Bread is a synonym for all food and for life itself. Major religions use it in their ceremonies. And, if you believe The Dr. Oz Show — a repeat offender in food myth-spreading — it’s not the Bread of Life, but the Bread of Death.
Yes, the daytime TV schlock doc’s show recently played host to William Davis, an author who claims that wheat products, including many breads, are addictive and “poison.” (That “p” word sure is mightily overused.) For people who do not have celiac disease — a genetic autoimmune syndrome that causes the body to attack the small intestine in the presence of wheat proteins — are not gluten-sensitive, or don’t have an allergy, there is little evidence that wheat is bad. That hasn’t kept the hype-mongers out of the book aisles or off television.
Experts have a different and less hysterical view of the world’s second-most-plentiful staple. The U.S. government’s most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans say nothing about wheat being bad and encourage consumers to eat more whole grains. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the association of nutrition professionals, notes, “ One food cannot make or break your diet, so foods should not be considered ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”
Additionally, a professor emerita of dietetics from St. Catherine University evaluated the claims in Davis’s book, and they just don’t stand up to any significant scrutiny. The researcher notes that Davis’s claims that wheat is addictive are based on a study that also found similar effects from a spinach protein and did not come from a feeding experiment. Also, Davis’s contention that celiac patients who go on a wheat-free diet lose weight is not supported by a significant body of evidence.
Unfortunately, sensible advice from experts tends to be boring. It’s much more fun to mark out specific villains and blame obesity on sinister forces instead of wide-ranging sociocultural choices (see our Small Choices, Big Bodies report for examples) and personal responsibility. It makes better television than telling people to balance calories consumed with calories used. But then again, so does Ancient Aliens. Our recommendation? Separate the wheat from the chaff and tune out Dr. Oz.