|Jesus F'ing Christ (Source)|
Take a look at this pretty balanced article recently published by the New York Times on the increasing diagnoses of celiac disease.
BLAME for the increase of celiac disease sometimes falls on gluten-rich, modern wheat varietals; increased consumption of wheat, and the ubiquity of gluten in processed foods.The article goes on to suggest that exposure to different microbial environments is the biggest factor, but it's rather apparent that we have can't just point to a simple answer. The world is a complex place, our bodies are complex, nutrition and health are complex. This is pretty much what you'd expect, right?
Yet the epidemiology of celiac disease doesn’t always support this idea. One comparative study involving some 5,500 subjects yielded a prevalence of roughly one in 100 among Finnish children, but using the same diagnostic methods, just one in 500 among their Russian counterparts.
Differing wheat consumption patterns can’t explain this disparity. If anything, Russians consume more wheat than Finns, and of similar varieties.
Neither can genetics. Although now bisected by the Finno-Russian border, Karelia, as the study region is known, was historically a single province. The two study populations are culturally, linguistically and genetically related. The predisposing gene variants are similarly prevalent in both groups.
Now take a look at some of the massive coverage on the recent randomized control trial showing significant cardiovascular benefits to the Mediterranean diet. Here's a good analysis from The Harvard School of Public Health. The Mediterranean diet arm of the study were encouraged to liberally use olive oil, eat seafood, nuts, vegetables, and whole grains, including a specific recommendation that pasta could be dressed with sofrito (garlic, tomato, onions, and aromatic herbs). The control diet this ended up favorably compared to was quite similar, but specifically geared toward being low-fat. Both were discouraged from eating red meat, high-fat dairy products like cream and butter, commercially-produced bakery goods, and carbonated beverages.
The largest differences between the two diets centered around discouraging vegetable oils, including olive oil, and encouraging 3 or more pasta or starchy dishes per day in the control group. To me, this suggests that Wheat Belly lives in that sweet spot for widespread dissemination of being easily actionable, having some evidence to support it so that you get some good anecdotes and positive results, but is vastly oversimplified and not suitable or necessary for everyone. Remember, the Wheat Belly diet implicates even organic whole grains as being irredeemably manipulated. It's a completely wheat free diet, because modern wheat is the greatest negative factor in human health. Based on an actual experiment of almost 7,500 people, we have strong evidence that it's the amount of wheat people eat that is problematic. You can eat some whole grains daily and still vastly decrease your risk of heart disease and obesity as long as you don't eat them 3 or more times a day.
The appendix to the NEJM study indicates that some of the patients in the control diet complained about bloating and fullness, but nothing similar from the Mediterranean diet group. The implications seem fairly obvious: there is little basis to make a draconian decision to completely eliminate something with proven health benefits such as whole grains from your diet unless you genuinely suffer from celiac disease. If you're interested in losing weight, think maybe you have gluten sensitivity, or just want to eat healthier, try something like this diet first, and definitely don't put your gluten free diet pamphlets in my child's take-home folder at school. That wasn't cool.
Update: Take a look at this critical post about the RCT of the Mediterranean diet. There's some perspective on the magnitude of the effect they found, and some compliance issues with the recommended diets that I'm not convinced are as damning as he suggests. I also find this sentence a bit odd:
So while you might be less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, you're no less likely to die. This is why I'm so confused they ended the study early.I don't know. I'd rather just not have a heart attack or stroke. Nevertheless, it's a thoughtful and overall very thorough take on the study.