Wheat Foods Council Tackles Misperceptions About Effect of Gluten in the Diet
8/9/2012 9:11 AM
Wheat is getting a bad rap in some circle with the growing popularity of the gluten-free diet. Judi Adams of the Wheat Foods Council says disseminating the truth about gluten and positive role wheat products play in a healthy diet is one of her organizations priorities for the coming year.
Speaking at the 2012 Wheat Review conducted by the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, Adams said, “The Wheat Foods Council’s role is to really help improve consumers’ perception of wheat products so they will consume more, theoretically. And we think it does work. Once we get all the old wives’ tales put behind them and show them what science really says about wheat, they’re more likely to eat it.”
Gluten is, of course, a hot-button issue of late for some people, Adams said and “people are getting this misperception about the wheat that they eat today is different than it was 50 years ago. And, at this point in time, there’s no proof to that. Nobody’s done the research to show that it’s any different, that it’s not as good as it used to be so we’re trying to get those two messages out.”
She said gluten in wheat is a very serious issue for the small percentage of people who do suffer from celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but that’s only about seven percent of the population. Even so, she said, about 30 to 40 percent of the population is looking for gluten-free products. “So, there are a lot of people out there that are trivializing the necessity of celiac disease by using it for some sort of a fad diet.”
She said that celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Bill O’Reilly attributed benefits to a wheat free diet, and that may have provided the springboard for the fad. “When celebrities get on something it doesn’t matter whether it’s science-based or not. People think, ‘Well, I want to look like Gwenneth Paltrow, so I’ll try it, too.’”
Adams said that gluten is a good thing for people who do not suffer from celiac disease or non-celiac sensitivity. “In fact, one of the messages we’re trying to get out is that research shows that for healthy individuals gluten actually improves the beneficial gut bacteria.”
She said that the industry has developed a strategy to fight the misperceptions by choosing their battles carefully. Rather than try to go toe to toe and argue with the likes of Bill O’Reilly, they are trying to emphasize what the scientific research actually says and educate consumers in the process.
One of the charges leveled by proponents of the gluten-free lifestyle is that, somehow, wheat breeders have changed the protein and gluten composition of modern wheat varieties. “If we knew that had happened, we would have to admit it,” Adams said. “We don’t know that that’s happened. You look at the protein content, and gluten’s about 80 percent of that, the average wheat in this country is remaining about 12 percent protein-for 50 years. So we know the protein content hasn’t changed. What we don’t know is the gliadin portion of the gluten, which is the portion that is toxic to people who have celiac disease, we don’t know if that has changed or not. And that’s just one of the theories about what has increased celiac disease.”
She said there are other theories about the rise in celiac disease. One is that women are not breastfeeding their babies as much as they used to and this might result in lowered immunity in their children. Another theory is that additional gluten added to bread products by bakers may be increasing sensitivity. And still another theory says that shortened rising times used by modern bakers may not be breaking down the gluten as thoroughly as in the past. She said there has been a rise across the board in auto-immune disorders in general, and celiac disease is on the list.
From the Oklahoma Farm Report.