No, wheat does not make people fat and sick: Scientists

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Obesity has a multifactorial causation and there is no scientific data to suggest that wheat consumption causes it, scientists say
Obesity has a multifactorial causation and there is no scientific data to suggest that wheat consumption causes it, scientists say

Related tags Wheat High-fructose corn syrup Cereal Obesity

The idea that wheat causes obesity or sickness has been rubbished by scientists conducting a review.

Published in the Journal of Cereal Science​ a team from Maastricht University in the Netherlands and the Crop Science group of Rothamsted Research UK set out to dispel myths and misconceptions around wheat consumption – fueled, they said, by non-peer reviewed publications.

They concluded that no data justifies a negative opinion about whole-wheat products in a healthy population, based on a review of peer-reviewed, controlled scientific studies.

“After earlier debates on the role of fat, high fructose corn syrup, and added sugar in the aetiology of obesity, it has recently been suggested that wheat consumption is involved. Suggestions have been made that wheat consumption has adverse effects on healthy by mechanisms related to addiction and overeating,”​ they wrote.

US cardiologist William Davis, for example, published ‘Wheat Belly’ in 2011 in which he suggested that wheat consumption increased the waistline and was a ‘perfect, chronic poison’. He argued that opioids in the wheat proved addictive due to new components created by genetic modification.

However, the scientists said that these claims were based on “different and controversial hypotheses.”

“We consider that statements made in the book of Davis, as well as in related interviews, cannot be substantiated based on published scientific studies,” ​they wrote.

Wheat consumption and obesity have no parallel, although wheat sales and sports shoes sales do…

The scientists argued that assigning the cause of obesity to one specific type of food, rather than overconsumption and inactive lifestyle in general, was incorrect.

“These discussions fail to take into account that obesity has a multifactorial causation…Whole-wheat consumption cannot be linked to increased prevalence of obesity in the general population,” ​they said.

The scientists said it is certainly true that an increase in wheat sales has a parallel with an increase in obesity, but so too does an increase in the sales of cars, mobile phones and sports shoes with the average speed of winners in the Tour de France.

“Hard data about adverse effects of wheat, consumed in baked, extruded, and other processed foods, are not available, and there are no grounds to advise the general public not to consume this common dietary staple,” ​they warned.

Wheat is not that different from old times… and it can promote health

Responding to suggestions from Davis that current wheat contains new grain components from genetic modification, the scientists said comparative studies and research on old and new strains has proved otherwise.

They acknowledged that scientific breeding had led to controlled wheat genes to ensure higher yields, pest resistance and good processing properties, but that there was no evidence that selective breeding has led to detrimental effects on the nutritional properties or health benefits of the grain.

“Arguments that the currently consumed wheat has been genetically modified resulting in adverse effects on body weight and illnesses cannot be substantiated.”

The scientists cited five recent scientific reviews that conclude the consumption of whole grains exerts positive effects on health.

“Foods containing whole-wheat, which have been prepared in customary ways (such as baked or extruded), and eaten in recommended amounts, have been associated with significant reductions in risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a more favorable long term weight management.”

However, gluten sensitivity must be addressed…

The scientists said that consumers with gluten sensitivity or a genetic predisposition for developing celiac disease are the only people who would benefit from avoiding wheat and other cereals containing proteins related to gluten, as well as rye and barley.

“It is therefore important for these individuals that the food industry should develop a much wider spectrum of foods, based on crops that do not contain proteins related to gluten, such as teff, amaranth, oat, quinoa, and chia.”


Source: Journal of Cereal Science
Published September 2013, Volume 58, Issue 2, pages 209-215. Doi: 10.1016/j.jcs.2013.06.002
“Does wheat make us fat and sick?”
Authors: FJPH. Brouns, VJ. Van Buul and PR. Shewry

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Posted by Tom Polignani,

The lead paragraph in this article states that these two groups "set out to dispel the myths and misconceptions around wheat consumption..." This statement, alone, tells me that these researchers are biased toward proving one side of the argument.. How can we reconcile this against, for one example, what noted neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter believes that gluten should be totally removed from everyone's diet because of the risk factors associated with dementia and alzheimers.

This certainly doesn't get LESS confusing to us "mere mortals" in the world of nutrition.

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needs to be in popular media

Posted by suzy badaracco,

any educated person in the industry already knows this, this is the sort of article that needs to be in popular media to get to the consumer who needs the education.

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Your title is misleading

Posted by Cyndie Katz,

The scientists say people should only eat whole grain wheat products, not highly processed ones which I believe is what most people eat judging from the ratio of highly processed wheat products to whole grain ones in the grocery store. They don't really define what a whole grain bread product would be -- do they mean comprised of 100% whole grains? 50% or 5%? Many breads labeled "whole wheat" are no where near 100% whole wheat.

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