Opinion: Oops II: the whole-wheat discussion is heating up

POSTED: 10/3/12 1:06 PM

Bakker Menno ‘t Hoen started something with his op-ed in the Volkskrant about what one could call the dark side of whole-wheat bread (see Today’s opinion page of October 2: Oops: whole-wheat bread is not healthy at all).
At the respectable NRCHandelsblad Anouk Eigenraam had a funny feeling about the story, so she started to do some fact checking. The results of her efforts were not conclusive, but rather confusing.
Eigenraam called Frans Kok, a professor in food and health at the University of Wageningen. Kok summed the baker’s criticism of whole-wheat bread up in two words: “Utter nonsense.”
Kok said that ‘t Hoen’s opinion lacks foundation. “It is all put rather simply, but above all, the story is not correct. Especially his statement that bread in the Netherlands is baked too fast and that this is the reason phytic acid is not broken down makes no sense at all.”
This is the reality according to Kok: “Food can be divided in fast and slow carbohydrates, depending on how fast they increase the blood sugar level in the blood. Strongly processed products with simple carbohydrates are broken down fast and quickly absorbed in the bloodstream. Products like vegetables, fruit and brown bread have complex carbohydrates and they are broken down slower and the glucose comes into the blood gradually, without too many peaks. It is therefore exactly the other way around from what this baker claims.”
Eigenraam seemed convinced, but in the end she decided to call baker ‘t Hoen for a comment. He told her that the point is not so much whether whole-wheat bread makes people fat, but the iron dogmas of the Food Center and its Disk of Five. “The current campaign: Wat je ook doet, volkoren is altijd goed (whatever you do, whole-wheat is always good) is simply to one-sided, as if whole-wheat bread is always good, regardless of the amount, even if you would eat a whole bread.”
The baker noted that professor Kok’s opinion that brown bread has slow carbohydrates has been obsolete for a long time. That information is even to be found on the web site of the Food Center, the baker said.
And indeed: “Products with a high GI (glycemic index – ed.) are for instance fried potatoes, white and brown bread, cornflakes and popcorn. Products with a low GI are for instance pasta, legumes and fruit.”
At this point the NRCHandelsblad was utterly confused, wondering whether the Food Center was contradicting itself. She called Kok again and he said that baker ‘t Hoen was in the business of comparing apples and pears..
“There is also brown bread for sale that is strongly processed but you should not confuse that with whole-wheat. An anyway, what is a lot of bread? Six or seven slices are based on the amount an average adult will eat, but there is of course variation. Just like you would advise a different diet to sick or old people.”
Eigenraam then discovered that ‘t Hoen also referred to scientists who agree with him, like William Davis who urges people in his book wheat belly not to eat wheat at all anymore. He also referred to Frits Muskiet, a professor in patho-physiology and clinical chemical analysis at the State university of Groningen. His opinion is that the human body has not adapted to our way of eating and that we have to return to primal food like vegetables, fruit and fish, and less sugar and carbohydrates.
Writer and physician Ivan Wolffers has yet another opinion: we are eating sugars and carbohydrates because our body is still tuned to prehistoric times when we did not have heating, had to hunt hard and had a lot of exercise.
Kok, back on the phone with Eigenraam and confronted with all these confusing opinions, let out a deep sigh. Nice, all those little philosophies, he says, but so little is based on real research. Then Kok tells Eigenraam that he is being kept from his work by all these characters who think they have discovered something new about food.
Eigenraam became a little overwhelmed with guilt and she quickly hung up the phone “so that Kok is able to continue with the real work.”

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