Is wheat bad for me?

I despise bad science, simplistic argument, and attention grabbing headlines.  Truly I do.  And that is why I despise this article on wheat by the “Real Pharmacy”.  I know that the best way to loathe something is probably to NOT write about it, respond to it, or otherwise draw attention to it but it is high time that we started making arguments against the anti-wheat movement and started doing something constructive.  Virtuous Bread exists to help people make and find and learn about good bread and, let’s face it, wheat is a key ingredient in most of the bread that is consumed around the world.  If you think it is bad for you, start to agitate for better wheat.  If you think it is bad for others, start to agitate for better wheat.

The reality is two fold:

1.  Most people in the world cannot afford to give up eating wheat
2.  Most people in the world do not want to give up eating wheat

It is irresponsible and exclusive to sit behind a desk in a wealthy country with a host of food choices and advocate giving up wheat.  In fact, it is a position that disgusts me.  If you have time to do your research and come to a conclusion that wheat should be eliminated from the diet because it is so toxic, you probably have the wherewithal to lobby for more responsible agriculture, milling and food production to produce a better, more healthful product that is affordable and yields fantastic nutritional benefits.  This is not an article about wheat.  This is an article about hybridisation. In it, the author should be making arguments about hybridisation, drawing balanced conclusions, and helping people understand what they need to do in order to make the best food choices for them.  Telling people to give up wheat is hysterical.  Hysteria is never reasonable and, in this case, is down right dangerous.

Throwing stones is easy.  Changing the world for the better is hard.  I know which one we need to do and it does not include stones.

Here is the real deal:

1.  Wheat is not bad for you.  Wheat that has been intensively hybridised within the past 80 years (for various reasons but mainly to increase yields) seems to be making some people ill but how much of that is due to wheat, a generally poor diet or other environmental factors is not known.  I repeat:  not known.  The data typically used is this:  When some people give up wheat they feel better and are “cured” of whatever aliment they had.  What goes unsaid is that they are usually giving up highly processed wheat and wheat gluten (used separately to bulk out a lot of processed food) in industrially made breakfast cereal, bread, cake, pastries, cookies, muffins, brownies, cup cakes, whoopie pies (need I go on) and a host of other pre prepared and fast foods which also include the chemicals sprayed when the wheat was grown, the chemicals used when the wheat was milled, the chemicals used when the product was prepared, a bundle of highly processed soy products (used in high quantities in the processed food industry), salt, various fats, and sugar.  Lots of sugar.

2.  Highly processed food is bad for you.  A diet that is unvaried and high in highly processed food is extremely bad for you.  A diet that is unvaried, high in highly processed food, and includes a large dose of sugar will most certainly make you ill and shorten your life span.  Industrially milled wheat – whilst it may not be actively bad for you – is not exactly good for you whereas stone ground wheat is positively good for you.  Bread that is baked in less time than it takes to allow the yeast to break down the wheat so that we can digest it does not do you much good whereas real bread is positively good for you. Wheat – responsibly farmed, gently milled, and properly prepared so that we can digest it and extract its nutrients – is good for you.  Not “good for you in some respects” as the article states and does not explain, but good for you.  Full stop.

There is a marvellous irony on the web page. Sitting right next to the article about wheat, is a scary advertisement (presumably the site was paid to host this pop up box) about alzheimer’s.  It is ironic because wheat germ is one of the very few (count them on one hand) sources of the complete chain of B vitamins, critical for brain functionality including happiness/depression, attention/attention deficit, self control/poor impulse control, and memory/memory loss.

Give up wheat at your peril.  Instead, try this (in order from easy to change) for one week and see how you feel:

1.  Don’t buy bread that comes sliced a plastic bag*.  Buy some good quality bread from a good baker and talk to the baker about how it was made.  You will not find good quality bread in most supermarkets so don’t buy bread there at all whether or not it is sliced and in a bag or open and in a pretty basket.  You will have to go to a good baker (if you can find one, so maybe this is not so easy after all).  Make sure the bread is made in more than four hours (this is good) and has ingredients you understand (water, yeast) rather than ingredients you cannot pronounce (calcium propitionate, amalyse).  Invest in a bread knife. Learn to bake.

2.  Don’t eat breakfast cereal unless it is porridge that you cook yourself out of oats, or other grains (rice, millet, corn, wheat, spelt…).

3.  Don’t buy sandwiches (including any kind of burger) because they are prepared with industrially made bread.  Use your lovely bread (point one) to make your own sandwiches.

4.  Don’t eat bread at a restaurant – this includes breaded food (chicken burgers, fish fingers, nuggets, etc), pizza, burger buns and croutons as well as the bread basket bread unless you know it is super lovely, well made bread with wonderful ingredients.

5.  Don’t buy anything at a coffee shop other than coffee, tea, or water.  No snacks, no cakes, no other drinks.  Certainly no bread.

6.  Don’t buy anything from a supermarket that someone else has cooked already.  Buy ingredients, not food, if you know what I mean.

7.  Vary your diet:  eat something different every day.

8.  Dramatically cut down on sugar.

Then, my friends, you will have no problem at all.

If you would like to learn to bake your own bread so that you know what good bread tastes like and what should be in it, please click here.  If you live in the UK and want to buy stone ground flour, have a look here for your closest stone mill.  If you live anywhere and want to learn more about real bread, have a look at the Real Bread Campaign’s site.  If you want to try a range of organically grown, ancient grains stone milled into flour on the farm where the crops are grown, have a look at Gilchester’s site.

*There is one exception to this rule and that is this:  There is a brand of bread called Ezekiel by Food for Life baking company.  It is baked slowly and is almost always sold in the freezer section of supermarkets because it does not have preservatives and so has a short shelf life.  Buy that, take it home and put it in your freezer to make toast and sandwiches.  It’s a very good product.

8 thoughts on “Is wheat bad for me?”

  1. Nice to see someone not follow the current “evil food ” hysteria ! That of course is wheat and bread . In the 70’s it was potatoes , 80’s eggs , 90’s pasta and now bread . Any diet that bans a food should be laughed at . Here’s some old fashioned Italian common sense that my parents always told me about health ” eat good food and work hard ” This is all you need to stay healthy. I have many relatives that ate only white bread all their lives and they are in their mid to late eighties and they are healthy and active . As you mentioned the big difference is that they ate home made bread . That means flour , water and salt and never anything else!

  2. john kruizenga

    Every 7 years we are told by the “experts” that certain staple foods are bad for us and that the “dangerous” food they warned us against 7years ago are now good for us again. We went through this with butter, margarine, coffee, wine, salt, fat etc. etc. The Italian lady nailed it with her emphasis on burning one’s fuel.

  3. If I were still young enough I would want to have your babies – sweet reason needs to be replicated more than ever in our fast-changing world. As it is I will recommend this website to everyone I know. Sensible, informative, well-written and funny. Just spent a week in France in a small village with its own bakery, and ate the bread several times a day without any signs of tummy ache (apart from over-indulgence, but I was on holiday….). My brother has taken up bread making (sourdough mostly) and that is also problem-free. Keep up the good work!

  4. One point that has been missed is that there is a growing number of people being diagnosed with Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disease which means a lifelong Gluten Free diet because of poor absorption of vitamins caused by damage to the villi in the stomach. This can lead to Osteoporosis and even cancer. No one knows why there are more people getting CD but its suspected to be the reasons you mention above. If only they could do what you advise but sadly it’s not as simple as that!

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