The Problem with Wheat?
First the good news!
What if I told you that cutting out wheat products can help improve overall health, acne, shrink your waist-line, reduce body fat, curb weight issues, alleviate allergies, improve important blood markers, even resolve reoccurring gut/digestive issues while making you feel more vibrant and alive? Well, it can do all of these things which would be a great start to improving your health and wellness moving into the New Year!
For those of you who know me personally, you are probably aware that I had given up WHEAT a little over 4 years ago which as a result helped me slowly shed thirty 30-plus pounds while also “improving” my gut health (bloating, gas, diarrhea). Bottom line, dropping wheat changed my “life”.
Looking at the Standard American Diet (SAD)
Today wheat is a HUGE part of the standard American diet as it was when I grew up, which is sometimes blatant (sandwich bread, pancakes etc) and sometimes very hidden (its used in cosmetics). And yet, modern wheat is a far cry from the wheat of a couple generations ago. Sure the basic blueprint is the same, but science and government got involved and changed wheat so it is CHEAP and results in more YIELD. The result? A higher yielding wheat that has been scientifically engineered (GMO) and as a result offers less nutrition and a nation full of sick, fat, sluggish and food addicted people. From “whole wheat” bagels, to bread, pasta, breakfast cereals, nutrition bars, burger buns, hot dog rolls, pizza, donuts, chips, cup cakes, beer and condiments, wheat is present in most of what our nations people eat week in and week out.
How do we as Americans combat the demise of our nation’s health and obesity epidemic? If we follow the standard advice from much of the health community and our government (which obviously is not very honest) we should be consuming lots of “whole grains” which is just not working anymore. 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 (see below)
And now their “choose my plate” icon has grains taking up about 1/4 of the “plate”, the exact foods (bread, cereal, rice & pasta) that helped dismantle my digestive system and gut health for most of my entire adult life.
Pound for pound and ounce for ounce wheat, bread, and grains pale in comparison to healthy organic vegetables and seasonal farm raised tart fruits in regards to fiber, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals, so there is no reason anyone NEEDS to eat wheat-grains. Its simply becomes to convenient for many to give up, regardless of health!
What’s Wrong with Wheat?
1) Health issues: there a wide variety of health issues related to wheat intake. We have all heard of gluten, which is a protein in wheat that makes it sticky and able to form all of these crazy-shaped foods, 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 found in wheat is that it 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, diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, joint pain, behavioral issues, weight gain, skin issues such as eczema and acne, possible thyroid issues, and a host of others. People who have quit eating wheat products have reported healing GI issues, thyroid issues, arthritis, skin issues etc, and have reported significant weight loss.
2) Increase in blood sugar - thus weight gain: check out the Glycemic Index (GI) which is how quickly or slowly a food will increase blood sugar (the higher number the higher the blood sugar response which given insulin in the bloodstream, triggers FAT storage). The average GIycemic Index (GI) for whole wheat is 69. That is higher than Coca-Cola (sugar/syrup), which scores a 63! The rapid spike in blood sugar then causes the release of insulin into the bloodstream which drives fat storage. Eventually blood sugar then drops, making you crave more food & carbs immediately there after. Its a "keep you hungry all day" kind of cycle resulting in more snacking and more binging on junk food, because your body is never satisfied. Do this over time and you get fat while developing insulin resistance setting the stage for type 2 diabetes and a host of other health related issues.
3) Addiction: did you know that wheat binds to the brains 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 bread, bagels, or pasta”. This also explains why for the first week or so after someone gives up wheat they feel depressed, irritated, angry, sluggish and somewhat of a brain-fog. They are literally detoxing from their wheat addiction!
My Own Personal Experience:
I completely gave up wheat over 4 years ago. For most of my adult life as a health & fitness coach as well as a competitive athlete, I was eating what I thought was “healthy” which included a fair amount of whole grains (pasta, breads, etc). I was in pretty decent shape, body fat percentage 20-25% depending on the time of year. My weight fluctuated between 235-240 lbs on my 6’-3” frame, but I had that soft look and my mid-section was never exactly where I wanted it to be. I considered myself to be healthy yet I found myself getting rundown & sick on average four times a year, suffered from seasonal allergies while also experiencing lots of bloating and digestive issues from my usual carb intake. I thought this was just a normal part of life. As part of my new lifestyle I gave up all wheat including bread, pasta, rice and grains as one of my first steps. Within the first 30 days I lost 10lbs without trying to lose weight which was probably mostly water weight since carbs (wheat) cause both inflammation and water retention. I had also dropped from a size 36 to a 35 pant. My abs were now beginning to show which was awesome but the most amazing part for me was that my seasonal allergies disappeared that spring and I've not experienced an episode since. As a severe allergy sufferer for many years, I literally became allergy free!
Given my initial success, I incorporated some next steps which included removing all processed foods & sugars from my daily intake. Results within the next 45 days included improved digestion of food and overall gut/digestive health. Bloating, gas pains and most stomach issues had all but disappeared and although my weekly training efforts efforts remained the same, my body weight dropped to 215 lbs with minimal effort. This experience was a huge motivator because I was now fitting into a size 34 pant, and I had not been in a size 34 pant since college. No more bloating, digestive issues and my body was “Pain Free”. After eliminating all grains, processed foods and sugars, I had dropped between 20-25lbs with 2.5 months and before summer shed the final 10lbs. Today I still fit into a size 33 pant and I've become totally in tune with my body again. Although I DO have a slice of pizza on occasion rare occasion, my “gut” is healthy enough to where it doesn’t bother me anymore. I've also maintained the same body weight over the past four (4) years give or take a few pounds during the winter.
So, that is my brief take on wheat. If you are wanting to lose a few pounds, feel sluggish, experience brain fog, skin, joint pain, feel bloated, have digestive or thyroid issues etc, try eliminating any and all wheat for 30 days. Focus on eating fresh whole foods (organic farm raised vegetables and some seasonal organic tart fruit) and avoid things that come in a box, plastic bag, or carton. Don’t substitute wheat products for gluten-free products, because its still inferior junk that will spike blood sugar and prevent weight loss (and may actually cause weight gain)
A great read is Mark Sissons take on grains, which I agree with
And William David MD’s “Wheat Belly” Its a few years old but a great read!
How about you? Have you ever tried eliminating wheat and what kind of effect did it have?
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In good health,
Primal/Ancestral Health Coach