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John Hudson: Killer Wheat?


By John Hudson

Published: 3:49PM Thursday October 11, 2012 Source: Sunday

When Dr William Davis told me in an interview recently, "if you want ideal health, do not eat wheat", I took it personally.

OK, doctor, I'll give it a go. After all you are a cardiologist and you have just written the New York Times best seller Wheat Belly and, yes, my belly could certainly do with some downsizing.

Not that I'm leading the charge here. About 200,000 New Zealanders have already cut wheat out of their diets. Most however because they are "gluten free"( gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye).

These days gluten free has gone mainstream. The GF bread market alone grew by 57 per cent over the past year, with Goodman Fielder now devoting an entire plant to its GF Vogel line.

However I'm not trying to avoid becoming a coeliac, I'm trying not to turn into Miss Piggy, and Dr Davis is promising that by avoiding wheat I'm likely to get my cholesterol down in the process.

So for me it's no bread, no cakes, no beer, no... well no heaps of stuff. If you think about it, wheat is in just about everything processed.

Result? Well, so far so good. Down four kilos in as many weeks.

However it's the theory behind what Doctor Davis is saying which surprises me. He's claiming that when it comes to wheat the American Heart Association, not to mention other august institutions, have got it all wrong.

Wheat, he believes, is "the perfect chronic poison" - a cause of high blood sugars leading to diabetes and heart disease and a raft of other conditions from arthritis to dementia.

Of course he acknowledges that sugar, corn syrup and other "junk carbs" will have much the same effect on your waistline, but wheat he says is particularly nasty.

So why is the food that people have been eating for the past 10,000 years suddenly getting such bad press? Well, according to Dr Davis, modern wheat is vastly different from the wheat our grandparents ate.

This, he says, is the result of hybridisation which has created a high-yielding wheat strain that agribusiness loves but which is playing havoc with our bodies.

And yet most of the dietary advice we've been getting over the past few decades says eat more whole grains like wheat.

Who is right? The nutritionalists or the American cardiologist who now has millions of converts passing on the pasta and dumping everything from bagels to beer?

Well I certainly didn't know the answer. So I paid a visit to Professor Boyd Swinburn, the new head of nutrition at the University of Auckland Medical School. Boyd is one of the frontline troops in the battle of the bulge - the fight against the global obesity epidemic.

In the late 1990s Boyd invented the word obesogenic meaning factors that make people fat. Could wheat be the missing link?

Well the Prof wasn't surprised I was losing weight by cutting wheat out of my diet. However he thinks I could lose weight by cutting virtually anything with calories in it.

To blame one single food for the tsunami of diabetes and obesity he says is a little simplistic.

Think mass marketing of cheap processed calorie-dense foods and you are getting closer to the answer to the obesity plague which has now moved from the first world to China, Mexico, India and beyond.

Think Nestle, Burger King, Coke, Pepsi and hundreds of other global giants who have turned snacks into staples and you're getting warmer when it comes to why the world is getting rounder.

OK, thanks Boyd. So what's left to eat? Well I'm going for anything that doesn't have a brand on it.

Perhaps I could write a book, "Brand Free". Hmm, I feel a song coming on.

* John Hudson's report on the wheat-free, gluten-free trend screens on TV ONE's Sunday programme at 7pm this Sunday, October 14.

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