by Marion Nestle
Jan 17 2014

Is wheat bad for you? Not for most people.

As Food Navigator-USA puts it, “No, wheat does not make people fat and sick.”

Bread lover that I am, I consider recent research to be giving us good news.

Food Navigator is referring to a review of research on whole wheat and health just published in the Journal of Cereal Science of all places.  The authors conclude that unless you have celiac disease or wheat allergies, eating whole-wheat foods is good for you.

In fact, foods containing whole-wheat, which have been prepared in customary ways (such as baked or extruded), and eaten in recommended amounts, have been associated with significant reductions in risks for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and a more favourable long term weight management. Nevertheless, individuals that have a genetic predisposition for developing celiac disease, or who are sensitive or allergic to wheat proteins, will benefit from avoiding wheat and other cereals that contain proteins related to gluten, including primitive wheat species (einkorn, emmer, spelt) and varieties, rye and barley…Based on the available evidence, we conclude that whole-wheat consumption cannot be linked to increased prevalence of obesity in the general population.

The authors find little evidence in support of popular myths:

  • Proliferation of wheat products parallels obesity and is causally related.  No, it does not.
  • Wheat starch differs from starches in other foods in especially undesirable ways.  No, it does not.
  • Whole wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than sugar.  No, it does not.
  • Wheat contains opioids that make people addictive. No, they do not.

In the meantime, the FDA has been working on updating its 2006 guidance to industry about how to label statements about whole grains. The agency has been conducting research on how consumers judge:

  • Food products, including nutritional attributes, overall healthiness, and health benefits.
  • Labeling statements in terms of their credibility, helpfulness, and other attributes.
  • Terms and statements such as “Made with Whole Grain”, “Multi-Grain”, and “100% Whole Wheat.”
  • Whole grain statements beyond the scope of the statements themselves (i.e., halo effects).
  • How whole grain statements influence consumer use of the Nutrition Facts.

Can’t wait to see the results.  They ought to be out soon.


You seem to be arguing both sides of a dilemma. If you accept the American food system as it exists, then you can’t deny that wheat is bad for us. Because, in the American food system, wheat is the heavily processed, carb-laden panoply of food products we find in the middle aisles of our grocery stores, which you yourself admit are bad for us.

For the average consumer, shopping in the typical American grocery store, it is not only reasonable, but nutritionally sensible to decide that “wheat is bad for us” and to only buy meat, vegetables and fruit. Because the typical American consumer is far better off avoiding any of the wheat products available to them in their supermarkets.

  • JD McLelland III
  • January 21, 2014
  • 11:08 pm

No, I’m not arguing both sides. Quite simply…wheat is not bad for us…period.

Refined flour byproducts ingested at the rate most Americans do? Absolutely. Refined flour is an over-processed stripped down version of wheat that removes the fiber, vitamins and minerals and leaves starch and sugar.

Wheat does not equal commercial, refined wheat.

You act like we don’t have a choice in America, like refined flour products are all we have. No. We have a lack of conscious and will power. There are plenty of options and would be more if there was the support and demand. The unconscious “elimination” campaign weakens the potential growth of quality solutions even more. Thank God people didn’t swear off tomatoes and instead turned to organics and heirlooms.

Your statements and conclusions are actually quite ignorant. There are plenty of options and access….and the promotion of the elimination of wheat is reckless and void of reality.

  • JD McLelland III
  • January 21, 2014
  • 11:56 pm

George…it seems almost all your sources and “facts” are completely misguided and straight up false. There is more land in the world with wheat growing on it than an other item on the planet. It’s been this way all through history.

Is it shocking to you that the US is really the only country in a gluten and wheat uproar? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that we are fat obese nation that buys everything made and processes and eats on average 150% of needed calories daily.

Wheat itself in the whole form is NOT bad for it. At some point…make the separation between overdose of white, commercial refined wheat and the actual wheat itself. It’s not wheat, it’s irresponsible eating and laziness.

Your ideas and claims are not only scientifically false…they are empty of any common sense.

Stop immersing in theoretical, non applicable marketed ideas by Dr Davis and Perlmutter and start looking at facts.

  • JD McLelland III
  • January 22, 2014
  • 12:05 am

6% includes only 3% that are true celiac, and only 1% that has serious adverse reactions. Celiac is extremely easy to detect, you have incredibly false information. Your information on allergies is also false. 100% theoretical and your source should be ashamed for publishing it. by the way…celiac IS wheat allergy!

The tests are inconclusive because you don’t have it! Period.

Of course you feel better when you stop eating a white, refined, commercial flour based diet…especially when you replace it with organic fruits and veggies full of vitamins and minerals.

You would have the exact same results balancing your diet and switching to a true balanced diet with whole grains and true whole grain byproducts.

You have not been made ill by wheat, you have been made ill by a poor choice of commercial flour byproducts and too much of them.

  • George
  • January 22, 2014
  • 1:13 am

Wrong. I was a hippy and avoided white bread, ate whole grain products, far more than most people.
The rate of celiac disease seems to have been lower in the days when people ate mostly white bread.
I don’t think you always need a test to know that something is ruining your life.
If your mouth burns and your tongue swells and the world turns sour when you eat one particular food, just don’t eat it anymore, and save your money.

Balancing my diet? Thanks for the advice but I am not a teeter-totter.
I’ll just eat to get nourished without toxicity, if it’s all the same to you.

  • George
  • January 22, 2014
  • 1:21 am

I don’t live in the US. Your statement is not correct. This has long been an issue in many other countries. The ones where most wheat is eaten.

I haven’t read Davis and Perlmutter. I knew what I know before they started writing. But I expect they’re mostly right. And, they’re doctors. They see patients. Do you have that experience? Or, have you ever had the kind of disease you’re trying to redefine and invent treatments for?

“There is more land in the world with wheat growing on it than any other item on the planet.”
no wonder the world is such a mess.

“It’s been this way all through history.”
there are such things as history books where such thoughts can be checked before they are written down.

  • jcherfas
  • January 22, 2014
  • 6:33 am

The link to the paper is broken.

  • Cactus_Wren
  • January 22, 2014
  • 4:19 pm

The dangers of wheat and wheat by-products!

[…] Is wheat bad for you? Not for most people. <<While I’m not the biggest fan of refined grains, wheat has definitely been given the Salem Witch Trial treatment the past couple of years. Scientists are working to set the record straight. (Food Politics) […]

  • Logicandegg
  • January 24, 2014
  • 1:40 pm

I just have to point out, that whenever an article is written defending wheat, the gluten free crowd, sounds like they have been brain washed and joined a cult. You can find whole wheat bread, but not from the companies like Pepperidge Farm, etc.

IMO, one unintentional driver of the gluten-free craze: many wheat products are high in salt (bread is one of the top 10 sources of sodium in our diet.) While I agree that most of the GF stuff is based in conjecture or flat-out wrong, people who remove gluten from their diets may also be reducing sodium…which might account for why they report feeling better.

[…] expert Marion Nestle notes that foods containing whole-wheat, “which have been prepared in customary ways (such as […]

  • Lucero Cardenas
  • January 27, 2014
  • 2:36 am

I wouldn’t say that this article is biased, I would just say that this post is just stating simple facts about foods with wheat. But I don’t actually see how wheat would reduce some diseases but be bad at the same time?

[…] Is Wheat Bad for You? Not for Most People. – I blame the gluten-free fad for making me especially pro-wheat this month. […]

[…] 2. Is wheat bad for you? Not for most people. […]

[…] Wheat does not make people fat and sick. […]

  • andria12000
  • May 13, 2014
  • 8:40 am

I would dismiss this article and the science it discusses. Just as Janknitz points out “published in the Journal of Cereal Science” discredits this paper immediately. Ever hear of biased research??? Just because research gets published, even peer-reviewed does not guarantee it is unbiased. And saying that the glycemic index of whole wheat bread is not higher than sugar does not make it true. With the GI of sugar being 68 and that of the average whole wheat bread is 71, you just posted a lie.

  • andria12000
  • May 13, 2014
  • 8:46 am

I want to comment on just a portion of your rebuttal to John Ranta’s comment: Why are you arguing about the Wheat berry? This article comments on whole wheat bread and the GI of that IS higher than table sugar. As you, yourself essentially say, the vast majority of the wheat eating public is purchasing and eating whole wheat bread and not the damn wheat berry and grinding it and processing it into bread at home. With the modern lifestyle most people do not have access to raw ingredients let alone the time to make them into a finished product for consumption. it might be better to avoid these grains all together. Besides you can’t argue that wheat has more nutrition than other foods that require less processing (offal, greens, berries, oysters, bone broths…). be realistic….

  • JD McLelland III
  • May 14, 2014
  • 9:08 am

If your mouth is burning when you eat wheat, I think you have an entirely different issue, it may stem from the hippy days. The rate of celiac??? You don’t even know what that is. You realize people are born with celiac? How about the rate of obesity and diabetes.

Wheat has not changed, period. Our crappy American diets have along with over consumption of alcohol, drugs and stimulants.

You aren’t talking from any position of fact, just regurgitated, unsupported, personal ideas

  • JD McLelland III
  • May 14, 2014
  • 9:08 am

You’re actually incredibly wrong on several points. The entire point is that people are NOT buying whole grain breads made with flou, water, yeast and salt. Nor are they eating actual whole grain breads. Whole wheat does not equal whole grain…and in any given commercial loaf of bread there are 15-20 additional ingredients.

The GI of a slice of actual long fermented artisan bread made with whole grains is not higher than table sugar, not even close. That is dramatically incorrect. A comparison with table sugar is a ridiculous point anyway, as it is in no way comparable.

There is not an increase in gluten in wheat as is popularly falsely spread. Wheat has not magically changed in the last 5 years like people want to pretend it has. These are not ideas, they are facts.

Avoiding grains if you are not celiac has been proven to be a poor choice. You are also incorrect on the nutrients of whole grain wheat in comparison with your other food items. You really should do some actual research on whole grains and what the actual experts say…not what misguided paleo theories preach. Which paleo itself is a lie…considering it’s widely known among anyone who knows anything about the paleolithic, that they absolutely ate grasses and grains.

You actually make a good point though…regarding “modern lifestyle”. Now you’re actually on the right track. The fact is, grains themselves have nothing to do with the equation. Refined, fast, industrial foods and poor diets have everything to do with it. Not to mention the poor modern eating culture in America. Diabetes, obesity, autism, etc etc etc have skyrocketed much higher than the 2% increase in celiac due to awareness and testing.

This entire article and conversation is completely missing the boat. It’s not about wheat, it’s about what we do with it and how we eat it & how much! Along with the rest of our crappy American diets. The lack of understanding and the major bandwagon mentality without any actual knowledge is disturbing.

  • George
  • May 15, 2014
  • 1:04 am

That’s just silly.
You are not “born with” celiac it is a reaction of the immune system to gliadin.
If you never eat wheat, you can never be celiac.
You can be born with genetic risk factors, but these are common and not 100% correlated, whereas celiac and eating wheat are 100% correlated.
Celiac sprue is a disease of children (not while breastfeeding, so they are not “born with it”) but celiac disease and non-celiac, which can also be fatal (affects internal organs such as liver other than the gut), can be adult-onset changes in immune function due to infections or drug therapies.

  • JD McLelland III
  • May 15, 2014
  • 9:23 am

George, please find some time to do some actual research before you continue to post inaccurate and embarrassing comments on the Internet that demonstrate how little you actually know about this subject. Celiac is absolutely a genetic disorder, do any kind of actual research on it and this is elementary. Like most genetic disorders, it becomes manifest at different points in life.

You literally don’t have a clue what you’re talking about. Your surface knowledge without any of the details is very evident. You read one theoretical article from one person and think you have fact. Consult the experts, please.

I’m fully aware of what celiac acts like. It is an autoimmune reaction to the gluten proteins in the gut. There are several levels of celiac and severities. Most people with celiac can enjoy properly fermented breads just fine in moderation, just like people with lactose intolerance.

Celiac is not a mystery disease, it’s easily tested for and doscovered…as for “non-celiac gluten sensitivity”, this is a theory, not a disease. The vast majority of the people diagnosed by their naturopath or massage therapist have zero need to avoid wheat. It’s been proven in multiple double blind tests. These people are suffering from a deficiency and sometime a gluten overdose, not from a reaction to gluten. They have relief when they change their diet because they replace the refined, white, commercial flour products they eat that are stuffed with extra gluten…with organic fruits and vegetables and high nutrient, low sugar foods. However, those that go on a whole grain based diet with natural long fermented breads, see the same improvement and are far more healthy and balanced. The benefits of whole grains are not a mystery, they are vast.

Your information is from theoretical sources and is quite old. Fact is, there has been no change in wheat in 10-15 years. There has been a dramatic change in the way we eat, what we eat, how much we eat, and how often we eat. The industrial white flour and bread processes do not help. We are suffering from deficiencies, not gluten reactions.

  • JD McLelland III
  • May 15, 2014
  • 10:10 am

This really isn’t that complicated. The fact is, nobody eats “gluten”. People eat pizza, pasta & bread. The vast majority of the time this is white, refined, commercial, refined sugar, 20 ingredient, 2 hour bread. The only reason gluten has become a conversation is because of celiac, which IS real. What is not understood, is that celiac creates a deficiency due to the inability to process. It creates an autoimmune reaction when the gluten is reaching places it is not supposed to be due to a poor state of the gut and it’s lining.

3 out of 4 “non-celiacs” is not diagnosed by a medical professional and is never diagnosed via a test that shows ANY relation to gluten.

There is no such thing as an allergy to gluten, another misconception.

Go deeper than the surface authors and writers putting out theories that have been proven false…who just happen to be making a ton of money on these theories that create a positive reaction that has to do with a deficiency, not gluten. It’s smoke and mirrors. Commercial bread is loaded with extra gluten, and the bread is white, the nutritional elements to help digest are missing…some people can feel a gluten overdose…which can happen with any protein in bulk.

People refuse to take responsibility for their health. They want to point fingers and pass blame. It’s always the silver bullet. There’s an assault on bread, carbs about every 6-10 years…because it’s the foundation of our food system.

To even talk elimination of grains is simply ridiculous and ignorant of reality domestically, internationally, historically & nutritionally. The intelligent conversation is about the horrible eating culture in America. Lets talk sugar, processed foods, overeating, portions, constant eating, fast good, unbalanced plates and diets. Instead we sit here talking about gluten! It’s sad and shameful.

  • George
  • May 15, 2014
  • 3:07 pm

By experts do you mean Jane Carlsson?

  • JD McLelland III
  • May 15, 2014
  • 3:17 pm

Haha that’s funny, now it’s very clear where you get your horribly incorrect theoretical science. The fact that you mentioned her makes it very obvious who you read.

How about every single major medical and nutrition center in the world…as well as the Celiac Center itself w/ Dr Alessio Fasano. Not some rogue guy from the UK that spots threories on his blog that have been proven 100 percent false over and over.

  • Happy_Dancing_Monkey
  • June 6, 2014
  • 9:15 am

OK heres the deal, eat wheat it you want to and shut up about it to people who don’t want to. The flip side is also true, if you don’t want to eat wheat products good for you and then politely shut the heck up and let me enjoy my pizza. This is a personal choice and quite frankly neither one of you has any standing to tell anyone what to eat, other than yourselves. I assure you if I care at all what you think about my diet I’ll ask.

  • Adria
  • June 11, 2014
  • 6:02 pm

Wheat is good for all I think, it is the vast lethal chemicals in the bread you buy now that is the killer. As with all the other foods. To think that maybe and maybe 1% of foods in the super markets are actually good for you. Keep on eating and following studies on what is good like all the other drugs they promote.

  • Markmywords
  • June 14, 2014
  • 3:39 am

JD you need to advise of your interests in the PRO wheat lobby.Just like getting the journal of cereal science to make comment on a issue with Wheat.

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