Amber waves of grain. Peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Hot dog on a bun. Wheat is more or less patriotic to most people (fitting since it’s 4th of July weekend). It’s a HUGE part of the American diet and lifestyle. It’s in the majority of our foods (sometimes blatant and oftentimes hidden). It’s in our cosmetics (yes, really). And yet, modern wheat is a far cry from the wheat of a couple generations ago. Sure, some of the basic blueprint is similar, but science (and the government) got involved and changed wheat so it is cheap and results in more yield. The result? A high yield wheat that is been scientifically engineered and has resulted in a bunch of really crappy food and a nation full of sick, fat, sluggish and food addicted people. From “whole wheat” bread, to bagels, to breakfast cereals, to nutrition bars, to condiments, to pizza and beer, wheat is present in most of what our nation’s people eat. How do we combat the demise of our nation’s health? If we follow standard advice from much of the health community and our wonderful government we will be consuming lots of “whole grains”. We’ve always been told these are healthy. In fact, the USDA food pyramid historically has encouraged 6-11 servings of “bread, rice, cereal and pasta” per day and now their “choose my plate” icon has grains taking up about 1/4 of the “plate” (see below).
Now, ounce for ounce, wheat/bread/grains pale in comparison to fruits and vegetable in regards to fiber, vitamins and nutrients, so there is no reason any one NEEDS to eat wheat/grains.
What if I told you that cutting out wheat products could improve your health, shrink your waistline, improve and possibly resolve gut issues (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome), improve skin issues (such as acne and eczema) and improve your biomarkers (blood work) and in generally just make you feel more vibrant and alive? Well, it can do all of these and would be a great start to improving your nutrition and health.
What’s wrong with wheat?
As I mentioned above, modern wheat that we mass produce and mass consume is way different than wheat a few generations ago.
Consumption of modern wheat can cause:
- Increase in blood sugar and weight gain: check out the Glycemic Index (GI), which, simply, is how quickly or slowly a food will increase blood sugar (the higher number the higher the blood sugar response). The average GI for whole wheat is 69. That is higher than Coco Cola, which scores a 63! The rapid spike in blood sugar then causes the release of insulin which drives fat storage and drives blood sugar down then makes you crave more carbs and keeps you hungry all day resulting in more snacking and more junk food. Do this over time and you get fat and develop insulin resistance and sets the stage for type 2 diabetes and all of the health issues associated with that.
- Health issues: there are a wide variety of health issues related to wheat intake. We have all heard of gluten. Gluten is a protein in wheat that makes it sticky and able to form all of these crazy-shaped foods and breads and pizza crusts, etc. Without gluten it would be difficult for all of these breads and pastries to stick together. The problem with gluten and some of the multiple other proteins founds in wheat is that they can cause reactions in our body. Some severe, such as celiac disease (an autoimmune condition of the small intestine that flares when exposed to gluten and other wheat proteins) and some more subtle side effects/conditions such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, brain fog, behavioral issues, joint pain, weight gain (belly and visceral fat), skin issues such as eczema and acne, possible thyroid issues, and a whole host of others. There are some medical professionals (myself included) who believe many, and even the majority of people suffer from “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” (NCGS), meaning they test “negative” for celiac disease but gluten and other wheat proteins cause adverse effects. People who quit eating wheat products have reported healing GI issues, thyroid issues, arthritis issues, etc.
- Addiction: did you known that wheat binds to the brain’s morphine receptor? The same one that opiate drugs bind to? Maybe this is why people freak out at the thought of giving up wheat? The mere mention of giving up wheat to some people results in an emphatic, “I don’t think I could ever give up my (fill in the blank wheat product).” This also explains why the first week or so after someone gives up wheat they feel sluggish, depressed and in somewhat of a brain fog–they are literally detoxing from their crack, I mean, wheat addiction.
My personal experience:
I gave up consuming wheat on a regular basis about 7-8 years ago. I was eating what I thought was “healthy” at the time (low fat, fair amount of grains, etc) and I was in decent shape with my bodyfat level probably about 12-14% and my weight about 175-180 (I’m 5’10”). I was healthy and didn’t get sick much. I had seasonal allergies and eczema but other than that nothing else was wrong with me. As part of my transition into my Primal/Paleo eating I gave up wheat/bread/grains as one of my first steps. Within about a week or two I was down about 8-10 lbs without trying to lose any weight (probably mostly water weight since wheat and carbs cause inflammation and water retention). Within 4-6 weeks I had visible abs—prior to this, no matter what I tried, I was never able to see my abs–it didn’t matter how hard I worked out or how well I ate, they just wouldn’t appear until I cut out wheat. The ab thing was fine and dandy, but the most remarkable thing for me was that my seasonal allergies and eczema disappeared and I have not had them since. Never. Not once. I used to get allergy shots as a kid and had seasonal asthma, eczema–the entire “trio”, and for the last 7-8 years I am seasonal allergy and eczema free! I could lay in a cornfield during harvest and not have a single sniffle at this point. That has been remarkable for me. I also have been at about 165 lbs now for the last several years with a body fat in the 8-10% range with, what I perceive as, minimal effort. Do I EVER eat wheat products? Sure, on rare occasions. I avoid it if at all possible, but if I want to indulge in some pizza or something once in a while I will. My “gut” is healthy enough to where it doesn’t bother me much but, honestly, I do feel worse if I eat wheat (sluggish, poor sleep, faster resting heart rate, etc).
So, that is my very brief take on wheat. If you are wanting to lose a few pounds, feel sluggish, have GI, skin, thyroid issues, joint pain, feel bloated, etc, try eliminating all wheat for 30 days and see what happens. Focus on eating fresh, whole foods and avoiding things that come in a box. Don’t substitute wheat products with gluten-free junk, because it’s still junk and can spike blood sugar and prevent weight loss (and may actually cause weight gain).
I am currently reading “Wheat Belly”, by William David MD. It’s a few years old but a great read so far. http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/
Other recommended reading is Mark Sisson’s take on grains in general, which I agree with http://www.marksdailyapple.com/definitive-guide-grains/
How about you? Have you ever tried eliminating wheat and what kind of effect did it have?