The pro-gluten perspective: Sharing wheat facts at FNCE

Posted October 27, 2014

Photo: Wheat Foods Council booth at the Food and Nutrition Expo.
Nutritionists and dieticians are healthy diet experts, but even they may not know everything about every food. That’s why the Wheat Foods Council, an organization working to increase awareness of the value of dietary grains, provided a pro-gluten, pro-wheat perspective at the Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Atlanta, Georgia from October 18 to 21, 2014.

Sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the expo featured 350 exhibitors. Booth 2419 was staffed by the Wheat Foods Council and three other wheat industry voices: Dr. Brett Carver, wheat genetics chair in agriculture at Oklahoma State University; Fran Churchill, North American Millers’ Association instructor of milling science and management at Kansas State University; and me – Julia Debes, Kansas wheat farmer.

Truthfully, several companies touted gluten-free taglines. But, the steady stream of dieticians and nutritionists visiting the Wheat Foods Council booth were quick to share their love of wheat – and their dismissal of the gluten free fad diet. These professionals are trained to assist individuals with celiac disease or a true wheat allergy, but they believe grains play an important role in a healthy diet for the rest of us.

At the booth, we asked everyone – from dietetic students to school district nutritionists to registered dieticians working for large companies – to take a quick survey on wheat and gluten. Five questions are listed below, how many can you answer?

True or False? 

1. Wheat foods including enriched and whole grain products can be a part of a healthy diet for most people.

True! Wheat foods, both enriched and whole wheat, are a good source of folic acid, fiber, iron, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. In fact, enriched grains are the top source of folic acid for women of child-bearing age.

2. Celiac disease, the inability to tolerate any amount of gluten, affects a relatively small percentage of the population.

True! Celiac disease affects about 1 in 141 people, or about 3 million Americans.

3. Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is not easily diagnosed by health professionals at this time.

True! At this time, there is no test for non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Just 0.5 percent of people react to gluten, but do not have celiac disease or a wheat allergy.

4. Modern wheat varieties are causing increases in celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.

False! No cultivated crop is the same as its wild relatives. Humans have been improving wheat varieties for thousands of years through natural selection, whereas the relationship between celiac disease and wheat was established in the late 1940s.

5. Wheat is a genetically modified organism (GMO), similar to corn, soybeans and cotton.

False! Wheat breeding utilizes the natural variations in wheat and wild wheat relatives. There are no commercially available, genetically modified wheat varieties. However, genetically modified wheat would provide another tool for researchers to help farmers grow more and better wheat with less impact on the environment.

For more information, check out Wheat Food Council’s The Truth About Gluten (PDF) and the National Wheat Improvement Committee’s Wheat Improvement: The Truth Unveiled (PDF).

by Julia Debes