Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wheat and Grains: Misrepresentations and Misunderstandings Part 1:

With the recent uproar of gluten-free and wheat-free products on the market, I am also noticing a lot of misrepresentation and misunderstanding on the subject matter. I am beginning to see more misuse and abuse of terms, definitions, studies, etc. I have recently read a very upsetting blog post that came from a person who is trying develop a “health guru” persona with zero credentials, no fundamental nutrition knowledge,  and not a single citation to support his “solution” (which is a topic for another day). To be honest, I rarely go out of my way to critique individual’s theories, unless, they are completely outrageously out there (and I mean OUT THERE).

WHAT is “Healthy”: As a person who is in the field of nutrition and dietetics, I am very cautious of the use of the word “healthy.” After all, we all have a different definition what is healthy. To some, it may be defined how an individual feels, and to others, it may just be a matter of body weight. Some may define it as how much energy they  have, while others may define it to how often they get sick, or even a combination of both. In any case, what is healthy and what is defined as healthy varies from individual to individual whether one is a doctor, nutritionist, personal trainer, lawyer, computer programmer, blogger etc. We all have different nutritional needs, allergies, and intolerances, and for that reason, who am I (or any individual) to tell people (the general public) without knowing their (individual) personal needs, goals, diet history, or medical history what is healthy for them?

Myth 1: ALL grains are considered wheat.
No! Not all grains are wheat. What are grains: The USDA defines grains as wheat products such as items made with flour that comes from the wheat family. In addition grains ARE NOT exclusive to wheat products. Grains also include corn, rice (including brown rice), rye, this also includes quinoa (which is technically a seed). The USDA recommends that consumers make at least half of their grains whole grains (unrefined).  Wheat and other grains may be used as processing agents for foods that go beyond grain products, this includes many types of alcohols.

Myth 2: Grains cause autoimmune disease.
NO!! Autoimmune diseases are typically genetic diseases that range from Type 1 Diabetes to Multiple Sclerosis. There is NO published scholarly data to date that even comes close to directly linking grains or wheat as a cause of autoimmune disease. HOWEVER, they are some pre-existing autoimmune diseases that could be  affected by diet. For instance, Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease where the body has a difficult time processing gluten, a specific protein that contains gladian that is found in wheat, rye, and barley and oat products. Instead of proper digestion of gluten, it actually literally attacks the body specifically the microvilli on the small intestine. These microvilli are essential components of the body that are needed to absorb nutrients. Typically, those that suffer from  Celiac disease experience symptoms just with a small crumb of wheat (due to cross contamination). Keep in mind that this is VERY different from an allergy or a simple bodily reaction. I will post more on this complex topic in future posts! For more info, visit your doctor.

Myth 3: They are foods that are “anti-nutrients.”
NO!!!! The term “anti-nutrient” is not a term that medical health practitioners use. HOWEVER, there are many nutrients that impair absorption of other nutrients across the board of EVERY food group from grains, fruits, veggies, dairy etc. I did lightly touch on this in my iron series. Unfortunately, in life and science they are many paradoxes that we just cannot explain. For instance, oxygen, a molecule that is essential for life, also has a detrimental effect. Over time,  oxygen  causes our cells to become reactive and unstable, thus, causing aging and possibly cancer. However, we don’t tell people to stop breathing to avoid oxidation! Therefore, if you are concerned about your nutrition status or a food impairing the absorption of nutrients, I highly recommend that you speak to a medical doctor or nutritionist /registered dietitian before cutting the nutrient or food group out completely. If you have further questions or would like a referral, please email me.

Myth 4: The launch of the Whole Grains as a food group on the USDA Food Pyramid is the cause of obesity in the U.S.
Believe it or not they are actually people that actually believe this notion! I can honestly tell you that I have been following this topic very closely for many years now and this issue is much more complex than some would assume. There are many variables that contribute to the obesity crises in the US and I can assure you that the millions of Americans who consume fast food were and are not keeping the USDA Food Pyramid in mind when ordering that Big Mac.

Fact: Wheat may be an inflammatory.
Our bodies are complex machines and each individual responds to certain foods differently. Thus, wheat along with many other foods can possibly have inflammatory affects on some bodies. HOWEVER, this doesn’t mean that it has the same effect on your body. If you are concerned, I recommend keeping a food diary to help pinpoint any food issue. Keep in mind that cutting foods out of your diet is a personal choice and just because it works well for you does not mean it works for everybody.

Fact: Wheat and other grain products may contain pesticides.
Yes, however, pesticides are not just a grain issue it is a general public health issue that applies not just to grains, but to all crops! Here is a great resource:
Much more on the pesticide issue in future posts!

Fact: There is NO “psychic” food guru who knows how YOU are feeling.
If I ever do discover one, I will be the first one to let you know!! Enough Said.

My informal References in the order addressed:

Sareen S. Gropper, Smith, J. L., Groff J. L. (2009). Advanced nutrition and human metabolism.
     Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth Press.

Zumdahl, D. (2008). Introductory chemistry. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.  

Much more coming soon!
Be mindful!!! =)



© Kate Ezra Wolf, 2012. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.