For decades we’ve been told that we should be eating two to three servings of whole grains every day and that it’s an essential part of a balanced diet, which is why I was seriously confused when I was told that the opposite is actually true. In fact, some say wheat is one of the biggest factors, along with sugar, in all of the chronic conditions we seem to be facing today.
Not one to immediately believe everything I hear or read when it comes to health, or just about anything else these days, I had to do some research. Could it really be true that wheat is bad for us? Why is it the largest part of the food pyramid? Our government tells us that we need to eat more grain, generally meaning wheat, with over 90 percent of all grain consumed being wheat and the food pyramid tells us we should be getting a whopping 60 percent of our calories from wheat.
It’s been estimated that as many as 10 percent of people have a sensitivity to the protein in wheat that’s known as gluten (though some say that number may actually be closer to 30 percent) – and, we’ve all heard about gluten by now, even if we don’t know exactly what it means. But even without a gluten sensitivity, there are many other reasons we shouldn’t be consuming wheat. The problem isn’t the ancient grains our ancestors once consumed – it’s our modern wheat.
Modern wheat is the “perfect chronic poison,” Dr. William Davis, the author of Wheat Belly (and a number of other healthcare experts) have noted. Davis explained to “CBS This Morning,” that wheat isn’t the wheat your grandma had: “It’s an 18-inch tall plant created by genetic research in the ’60s and ’70s. This thing has many new features nobody told you about, such as there’s a new protein in this thing called gliadin. It’s not gluten. I’m not addressing people with gluten sensitivities and celiac disease. I’m talking about everybody else because everybody else is susceptible to the gliadin protein that is an opiate. This thing binds into the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite, such that we consume 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year.”
I was also a bit taken aback to learn that wheat is actually addicting! No wonder it’s so hard to stop eating crackers, bread, pasta and so many of my other favorite carbs. Apparently, the gliadin protein in wheat has opiate-like effects that can lead to addiction as well as the stimulation of the appetite. Kind of scary if you think about it.
Then I learned about all of the potential benefits from cutting out wheat:
- More energy
- Significant weight loss
- Reduced belly fat
- Lowered blood sugar
- Improved digestion
- Lowered blood pressure
- Less inflammation
- Better cognitive functioning
- Better sleep
- Less anxiety
- Improved triglyceride levels
The weight loss claim triggered a big red flag, after all, a calorie is a calorie, right? So I had to know more. Dr. Davis says that people gain weight because of wheat as it raises your blood sugar quickly due to its high glycemic index. High blood sugar is associated with type 2 diabetes and obesity, and Davis actually says that flour is worse for your blood sugar than sugar. Just two slices of whole wheat bread cause an increase that’s even higher than a candy bar, which is how the whole vicious, unfair cycle begins. After your blood sugar spikes, it plunges, which triggers your appetite, and the addiction to wheat, which results in weight gain and excess body fat. Davis claims that eating wheat promotes fat storage, particularly in the belly, as well as increased appetite. When you eliminate wheat, your blood sugar doesn’t spike, you don’t have that ravenous appetite, and the result is weight loss.
I also needed to delve further into the “improved digestion” claim as IBS is something I’ve suffered from for decades and had yet to find relief from, no matter what advice I followed. We’ve been sold the fact that wheat, and especially whole wheat, is great for our digestive system because of its high amount of fiber, but apparently, that’s like saying blueberry muffins are good for you because the blueberries are full of antioxidants, or eating an entire container of ice cream for its calcium.
Here’s why wheat actually compromises the digestive system instead of helping it:
The proteins that are in gluten, found in wheat and many other whole grains, gliadin and glutenin, are broken down and sent through the intestines. The gut identified gliadin as a harmful substance, so it produces antibodies that attack it, which erode and destroy the microvilli in the large intestine that are tasked with absorbing nutrients. The microvilli that survive are covered in acidic wastes and the intestines become impacted with bacteria, candida, yeast and undigested particles that compact the microvilli that remain and prevent further absorption of nutrients. After repeated exposure to wheat, eventually, holes emerge in the intestinal walls, something is known as “leaky gut,” which allows bacteria and undigested matter to enter the bloodstream. The gut plays an important role in our overall health, and consuming wheat destroys it, which is likely why numerous studies have associated eating gluten directly with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other digestive problems.
There are reasonable explanations behind all of the supposed benefits of giving up wheat too – enough that I was convinced it was time for me to try it too. Just cutting back on the intake of wheat, sadly, doesn’t really work. The effects of the components of wheat are too overwhelming, and for many, the gliadin protein in wheat stimulates the appetite for five days – it’s not just a matter of calories or carbs; it’s all the other mind effects. I decided to try cutting it out completely for 30 days and see what would happen, and focus on eating lots of healthy, whole foods, including plenty of fruits and vegetables, eggs, lean protein and the like. No more crackers, bread, pasta, pizza and what have you.
Here’s What Happened When I Gave Up Wheat:
It wasn’t as easy as I thought – at first.
Having to eliminate wheat meant reading lots of labels. There are a ton of things that contain wheat that you’d probably never expect – it’s in Campbell’s tomato soup, salad dressing, seasonings, frozen dinners, practically everything – It’s even in Twizzlers! Insanity. Back in your grandmother’s day, wheat was only where you’d probably expect it: pancake mix, bread, and pasta, but today’s it’s a totally different story. It made me wonder if the food manufacturers are purposely adding wheat to stimulate our appetite so that we want more. Interestingly, the wheat industry is also heavily subsidized by our government, which recommends that we eat lots of wheat.
While it seemed that eliminating wheat was going to be a gargantuan task, it didn’t take long before I learned that basically, by focusing on whole foods, it would automatically cut out the majority of wheat I consumed. I still had plenty of delicious foods I could eat like the wild blackberries that grow in my backyard and wild-caught salmon that I can get fresh from the sea down at the pier. Organic eggs, coconut and olive oil, nuts and seeds became my new best friends.
I’ll admit, that itself was a bit challenging until a habit was developed. By that point, I felt so much better, that was plenty of motivation to continue. The key for me was keeping healthy, non-wheat-based snacks with me whenever I was on the go, so that when hunger hit I wouldn’t be tempted to stray.
I lost weight.
I struggle with thyroid problems and I’d been carrying around an extra 10 or 12 pounds that I couldn’t shed no matter how hard I tried, but giving up wheat really did help. In 30 days I lost a total of 8 pounds, and was well on my way to reaching my goal. I’ve heard that many people lose closer to 15 to 18 pounds. I’m fine, and very happy with my 8 – and, my jeans were definitely looser around the waist so I was dropping belly fat too. Keep in mind that you can’t trade your favorite wheat-based foods for their processed, gluten-free versions and expect to lose weight and just because it says “gluten-free” doesn’t mean that it’s healthy.
More energy and a better mood.
After the initial 5 day withdrawal from the “opiates” that come from digesting wheat, which meant greater fatigue, headaches and a grumpy mood, I experienced a significant boost of energy. It may also be because I was sleeping so much better, deeper and longer, without waking up frequently during the night like I usually did. I certainly never expected to see this much improvement in energy, but Dr. Davis explains the reason behind that – when you digest wheat, it’s exposed to an enzyme in the stomach known as pepsin, and a stomach acid called hydrochloric acid, which degrades the gluten in wheat to a mix of polypeptides. The polypeptides can cross the blood-brain barrier that separates the bloodstream from the brain. When these wheat polypeptides enter the brain, the bind to the morphine receptor, which is the same receptor that opiate drugs bind to. That’s what creates the “high” from eating, followed by the energy slump afterward. At a minimum, it immediately causes foggy thinking, mental and physical fatigue, but it can even lead to a serious imbalance in the brain that can dramatically increase the risk of depression.
Italian researchers confirmed wheat’s association with depression, after giving study participants who believed gluten was responsible for their depression symptoms a pill that contained either gluten or a placebo. Even though the volunteers didn’t know which one they were taking, their symptoms were more severe when they swallowed the one that actually contained gluten. No wonder my mood seemed to have improved too, at least after the first week or so.
Did you know that 90% of the body’s serotonin which is responsible for elevating one’s mood and even controlling depression, and nearly 50% of the body’s dopamine, responsible for attention and motivation, is generated in the gut. That means, if your gut is being damaged by wheat consumption, it can obviously have a significant effect on energy and mood.
My IBS has dramatically improved.
As mentioned, all health begins in the gut, and eating wheat destroys the gut which is why it’s been linked to problems like IBS. It took a little longer for me to notice improvements in this area, but when it happened sometime just after the two-week mark, it was in a big way. IBS had severely affected the quality of my life for so long, it almost felt like it was a part of me that would just never go away. The bloating that made me feel like I was five months pregnant, the extreme abdominal discomfort – so bad that oftentimes it had me curled up in a fetal position, the worry that I’d suffer from a bout during an important client meeting… it was miserable. Over the past quarter of a century, I tried anti-spasm agents, narcotics for the pain, antidepressants, acid-blocking substances, and so on, and nothing worked, not to mention the horrible side effects of those medications, from constipation to weight gain.
But now, those IBS symptoms had all but vanished in just two weeks time.
My skin cleared up.
Something else I didn’t expect – my skin experienced dramatic improvements too. I’d had bouts of eczema as well as occasional acne breakouts, despite my advancing age. After giving up wheat, my skin was noticeably clearer and no eczema rashes either. That may be thanks to the benefit of reduced inflammation as research has revealed a direct association between chronic inflammation and all sorts of conditions and diseases, including skin problems.
If all that doesn’t tell you that I will never go back to eating wheat again, I don’t know what will! Yes, I do miss my pizza and sourdough bread sometimes, but the rewards are well worth giving even that up.