'Wheat Belly', 'Grain Brain' 'Cereal Killers' - the latest bestsellers and documentaries certainly aren't singing the praises of this ubiquitous food. The more I delve into the research the more I tend to agree with the titles and the less I believe wheat has any place in a healthful diet. When I say wheat I mean gluten really, foods can be 'wheat free' but still contain gluten. Barley and rye also contain gluten, other grains like oats can be cross-contaminated with gluten and sometimes even non-gluten containing grains can contain other proteins that cause cross reactivity and result in an immune response..
I'm going to give you eight reasons why gluten just isn't good news. This may scare the bejesus out of the toast-for-breakfast-roll-for-lunch-pasta-for-dinner reader but don't worry, I have been that soldier and come out the other side, there is life after wheat.
1. The wheat we have today isn't the wheat your granny ate
But our grandparents ate wheat and they weren't sick or fat? Yes, they may have but chances are they weren't eating the genetically modified wheat we eat today. They were probably also making their own bread. Maybe they were even making sourdough or using sprouted grains, either way a far cry from the mass produced sliced pan of today. I know, we think of GM as a relatively new concept that's safety contained in the USA for the moment (it takes YEARS for us to catch up with them doesn't it? ) but when you consider the definition of Genetic Modification 'an organism containing genetic material that has been artificially altered so as to produce a desired characteristic' - it's a perfect fit, the desired characteristics being wheat crops both capable of a greater yield and resistant to pesticides and other environmental threats. Ancient grains such as einkorn had just 14 chromosomes, compare this to modern wheat containing up to 42 chromosomes and you start to get the picture as to why this modern day crop can be so damaging. These additional chromosomes code for all sorts of proteins which can initiate unwanted immune responses in many and go some way to explaining the massive increase in gluten sensitivity manifesting as either full on coeliac disease or non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. A significant number of people suffering from gluten sensitivity don't even report any of the gastro issues typically associated with it, instead it manifests as fatigue, depression, brain fog and joint aches, the list goes on.
2. Wheat makes you fat (and old)
The blood sugar elevations (discussed presently) caused by chowing down on wheat stimulate insulin which is the fat storage hormone. Excessive elevation of blood sugar associated with wheat consumption also creates 'advanced glycation end products' (AGEs). The very aptly abbreviated AGEs are end products of metabolism that are associated with the ageing process in all of the body's tissues. The higher the blood sugar, the more AGEs will accumulate and the faster the decay of our cells and tissue will occur. No amount of expensive lotions and potions can counteract this. Furthermore, AGEs are what contribute to the complication of diabetes – kidney disease, nerve damage, retina damage and cardiovascular disease.
3. Wheat can give you leaky gut
Sexy isn't it, 'leaky gut'? Not a term you would bring up on a first date. To give it its correct title, Intestinal Permeability can be directly attributed to -among many other things - consumption of gluten. It's all to do with a molecule called zonulin. Gluten increases the levels of zonulin in the body and zonulin controls intestinal permeability by disassembling the tight junctions that prevent undesirable molecules passing through the gut wall. Elevated levels can also allow other types of undigested proteins to pass through the gut wall and pave the way for immune responses to other foods or even the body's own tissue, making gluten a contributing factor to the possible development of an autoimmune disease.
4. Wheat can increase any existing inflammation in the body
Many things can trigger inflammation in the body and these things can also exacerbate existing inflammation. A poor diet, smoking, injury and being overweight all contribute. Gluten induces the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines which are chemicals that damage cells. And, as already mentioned, foreign proteins coded for by the additional chromosomes in modern wheat also trigger immune responses and therefor inflammation. The proteins found in gluten are one of, if not the most, common food allergens resulting in inflammatory immune responses. Inflammation can be the number one reason people consult a doctor; arthritis, gastritis, dermatitis, cystitis – if it ends in 'itis' then inflammation is involved.
5. Wheat displaces other more nutritious foods
This is the one that should resonate most with people. Forget the science and the chromosomes and the zonulin for now and just think about all the foods you could be eating if you weren't eating wheat. Instead of your normal two slices of toast or a bowl of cornflakes for breakfast (yawn) , you could be having eggs, good quality bacon, smoothies , coconut yogurt topped with nuts and seeds, avocados, all a lot more colourful, tasty and filling than boring 'white' foods like bread and cereal. And with colour brings nutrition. Much needed nutrition as gluten is a chemical stressor on the body and contributes to vitamin and mineral deficiency. Loss of key nutrients causes a fundamental breakdown in the body's ability to modulate the healing and repair process.
6. Wheat makes your blood sugar sky rocket and contributes to insulin resistance
Many gluten-containing foods have a high glycemic load and raise your blood sugar. Your pancreas responds with insulin, which pulls that blood sugar down. Often too far down, which leads to cravings and so the cycle begins again. It doesn't help that gluten also binds to the opiate receptors in the brain, just like a drug, that's why we keep coming back for more. When you constantly eat gluten foods, your cells become overloaded with insulin which results in insulin resistance which often makes fat loss nearly impossible. This is one of the reasons why low-carb diets (resulting in less insulin spikes) can be so effective for weight loss.
7. It's not just the wheat but what the wheat eats, hello glyphosate.
This is possibly the most frightening thing I have read recently. Chilling, in fact. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, a herbicide, made by the merry folk over at Monsanto, the same company that brought us Agent Orange. They made Agent Orange but they reckon Roundup is non-toxic (sniggers) as it works by disrupting the shikimate pathway in a plant's metabolism. Human metabolism does not have the shikamate pathway so we are unaffected - according to them. But what they seem to ignore is the fact that over 90% of our cells are made up of microbes. The average human body consists of around 10 trillion cells but at any one time there lives 10 times that number (either on us or in us) in bacteria or microbial cultures. These critters are essential to life and we form a symbiotic relationship with them. They have so many functions that without them we simply would not survive. These guys do have the shikimate pathway and that's how glyphosate wreaks havoc. So how do we end up inhaling the glyphosate? Well from the wheat, it's what the wheat eats. We aren't going round downing bottles of herbicide, cos that would be insane and dangerous. But according to an article in the Irish Examiner "A sizeable proportion of growers use pre-harvest glyphosate as a harvest aid" so be it through wheat, rapeseed or other crops it's in our food supply, like it or not.
Dr Natasha Campbell McBride listed 15 reasons why glyphosate is damaging to health in a blog post February of this year. Included in these is its interference with the activation of vitamin-d in the liver (thus causing deficiency – as if we weren't challenged enough in the D department), a strong correlation between glyphosate and the obesity academic and a perfect correlation between glyphosate and autism.
8. Wheat fries your brain
Dr Perlmutter brought this to the forefront recently with his bestseller 'Grain Brain'. He maintains that gluten is one of the most prominent stimulators of inflammatory pathways to the brain. That's reason enough to sweat but here is a really scary statistic (again courtesy of Dr. P.) – if you live to be 85 years old and do nothing to change your risk for brain disease, you have a 50/50 chance of developing Alzheimers. If you are type 2 diabetic that risk is doubled. Alzheimer's is actually often referred to as type 3 diabetes as diabetes is caused by persistently elevated levels of blood sugar; this is toxic to the brain. In fact, scientists have found correlation between shrinking of the hippocampus and the amygdala (areas of the brain involved with cognitive function and memory) and blood sugar levels. Gluten consumption has also been linked to conditions such as ADHD, depression, migraines and neuropathy.
So there you go, eight reasons why wheat basically sucks. Don't worry I won't leave you hanging and bereft after taking one of your food sources away, the next blog post will give you 8 Tools To Successfully Ditching The Wheat. You can do this. Remember, there is no such thing as a gluten deficiency!