Food/Nutrition Columnist
Wheat – What You Really Need To Know
Sep 24, 2017 - 7:00:44 AM

( - There are a lot of people who believe that foods containing wheat are bad for you and a gluten-free label means the food is healthier. Not so. Others think avoiding gluten aids in weight loss. Doesn’t work. In fact, gluten is not harmful for those who do not have a medical reason to avoid this protein found in wheat, rye and barley. Nonetheless many people believe that a wheat-free/gluten-free diet is a way to better health.

Research scientists and physicians, Antonio Di Sabatino and Gino Roberto Corazza are concerned that gluten-free eating is becoming a social health problem rather than a medical health problem. They list 3 reasons not to self-prescribe a gluten-free diet.

Eliminating gluten before you are tested for gluten sensitivity or celiac disease can make a diagnosis very difficult. Without the presence of gluten it is impossible to detect antibodies in your body that point to or rule out celiac disease.

If a person truly has celiac disease and has self-diagnosed they can be doing harm to their body because they may not be avoiding gluten in all of its forms. Some diet adjustment may eliminate symptoms but underlying issues can still be causing problems. A person with true celiac disease needs to be monitored for anemia, bone disease, and other autoimmune diseases. Women need to be counseled about fertility and complications in pregnancy and children and relatives may be at risk as well.

Eating gluten-free is expensive. Some gluten-free foods cost over 200% more than traditional foods. That is a lot to pay for something you may not need.

There are no commercially available genetically engineered or genetically modified wheat varieties sold anywhere in the world.

Modern wheat varieties are the product of thousands of years of plant breeding, not genetic engineering. Today’s wheat varieties are a melting pot of ancestral genetics originating 10,000 years ago in the cradle of civilization between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers. The earliest ancestors of wheat—Einkorn, Emmer, and Spelt—were among the first plants to be cultivated by humans. Over centuries, some hybridization of wheat occurred naturally. Today wheat breeding research is primarily conducted by state Land Grant Universities. This research has resulted in increased wheat yields, better food quality, and seed adaptation to local growing conditions. Today’s wheat breeding methods focus on better utilizing the plant’s native genes, not on introducing foreign genes.

There could be a downside of voluntarily eating wheat-free or gluten-free.

In 2015, one-quarter of Americans reported eating gluten-free foods. In many of these foods, rice flour is substituted for gluten-containing wheat flour. Evidence suggests that rice-based foods may contain higher levels of heavy metals because rice accumulates metals, notably arsenic and mercury, from fertilizers, soil and water.

Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago attempted to find out if people who eat a gluten-free diet may be exposed to higher levels of arsenic and mercury. Seventy-three people who self-reported eating a gluten-free diet were tested. Their concentration of urinary arsenic was nearly double those who did not eat gluten-free and they had increased levels of mercury in their blood.

Because this was the first known study to measure arsenic and mercury levels in people who eat a gluten-free diet there is no way of knowing if these levels will cause health problems in the future. But it does point to a possible problem that needs to be examined further.

What does this all mean to you? Consider carefully the reasons you have chosen to eat more wheat-free/gluten-free foods. For those with diagnosed celiac disease the reasons are clear, but for many others it may be time to re-examine your decision based on research facts.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.

Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:

Diabetes Counter

Calorie Counter

Protein Counter

Healthy Wholefoods Counter

Complete Food Counter

Fat and Cholesterol Counter

Available in print from Gallery Books:

Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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