Last night a CBC program, the fifth estate, reported objectively on the anti-wheat trend in an episode called “The War on Wheat“. They interviewed Dr. William Davis, author of the book Wheat Belly, Dr. Joe Schwarcz a chemist, myth-buster, & science-advocate from McGill University, health science expert and author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? Dr. Tim Caufield, obesity doctor, diet expert, and author Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, and many more food science experts. They also interviewed two ladies, both named Rachel, who live their lives according to the ‘gospel’ of Davis. They believe, word-for-word, Davis’ wheat-free diet and claims that are based on smidgens of cherry-picked science to be absolute truths. The misunderstandings demonstrated by these two ladies alone just proves how big this war on wheat really is.
Highlights of the Show
Davis claims he didn’t set out to be the enemy of wheat and that you shouldn’t trust the government or food scientists, rather you should trust him. The show also noted that Davis has not ever conducted any of his own scientific studies regarding wheat and health or ill-effects, and that his book is based on his own and others’ personal experiences (anecdotal evidence). I agreed with Tim Caufield when he said “a bunch of anecdotes does not make good data”, because it’s true! Davis claims that he is waging war against misinformation in health and that a diet rich in healthy whole grains is destructive to our health. I found that to be the biggest eye-rolling moment of this show, the fact that Davis feels he is waging war on misinformation.
He claims that modern wheat is “Frankenwheat” and is not your grandparent’s wheat. I’ve already debunked this claim, but it baffles me how many people continue to ignore what science says. Why do people believe in food evangelists like Davis, asked CBC journalist Mark Kelley. “We want to believe in magic; the truth is not easy to sell. The truth is not sexy” claims Dr. Freedhoff, and I wholeheartedly agree.
Mark reported that 56% of Canadians have cut down on whole grains in their diet and that the $6 billion dollars in gluten-free sales is a “win” for the anti-wheat movement. He also reported that despite widespread support from scientists regarding food, only 37% of the population believes genetically modified food is safe to eat. When Mark asked Davis why he has personally escaped all health problems (as a wheat-eater), that Davis claims are caused by eating wheat, Davis told him “there is great individual variation, but it is very uncommon for someone to escape all health problems” associated with wheat. Davis says it’s a very tough cause and effect to connect…even though his whole war and manifesto are based on cause and effect! Mark then narrated in the show that anecdotes do not equate to science, but it makes for fun stories.
This is one of these arguments that has one smidgen of scientific fact to it, which is then exploded into a whole blob of nonsense. When you find something in a book that is absolutely wrong, it makes you question everything else that is in there.
Dr. Joe Schwarcz
Dr. Davis’ book is merely his opinion, stated Dr. Ravi Chibbar, a wheat geneticist who advises the grain industry. Unfortunately, as Mark Kelley noted, Dr. Davis isn’t just “any person with an opinion”. He has won the trust of millions of people because he is very charismatic, not unlike an evangelical preacher stated Dr. Freedoff. He also has many high-profile celebrities following his diet like Gwyneth Paltrow, Miley Cyrus and Anne Hathaway. Scientists are being drowned out by pseudoscience and celebrities in the war on wheat, says researcher Dr. John Ioannidis of Stanford Univeristy. Scientists don’t have that “rock star” appeal, and the public listens to movie stars.
What Twitter Has To Say
I enjoyed seeing what fellow Twitter users has to say and here are some key takeaways from the episode.
There is no scientific research to support the claim that modern wheat is responsible for an increase in obesity or diabetes. #waronwheat
— Healthy Grains Inst. (@HealthyGrain) February 28, 2015
Dr. Davis admits his Wheat Belly Book is not based on science because science doesn't sell books #waronwheat
— Nancy Ames (@DrNancyAmes) February 28, 2015
— CanadianCeliacAssoc (@CCAceliac) February 28, 2015
— Simon Ellis (@FarmLifeMB) February 28, 2015
— Jay Schultz (@WheatlanderJay) February 28, 2015
No researchers/scientists have endorsed the wheat belly lifestyle admits Davis. Stick w/the science when making my choices #WarOnWheat
— Annemarie Pedersen (@Hank_68) February 28, 2015
— LauraFerrier(Austin) (@AustinELaura) February 28, 2015
Dr. William Davis claims wheat has caused “more human disease and suffering” than all wars combined #WarOnWheat
— the fifth estate (@cbcfifth) February 28, 2015
— Robert Saik, PAg,CAC (@rsaik) February 28, 2015
Watch the Full Episode
At least Dr. Davis doesn’t think us wheat growers are “bad people”. He figures we’re just trying to pay our mortgages and alludes to the similarities that people have to sell wheat, much like people have to sell cigarettes.
He also says this is a “war on terror”, not just a war on wheat. So are we thereby terrorists for growing wheat? Sensationalism much?! Davis feels that the greater scientific community has overlooked and misinterpreted the data and has not looked at all the evidence.
No scientists or medical organizations have endorsed Wheat Belly and the grain-free lifestyle. This is because it is based on anecdotal evidence, not science. Davis’ book is an accumulation of anecdotes, which does not equate to science. Davis provides anecdotes for human interest as it makes for “fun reading”, as Davis said himself.
The Rachel’s in this show were skeptical of the science of modern wheat as they queried the motives of researchers. Who paid for the studies, they asked. Are you going to believe scientific consensus on the nutrition and safety of modern wheat, or are you going to trust and support a man who has made millions selling his book of advice based on beliefs?