I’ll be so glad when the paleo diet and its ilk go out of vogue, though if the Atkins diet is any indication these sort of fad diet ideas have a way of hanging around for a while. The most recent round of anti-grain grumblings comes from cardiologist William Davis, who calls modern wheat “a perfect, chronic poison” that causes diabetes, inflammation, hypertension and heart disease.
Davis is the author of the popular Wheat Belly diet book, which was released in August 2011. I’m assuming the reason he’s back on the morning TV circuit is because a follow-up, Wheat Belly Cookbook, comes out this December. So here’s Davis on CBS This Morning yesterday, detailing the great modern wheat deception:
“It’s not wheat. It’s an 18-inch tall plant created by genetic research in the ’60s and ’70s. This thing has many new features nobody told you about, such as there’s a new protein in this thing called gliadin. We’re not talking about gluten, so I’m not addressing people with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease. I’m talking about everybody else because everybody else is susceptible to the gliadin protein that is an opiate. This thing binds into the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite, such that we consume 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year.”
Oh gawd. Where to even begin? I guess the outright lies are probably the best place.
Lie #1: Gliadin is a ”new protein” being engineered into wheat.
Actually, gliadin has always been in wheat. It’s one of two major proteins — the other is called glutenin — that bond together to form gluten. Gluten–as you well know unless you’ve spent the last decade in a cave– is intolerable to people with celiac’s disease, while others can have less severe gluten intolerance or sensitivity. In so far as gliadin is a vital part of gluten, then yes, gliadin is bad for those with celiac’s or other gluten issues. As for everybody else: If you can tolerate gluten, you can tolerate gliadin.
Modern wheat may contain more gliadin, or gliadin with a slightly different amino acid structure. Slight changes in the genetic makeup of wheat, however, have been happening for hundreds of years, and can occur quite naturally.
Lie #2: Gliadin is an appetite-expanding opiate.
Giadin is not actually an opiate. Gliadin polypeptides can bind to opiate receptors in the brain, but there’s no evidence that this stimulates appetite (look at the Wikipedia page for gliadin, for instance, and you’ll see the only citation for this fact is a link to the CBS interview with Davis from yesterday). And while not an outright lie, it’s patently absurd to suggest that Americans now consume “an extra 440-calories per day, 365 days per year” because of the (possibly mythical) appetite-stimulating properties of gliadin and not, say, anything else that’s changed in our diets in the past 60 years. According to most researchers, the biggest contributors to increased caloric intake are sugar and refined carbohydrates.