kosher laws actually specify the amount of HOURS to wait after a meal to switch to the wrong side (iirc 3 or 4 – typical digestion period – fits)

              However I think with their Eureka moment they are not so keen on evidence that would make their hypothesis crumble.
              The “they all love wheat” and celiac angles have been discussed already thanks to Mr. Naughton, maybe sourdough could have been mentioned more often. I shall add some more.

              They claim that the French have low rates of Celiac while gorging on les baguettes.
              Do we know that? Do we have hard data?
              Is it even possible to know that with some certainty, given that medical unscience is still not able to tell (silent) celiac from hypochondria in most cases, let alone the “non-antibody” wheat sensitivity syndrome. They are still “discussing” whether it exists, for Wikipedia’s sake!
              We do know some of the damaging components of wheat and some of the mechanisms, we do know that there’s a genetic factor involved, which many people link to the Red hair/Neanderthal/Celtic connection. France is the proverbial Gaul country, though with her many tribes, Ireland would still score higher.
              Thus the French being almost immune to wheat, that would be an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary proof.

              They claim German children can ingest HFCS and stay lean thanks to not having their flour fortified. That was a surprise to hear. Maybe they are lean compared to the fatocalypse in the States. German media claim skyrocketing rates of teen DM2 and adipositas, demand less taste, more gruel and swine food in diet, fat and sugar tax, behavorial psychotherapy to tell you it’s your fault your body craves nutritients,…

              Germany would also appear to be a counter-example to wheat being all good and nice if only we ate it whole and unfortified. This is because Germany basically invented the homoeopathy racket and the Vollkorn ideas, and is still heavily infested with them.
              Our powers-that-be also think that people don’t need nutritients because “they all get it from a balanced diet and barring malnutrition, boozery and hunger, there are basically no cases of deficiency”. (That’s the parrot line you hear from any quack, too. In 28 years of quacking he will have never seen such a case, having never searched for it, because – see above.) Well, in any case, the RDAs for most vitamins and nutritients are rather low, and fortification does not happen, except for iodine in everything via salt. That can be a good thing, too, fluoride load in water, reduced.
              To sum up the chatty paragraph, Germany does not fortify its flour, feeds her children disgusting Vollkorn cookies from das Reformhaus, but then for some reason, Germans still feel the need to treat allergies and mysterious ailments (usually with homoeopathic unmedicines). Media blames cleanliness. Whatever the reason, it seems unfortified vollkorn does not make people immune to allergies.

            8. gollum

              Re American vs. French flour
              I do believe it is a serious offense to use bromide to bleach, or whatever they do to flour, in most European states. Just another confounding variable.

            9. Duck Dodgers

              Tom said: “France has been steadily consuming more wheat since 2002 or so according to the chart”

              Yes, I already explained this many times. Smoking in France plummeted between 1995 and 2000 after the Evin Law and Cancer Plan were enacted by the French government. See this chart. Smoking cessation is well known to increase appetite.

              This matches up exactly with their very new trend. Obesity levels in France have doubled between 1995 and 2004 to 11.3% of the population. This is one of the lowest obesity rates of any developed nation and France has the lowest obesity rate in Europe.

              Can’t blame that on wheat, per se. It’s the smoking cessation and eating more calories that made them gain weight since 1995. (Obviously, eating more of anything would cause weight gain). It can’t be the semi-dwarf because Semi-dwarf wheat was adopted in the France during the 1960s.

              Tom said: “What’s more, is that the French have two types of flour, “Hard” and “Soft”.”

              For the record, King Arthur flour sells “hard” and “soft” flours too. Gluten content is estimated by protein content, and King Arthur’s pastry flour is also “soft” and has a protein content of 7.8%. So, there’s very little difference as far as I can tell. It only looks different if you compare pastry flour to all purpose flour, which is what your source seems to have done. Bakers who know what they are doing use actual pastry flour for pastries.

              Also, some cultures around the world have been intentionally adding wheat gluten to foods since the 6th century. It hardly seems like various cultures would have done this if gluten was so terrible.

              Tom said: “India…is now considered the third most obese country in the word.”

              Actually, that’s incorrect.

              Some media headlines claim that India is the “third most obese country in the world” based purely on their enormous population size in relation to the rest of the world. It’s a bogus comparison.

              In reality, they have a one of the lowest obesity rates in the entire world, according to the CIA Factbook. India is ranked number 184 out of 191.

              Anyhow… whether anyone wants to admit it or not, the scientific literature confirms a clear correlation between fortification and obesity/diabetes. Meanwhile, there are no scientific papers that confirm any such correlation between semi-dwarf wheat and obesity/diabetes. Why? because the correlation with semi-dwarf wheat doesn’t exist in any other country.

            10. Duck Dodgers

              gollum said: “They claim that the French have low rates of Celiac”

              No. The rates of celiac are believed to be the same in virtually every country. It’s just diagnosed more in some countries than others. We claimed that gluten sensitivity is considerably less in France due to the fact that they don’t have iron fortification disrupting their gluten-degrading gut flora. Gluten sensitivity isn’t even considered to be a real disease, so there is no data (it was a hypothesis, based on well known anecdotes of there being very little demand for gluten-free options in France).

              gollum said: “They claim German children can ingest HFCS and stay lean thanks to not having their flour fortified”

              No, the literature we cited was about “fruit juice consumption.” Not HFCS. Admittedly the studies only used a small sample size.

              gollum said: “we do know that there’s a genetic factor involved, which many people link to the Red hair/Neanderthal/Celtic connection”

              As best as I can tell, this appears to be an Internet rumor that isn’t corroborated by any meaningful research.

            11. Duck Dodgers

              Oh, and I completely forgot. Here we are arguing about the effects of wheat and we are all forgetting that we modern nations tend to eat 95% white flour. Cultures that were observed to be healthy on wheat always used whole wheat.

              If you look at my comment below, I do my best to explain (in too many words) our viewpoint on the metabolic effects of refined grains versus whole grains. (Long story short, refined grains appear to hamper our ability to metabolize carbohydrates).

              So, I guess I would agree with you, Tom. If people eat white flour—without finding a way to recoup the lost micronutrients (via seaweed, sesame seeds, hemp, chocolate, or whatver)—they will have metabolic issues. Doesn’t matter if it’s refined wheat flour or white rice. Any refined carb is going to promote metabolic issues over time.

            12. gollum

              Re unfortified sugar slimming and Celtic issues, still in doubt but discussion not useful without definitive data

              Re celiac rates / genesis: To claim that the “rates are believed”
              (wait, what, this is afflicting 1% of population full blown and 10..50% indirectly and they “believe” things?)
              the same everywhere but the French are protected would use sort of a strange definition of “celiac”.
              If you include all people who are genetically vulnerable, the rate would be more 20 to 50 percent, I believe.
              Talking about celiac rates, I was implicitly using this term like the classic definition of celiac – autoimmune
              disease triggered by wheat, damage to gut (or at least significant autoimmune damage elsewhere), whether correctly diagnosed or not.

              In your reply you seem to propose a mechanism whereby “good” gut flora (not poisoned by iron) processes the gluten before it harms the victim.
              Frankly, this sounds like more extraordinary claims. Given that textbook celiac is triggered by any amount of gluten in diet – GF standard is what, 20 or 50 ppm? -,
              it would take some really fast bacteria to degrade let’s say 3 slices of pizza before it hits the intestine. Plus the first sections of the intestine, where first processing (lipase etc) and nutrition uptake occur, are not even very rich in bacteria, if I recall correctly. Bacteria are in the later sections aplenty, but nutritient uptake, not major.
              The gut flora contributing to Celiac is hypothesized to be a certain bug protein that triggers the antibody police, and cross-reacts with wheat proteins.

            13. Duck Dodgers

              gollum said: “To claim that the “rates are believed” (wait, what, this is afflicting 1% of population full blown and 10..50% indirectly and they “believe” things?)”

              Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity isn’t considered to be an actual disease. In many studies, they will often refer to it as “so-called” NCGS, to illustrate that key point. There is no biomarker or bloodtest that can prove you have NCGS. It’s basically just a vague term for a messed up gut (i.e. a form of IBS) that becomes cured by avoiding wheat products, or by eating bread baked in France.

              As the Wikipedia article that I linked to explains…

              Wikipedia: Non-celiac gluten sensitivity

              It is as yet unclear whether those who report improvement of symptoms under a gluten-free diet are in fact sensitive to the substance gluten or whether they may be, rather, sensitive to other substances in wheat…or to which extent the “fad component” to the recent rise popularity of the gluten-free diet plays a role in the perception of symptoms

              In other words, for all we know gluten has nothing to do with it. It could be another compound in wheat (ATIs for instance), or even something added to the wheat. Nobody knows.

              Gluten itself seems an unlikely culprit considering that even in the United States it was extremely rare to find NCGS before 1950. The evidence suggests that something else is making Americans more sensitive to wheat.

              Mind you, if gluten metabolism were mainly about adaptation and genetics, we would expect to less problems with wheat with each passing generation—not more problems, as is the case.

              gollum said: “In your reply you seem to propose a mechanism whereby “good” gut flora (not poisoned by iron) processes the gluten before it harms the victim”

              Most people have no issues with gluten. Some traditional Asian cultures even added wheat gluten to foods. You can claim this is all genetics (in 6th century Chinese?), but I have yet to see good evidence that our ability to consume gluten is based on genes. Something else is likely to blame.

              Meanwhile, you will certainly find good evidence that microbes help us break down gluten. One particularly interesting bit of evidence is that gluten-degrading bacteria reside in the oral cavity. So, yes, the metabolism of gluten begins before wheat even hits the stomach.

              Incidentally, that same reference later explains that the intestinal microbiota appear to play an important role in gluten metabolism.

              Celiac patients are known to have different flora from “healthy controls” and so it has been proposed that dietary supplementation with bacterial peptidases might help to destroy major
              immunodominant gliadin epitopes, thereby making gluten nontoxic to celiac patients.[1]


    3. Duck Dodgers

      Bob said: “The Wheat Belly Blog also frequently features stories of people who have zeroed-out wheat, and then get re-exposed. The reactions can be pretty awful”

      Well, I hardly think this is surprising. They stop eating fortified/adulterated wheat and they feel better—their guts improve. No surprise there. They reintroduce fortified/adulterated products and feel bad. Again no surprise there.

      Should they happen to feel bad after reintroducing real wheat, this too is not surprising. Our flora help us metabolize wheat compounds and I’d not expect people to metabolize these compounds unless they’ve given time for the flora to re-acclimate.

      Same could be experienced with milk or seaweed—both of which have a lot of complex compounds that our bodies cannot digest. Don’t eat those foods for a long time and you too can experience distress when re-introducing those foods. Not all foods give you a warm hug the first time you bite into them.

  19. Gina

    The timing of this is interesting. I just started “Wheat Belly” and was reading the part about ancient wheat versus today’s version. I did not find Dr. Davis’ reasoning convincing. If I had a loved one with celiac, I would not be willing to test his theory of ancient wheat versus today’s wheat. The only reason I think celiac disease and other gluten intolerance conditions have increased is that the medical community has gotten better at diagnosing them. Now if they could let go of the lipid hypothesis, we’d all be better off. As for my household, we find the South Park food pyramid episode more credible. “It’s upside down…”

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      A study of blood samples shows that celiac has really and truly increased. Compared to blood samples taken 50 years ago, those taken today are four times as likely to have antibodies triggered by celiac disease.

  20. Pam

    Check out Richard Manning’s excellent book Against the Grain, especially his arguments about agriculture and empire-building. If the ancient power base was in agriculture and agriculture created a distorted need for power, easily remedied by conquest, then of course grain became a superfood. (And I don’t think things are any different today.) As for arguments that bread must be healthy because people have historically consumed it and remained reasonably healthy — factors other than the bread may account for that, for example, the historically much higher levels of magnesium in the soil due to better farming methods. Compounded by the culmulative effects of generation after generation of substandard prenatal nutrition, modern nutrient-deficient diets may be just enough to push us over the edge.

    1. Richard Nikoley

      Thanks for the geopolitical perspective, Pam, but it’s non-sequitur in terms of our historical reportage.

      Ought we introduce stirrups and gunpowder into the discussion too, both with enormous geopolitical implications? (Stirrups is a fun & quirky one to look into.)

    2. Duck Dodgers

      Tom, I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you. You are a truly open-minded gentleman and I can only thank you for setting this conversation up and having the patience to listen to it.

      As for challenging ourselves, that is my main gameplan. I used to very much buy into the low carb and anti-wheat dogma, but I’ve been constantly challenging myself to examine new evidence. This is just the latest iteration of that long journey for us at FTA (tiger nuts, Inuit, etc).

      Anyhow, I want to at least give you an overview of what the Duck Dodgers team has learned in recent weeks and why we even thought to investigate wheat in the first place. We are always trying to refine our understanding of things. Hopefully that will paint a picture of our perspective now.

      The general fear of carbohydrates is often based on the idea that they cause blood sugar spikes and oxidative stress. And in the modern world, many people develop metabolic issues that makes it difficult to control that oxidative stress.

      When we first began to look into this, we quickly learned that botanists see oxidative stress in plants. Plants use sugars for managing stress, but they also get oxidative stress from metabolizing their own sugars. It’s a natural part of the metabolic cycles for them. Researchers believe the oxidative stress is actually signals (Chris Masterjohn has also talked about ROS being stress signals in humans)—the stress causes a negative feedback that reduces the metabolism of sugars and upregulates protective antioxidants.

      Where it gets interesting is that plants—and starch plants in particular—utilize very specific minerals to manage sugars and manage the stress from these sugars. When plants have deficiencies in these minerals, they can’t manage their own sugars. Their growth is stunted and their leaves turn yellow.

      For a starchy plant to grow and thrive, a good deal of Manganese is needed in the soil. Leaves, barks, saps, corms, tubers and seeds/grains always have a lot manganese. (Deciduous fruit flesh is apparently low in minerals so as not to deplete the surviving plant, and may play a role in the dropping of the fruit itself).

      In humans, Manganese and Copper compete with Iron for absorption in the intestine. Not only that, Manganese and Copper are required for very important enzymes and the creation of our most powerful endogenous antioxidants (SOD).

      When you eat real whole food carbohydrates, they always come properly balanced in these micronutrients because the plant would not thrive without them. When you eat those foods, you automatically obtain the very micronutrients both you and the plant need to manage those sugars.

      And we see some evidence of this in studies too…

      Manganese supplementation protects against diet-induced diabetes in wild type mice by enhancing insulin secretion (2013)

      Where it gets even more interesting is that all animals, even carnivores and herbivores, require this same general balance of micronutrients to handle their oxidative stress signals. An herbivore’s bones and intestines are an extremely rich source of these micronutrients (they eat so many grasses and seeds, the bile and intestines are constantly excreting the excess for elimination). And so, a carnivore will obtain these micronutrients by eating all parts of the herbivore. 100g of caribou stomach is one of the highest sources of manganese on the entire planet!

      In reality, we could obtain all of these micronutrients from whole animals, but people swallow entire carcasses or take the time to eat nose to tail. In the modern world, we favor muscle meats, which are high in iron, but low in Manganese and Copper. Organ meats have more micronutrients, but it’s hard to eat them all the time. Bone broths probably help though.

      Now, if you consider all that, you can see how a modern diet would result in a deficiency of the very micronutrients we need to handle our oxidative stress. Refine your flour and you lose the manganese and copper. Enrich your refined flour and now you have even more oxidative stress with no managese and copper to manage either the iron or the oxidative stress signals that happen (and are needed) when metabolizing carbohydrates. Iron overload alone is linked to metabolic issues due to the oxidative stress from free iron floating through the body and depositing into tissues and key organs.

      In essence, those who eat a lot of muscle meat and refined foods, lose the ability to handle carbohydrates and oxidative stress. Those individuals lack the very minerals needed to produce powerful endogenous antioxidants and the minerals needed to get iron properly in and out of cells.

      So, in a strange twist of fate, avoiding whole carbohydrates may contribute to the very deficiencies that make someone unable to tolerate carbohydates. Avoidance of carbohydrates and the fear of those carbohydates becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as it may contribute to an inability to properly metabolize carbohydates.

      What this really comes down to is an imbalance of micronutrients. A diet of meat and refined carbs has a LOT of iron (some of it added) and very little manganese. (This is a problem because, just like plants, the more iron you have, the more manganese and copper you need). Whereas whole grains and legumes have A LOT of manganese and some iron (plus iron-inhibiting phyrates). It’s a more favorable balance that promotes carbohydrate metabolism (yes, in both plants and animals).

      As you can see, most indigenous cultures never had this problem—they always ate whole plants and animals. Even in human milk, iron is balanced with manganese, which prevents the damage iron can cause.

      (btw, most people erroneously believe that manganese is highly toxic (i.e. manganism) , when in fact it is one of the least toxic metals in food. It’s only toxic if you inhale it.)

      Tom, I only wrote all this so you can see where this research is leading our ideas these days. We are experimenting with (real) whole wheat and grains because they offers a good balance of the micronutrients and phytonutrients we need to metabolize carbohydrates and oxidative stress. Most diet guris are so focussed on macronutrients, but I think on our side of the fence we have come to a point where we believe that humans have adapted to a wide range of macronutrients, and getting a proper balance of micronutrients from our whole foods may be more important than stressing over the ratio of macronutrients that one should or shouldn’t eat.

      Sorry for the long comment, but wanted you to see where we are coming from in honing in on fortification. We see iron fortification of refined foods (and high muscle meat intake) as contributing to an imbalance of the ideal iron/manganese/copper ratios you would normally find in nature (in both whole plants and animals).

      Cheers… and thanks again for being so gracious with your blog and allowing me to explain it!

      1. Tom Naughton Post author

        No apology necessary for the long comment. This has been a thought-provoking and informative discussion, and I thank you in return for taking part and keeping it civil.

  21. Richard Nikoley

    And here you go. Dr. Andro is quite prolific and special. Just popped up in my alerts:

    “Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity may be all about the microbiome and begin at the very moment you’re born via cesarean section and worsen when you’re not breastfed – In a soon-to-be-published review in Nutrients Cenit et al. try to elucidate whether gluten intolerance and celiac disease are consequences or triggers of significant imbalances in the bacterial composition of the human microbiome and how one or the other may eventually come about..

    “As the authors point out, there are in fact studies which suggest that the early colonization of the infant’s gut in conjunction with environmental factors (e.g., breast-feeding, antibiotics, etc.) could influence the development of our kids’ oral tolerance to gluten.

    “Figure 1: Proposed model for celiac disease (CD) pathogenesis. Specific host genetic makeup and environmental factors could promote the colonization of pathobionts and reduce symbionts, thus leading to dysbiosis. Dysbiosis may contribute to disrupting the immune homeostasis and gut integrity, thereby favoring CD onset and aggravating the pathogenesis (Cenit. 2015).

    “In that, the early colonization of the intestinal tract is of particular importance, because it programs a normal or abnormal immune reaction to gluten (and other potential allergens). It is thus no wonder that celiac disease and a whole host of other autoimmune diseases have been linked to a lack of, or an improper early colonization of the intestinal tract and the consequential misprogramming of the immune cells. In that, it has been suggested that the resulting dysbiosis may affect autoimmunity by altering the balance between tolerogenic and inflammatory members of the microbiota and, therefore, the host immune response.”

    Feel completely free to counter that with the standard, 2-decades-old paleo narrative that’s just so convenient you can make a million dollars by organizing a conference.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Feel completely free to counter that with the standard, 2-decades-old paleo narrative that’s just so convenient you can make a million dollars by organizing a conference.

      I’m going to assume that’s not directed at me.

      1. Richard Nikoley

        No sir, not at all. Actually, no one in particular. More like at momentum, where the movement becomes the primary driver and certain folks exploit it, which is fine. I can name three people besides yourself (who are each heavily invested in the movement) who are pretty open to all this stuff and have gradually modified positions over time: Sisson, Wolf, and Kresser.

        Other than the four of you, it’s a bit discouraging out there, from my perspective. Also, I’m sure there are others, this is just the circle I’m personally most familiar with.

        1. Tom Naughton Post author

          I feel ya. Being closed-minded is an excellent way to become irrelevant over time. That’s why I point my readers to posts like Duck’s that challenge what we think we know. Beliefs need to be challenged, and the challenges need to be challenged as well. Skepticism all around is healthy.

          I view these disagreements as opportunities to learn — part of that whole Wisdom of Crowds effect I love — as opposed to battles somebody must win.

  22. Jane Karlsson

    “Duck believes ancient wheat was a nutritious food, not a health hazard. Maybe, but I remain skeptical. Maybe ancient wheat was good, maybe it was neutral, maybe it was bad but not nearly as bad as the stuff sold today. I still think it’s likely wheat has been provoking auto-immune reactions in susceptible people since the dawn of civilization.”

    Hello Tom! I just want to ask you please, how do you explain the extraordinary health of the wheat eating Hunza?

  23. Jane Karlsson

    Thanks Tom. That Hunza article is a new one to me, and I have to say I don’t like it much. It’s full of mistakes. If you have the time, and I don’t expect you do, you should read The Wheel of Health. Perhaps I should tell you ‘Tom you absolutely MUST find the time to read this book’. But I can’t bring myself to do that. Your article was excellent, and for me, it’s the discussion and progress in thinking that matters.

  24. Michael

    “Dr. William Davis claimed that modern hybrids of wheat are to blame for all modern health issues. However, this is not supported by the scientific literature”

    That’s perhaps because the researchers who contribute to the scientific literature have only begun to look at the difference between modern wheat and ancient wheat. They didn’t start their research back when modern wheat was created. And their research is not going to be funded by powerful corporations either so it won’t move forward at a fast pace.

    For example last year there was a wave of stupid news articles claiming that the australian scientists who had first proven the existence of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity later proved they were wrong that in fact it did not exist. Complete BS typical bad media reporting. What they concluded was that gluten is not the part of wheat that’s causing IBS symptoms in their participants but they found that gluten caused depression:

    I think I recall Dr.Davis linking wheat to depression mostly because of what he saw in his office. Was his assertion supported by the scientific literature at the time when he said it? Maybe not but maybe some specific experiments had yet to be done to get to the bottom of it. Just like the italian study in which they compared kamut to modern wheat.

    There has been a few articles recently about the reproducibility crisis in science. Instead of encouraging scientists around the world to try to reproduce other teams’ results it looks like the institution of Science prefers the model of claiming This or That Study Proves or Disproves X and that’s it it’s over case closed no need to repeat the experiment! And there’s a bunch of people on the internet who run around abusing the term ‘Science-based’ because they think published science is all there is to it even though next year’s published science may invalidate the conclusions of the previous year’s science. But if the relevant scientific experiments have not been done yet then it means that we should wait until the results are in, not scoff and reject the claim and brag about how ‘Science-based’ you are.

    Anyway there’s still a lot of reasearch to be done on amylase trypsin inhibitors, wheat germ agglutinin, etc. and still no valid nutritional reason to eat wheat, modern or ancient. Not even the taste if there’s no butter or something like that on the bread it just tastes like cardboard.

    I don’t get the nerds’ obsession about having the exact perfect explanation/justification. Life is short and you don’t have to have the perfect explanation before you make a good decision based on risks and rewards.

    1. Duck Dodgers

      I’ll give you that more research is needed on ATIs, however wheat germ agglutinin is inactivated by heat and seems to be beneficial when cooked. Obviously nobody should eat raw wheat.

      Health effects of wheat lectins: A review (2014)

      Lectins are carbohydrate-binding proteins present in most plants. They play a role in protecting plants against external pathogens, like fungi, and other organisms. Some common dietary staples, such as cereal grains and legumes, have relatively high concentrations of a variety of lectins. A part of the proteins present in wheat germ is characterized as wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), in this respect. Authors of popular nutritional plans propose adverse health effects of this wheat lectin. With the use of different arguments, the consumption of foods high in lectins is discouraged. In this context, we discuss the effects of lectins from wheat on human health. Up-to-date research findings on mechanisms that wheat lectins have effects on health factors, such as obesity, autoimmune disease, and celiac disease, are critically reviewed. We conclude that there are many unsubstantiated assumptions made. Current data about health effects of dietary lectins, as consumed in cooked, baked, or extruded foods do not support negative health effects in humans. In contrast, consumption of WGA containing foods, such as cereals and whole grain products, has been shown to be associated with significantly reduced risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, as well as a more favourable long-term weight management. Research is recommended to define actual active lectin contents in wheat-based foods after heat preparation for human consumption.

      Michael said: “still no valid nutritional reason to eat wheat, modern or ancient”

      Actually, the unique phytonutrients are believed to be the main promoter of health in whole grains.

      1. Tom Naughton Post author

        “In contrast, consumption of WGA containing foods, such as cereals and whole grain products, has been shown to be associated with significantly reduced risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, some types of cancer, as well as a more favourable long-term weight management.”

        I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) that statement is based on the many crappy studies that compare people who eat whole grains to people who eat white flour, conclude that people eating whole grains have better outcomes, therefore whole grains are health food. People who smoke filtered cigarettes have better outcomes than people who smoke unfiltered cigarettes, but that doesn’t mean filtered cigarettes are good for us.

        1. Duck Dodgers

          Well, there are no health benefits of WGA because A) it’s toxic in large quantities (maybe hormetic in low doses), and B) nobody eats WGA if they cook their food.

          I’ll quote from the review paper:

          In a kitchen setting, it was shown that cooking pasta results in the inactivation of WGA. Moreover, another analysis followed by western blotting and ELISA assays with heat-treated WGA demonstrated that WGA activity was progressively reduced with increasing temperatures. At temperature values used around technological processing of pasta (65 °C), the reduction of WGA activity shows an apparent inflection point (after heat treatment of 10 min). Consequently, broad differences in WGA content are expected in uncooked pastas due to their minimal variation in the thermal treatment to which these wheat-derived products are subjected. In their study (Matucci et al., 2004), using a method to measure WGA-activity well validated earlier by Vincenzi et al. (2002), the authors concluded that WGA activity was undetectable in some uncooked wholemeal pasta, and that that was an indication that these products were subjected to more intense thermal treatments. Importantly, the authors concluded that traditional cooking practices of consumers will eliminate all WGA activity in pastas, if not already inactivated by technological processing (Matucci et al., 2004).

          As to the health benefits, the review says exactly what I said above… “The health benefits of whole-wheat have been attributed largely to the fibre (β-glucan and arabinoxylan) and phytochemicals (phenolics, sterols, tocols and vitamins) that are concentrated in the aleurone layer of the bran (Brouns et al., 2012), as well as present in the wheat germ fraction.”

          In other words, it’s not the nutrition. If it were that simple, you’d just pop a pill and be done with it. Rather, it’s the unique phytochemicals that are believed to offer the actual health benefits. And many of those phytochemicals have been individually studied.

          Anyway, the point being that people don’t eat grains for nutrient density—they eat them for energy and a unique array of phytochemicals.


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