Everyone seems to be giving up gluten these days (and bragging about it). But we’ve been eating it for thousands of years, right? Good, whole-grain wheat is supposed to be healthy, and the government wants us to eat more of it.
Wheat sensitivities run the gamut from low-level inflammation that we don’t even notice to celiac disease, which is fatal if the sufferer does not give up eating gluten. I have friends and acquaintances who have given up wheat and lost weight effortlessly without changing anything else they are doing. They also report the disappearance of joint pain, skin rashes, muscular pain, diarrhea, and more.
Dr. William Davis, MD, author of “Wheat Belly,” makes the case that the wheat we eat today bears little resemblance to the wheat our ancestors consumed. He says that modern wheat contains the complete genomes of three different but related plants, and contains complex proteins (gluten is a protein) that ancestral varieties did not. Our gut has not evolved as quickly as wheat has due to modern genetic engineering. Also, modern wheat—uniquely among foods—has the ability to pass the blood-brain barrier, and thus can tinker with bodily mechanism and brain function in a way no other food can.
Dr. Davis cites many different studies to provide evidence that his assertions are valid. He also notes that the rise of obesity in America tracks precisely the advent of genetic modification of the wheat genome. (He doesn’t mention this, but it also precisely tracks the widespread introduction of high-fructose corn syrup that has become so ubiquitous in processed food since the 1970s.) Modern wheat, developed by Norman Borlaug, who won the Nobel Peace prize for his work on wheat, was crafted with the best of intentions in mind: alleviation of world hunger. It is a high-yield, short-growing-season dwarf wheat, and it has in fact done much toward alleviating world hunger. Apparently, it’s also making us sick.
The good doctor performed an experiment on himself to test his assertion about the pernicious effect of modern wheat versus ancestral wheat. He is highly wheat-sensitive himself. Somewhere, he managed to obtain two pounds of einkorn, probably the first form of cultivated wheat. He also obtained two pounds of modern wheat. He ground these two grains himself and made bread, using only flour, water, salt and yeast. He tried the einkorn bread. It was denser than modern bread, and had a rich, nutty flavor. He had no reaction at all. He tried the modern wheat bread—and was ill for 36 hours, nauseated and unable to focus.
Being a scientist, he also did blood tests before and after eating the breads. His blood sugar before eating either bread was 84 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl). After eating the einkorn bread, his blood sugar was 110 mg/dl. After eating the modern wheat bread, it was 167 mg/dl. He points out that one slice of whole wheat bread will raise blood sugar significantly higher than a Snickers bar.
High blood sugar, as we all know, leads to insulin resistance, which leads to gaining weight and may eventually cause diabetes. According to Dr. Davis, we’ve been virtuously munching away on something that is making us very ill.
“Wheat Belly” is an interesting book, well written, credible, and even entertaining. It is probably an exaggeration to claim that wheat is solely responsible for everything from joint pain to schizophrenia, however. There are certainly other trends in modern life (can we blame computers?) that contribute to the surge in obesity. But if even part of what Dr. Davis claims is true (and he does have the facts and figures), giving up wheat may be part of a sensible weight-loss and weight-loss-maintenance plan—along with exercise, portion control and common sense. There are other grains that don’t present the same problems, including quinoa, sorghum, buckwheat, millet, and oats (especially oats harvested in the British Isles, where it is less likely to be contaminated by coming into contact with machinery that is also used to process wheat).
Don’t forget that other food sensitivities can play a role in weight by causing low-level inflammation that spurs fat storage and the growth of fat cells. Stress can have the same effect, so stress management is another critical aspect of successful weight loss.
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Download SweetBeat™, the iPhone stress management app: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sweetbeat/id492588712?mt=8
Great article. So much good information. I am definitely going to start looking for other bread options. I switched from white bread to wheat bread to be “healthier”. Who knows what’s going on in my body, now. I will definitely be looking for alternative bread and not just “gluten-free” but wheat-free. Period.
Thanks for the info, Kathy!
Woah. I was just giving some pointers to a girl who asked me about weight loss. I told her to avoid simple sugars, excluding fruit, and eat more complex carbs like wheat bread. I had no idea that wheat bread had that great of an effect on blood sugar levels. Good info!
Thanks for your comment, Mark. It came as a surprise to us, too!
Read the book,tryed the lifestyle change with no wheat; use to weigh 170 now143 & losing ; im 62 yr. male active , waist was approaching 36″ now 30″ & losing still!tryed on clothes from old closet from when I was 27 yr. old fit perfect: people don’t believe the difference in 6 months off of wheat forever! Thanks for Wheat Belly
Congratulations, Daniel! That’s awesome!
Excellent piece, Kathy, it explains the mystery of why I can eat some breads and other make me feel unwell.
I’m going to pass it on to all my wheat-sensitive friends., Thank you!
The Heritage Grain Conservancy maintains a collection of hundreds of almost-extinct world grains. I sold Dr. Davis einkorn flour, grown from einkorn seed that I collected in the Carpathian Mountains in Hungary from peasant farmers. I grow it on my farm in Western Mass. Einkorn flour is abundant today. I mill my flour fresh for each order. It is not sifted, all the goodness is left in the flour. Folks can sift the bran out at home if they want to. Remember that heritage wheat do NOT cause the sugar spike that modern wheat does. I offer seed of the old wheats for folks to grow as well. Be part of the solution. Eat it to save it!
Fantastic, Eli! It’s good to know there is a source of ancestral wheat available to folks who want to avoid genetically-engineered modern wheat. Thanks so much for your comment.