The wheat-free diet is being sold as the latest and greatest way to cure all our ills. It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, though…
A decade ago “experts” everywhere were denouncing dietary fat as the metabolic miscreant to blame for the obesity epidemic, and now it’s the carbohydrate. And wheat and gluten in particular, we’re told, are the real nasty buggers of the lot.
If you listen to the mainstream hysteria, wheat gives you a big, fat “wheat belly,” a zombified “grain brain,” and type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a whole host of other diseases.
Well, before you say a very sad farewell to your favorite grain and condemn yourself to wheat austerity, read this article. A wheat-free diet isn’t likely to help you in any way…
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We all know that for the last several decades, obesity rates here in America are on a rocket ride, and we’ve all heard that wheat (and carbohydrates in general) is contributing or even causing it.
This theory just doesn’t hold water, though.
Wheat consumption here in American has decreased by 16 pounds per capita since 1997, but our waistlines just keep getting bigger and bigger. Furthermore, recent research found that central obesity was lowest among people eating five servings of grains per day, including two servings of refined grains.
How, then, could our decreasing intake of a food associated with lower body fat levels be the cause of our increasing obesity rates? Simple: it can’t.
What could be the cause, though? What about eating more and more food over time and moving less and less?
Well, that’s exactly what the research shows: for decades now, both calorie consumption and sedentary behavior has been on the rise. Simply put, we’re more gluttonous and lazy than ever, and we have the flabby physiques to prove it.
You see, the real problem here is that people love simple answers and easy solutions. Most overweight people don’t want to hear that they’re just eating too damn much and moving too damn little–the simplest recipe for obesity you can whip up.
Try to tell them that they’ll plug their ears and close their eyes and chant “nanananana.” Tell them that the US government spirited away Nazi scientists at the end of the war to develop Frankenwheat products to make them fat and sick, though, and they’ll hang on every word.
What can I say–we humans love to blame others for our mistakes and suffering, and inanimate food products make easy scapegoats. The wheat made me fat. The meat made me sick. The GMO made me dumb.
“But wait,” you might be thinking, “what about all those people that went on wheat-free diets and lost a bunch of weight?”
Well, as much as I love whole-grain products, I do have a gripe: they’re so damn calorie dense. 2 ounces of pasta contains about 40 grams of carbohydrate and 200 calories. A single measly slice of whole-wheat bread is about half that.
If someone has been eating several servings of wheat and other grains per day and then replaces them with something like lean meat or vegetables of any kind, they’re going to dramatically increase their protein and decrease their calorie intake. And that’s a simple recipe for weight loss success.
That said, if someone drops wheat but replaces it with too many calorie-dense high-fat foods like nuts and oils, he’s not going to lose any weight. In fact, he may gain instead.
The bottom line is this: if you want to lose weight, you need to regulate HOW MUCH you eat much more than WHAT.
You can eat wheat every day or avoid it like the plague and get the job done equally effectively, but you have to properly utilize the principles of energy balance and macronutrient optimization.
First comes the wheat then comes the fat and then comes the type-2 diabetes, the wheat-free advocates say.
“In summary, dietary patterns characterized by refined carbohydrates may adversely affect metabolic intermediates and such a diet may increase the risk of vascular diseases, such as diabetes and CHD, especially among individuals prone to insulin resistance.
“To lower disease risk and improve vascular health outcomes, it is imperative to replace refined grains with whole grains to improve glucose homeostasis.”
And therein lies the big distinction that needs to be made when talking about eating wheat: whole grains versus refined grains.
You see, whole grains contain the entire kernel and are packed with nutrients. Examples of whole grains are whole-wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal, and brown rice.
Refined grains, on the other hand, have been processed to remove the bran and germ, which gives a finer texture and increases shelf life, but which also removes the majority of the nutrition and turns the grain into a simpler carbohydrate.
While consumption of refined grains may not be as harmful as some people claim, your body is going to get more nutritional value out of whole grains, which is reason enough to ensure you’re getting at least 50% of your daily grains from whole-grain sources.
Wheat haters love to rant about how the grain is basically a Trojan horse of inflammation, carrying all kinds of scary “anti-nutrients” and other substances that slowly but surely break our immune systems down and kill us.
Well, while it’s true that chronically elevated biomarkers of internal inflammation is associated with an increased risk for many types of disease, wheat doesn’t increase inflammation in most people’s bodies.
It does in people with celiac disease, which affects less than 1% of the population, but in the rest of us, research clearly shows it has no such effects.
For example, this study conducted by researchers at Newcastle University found that when people that infrequently ate grains increased whole-grain consumption (including wheat products), there was no significant change in biomarkers of inflammation.
There’s also evidence that whole grains, including wheat, can actually reduce inflammation in the body:
- This study conducted by scientists at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that C-reactive protein levels were lower in women that consumed more than 1 one-ounce serving per day of whole grains than those that consumed none.
- This study conducted by researchers at Utah State University found the same: increased intake of whole grains was associated with lower C-reactive protein levels, not higher.
And this comprehensive meta-analysis of over 45 cohort studies and 21 randomized-controlled trials between 1966 and February 2012 found that whole grain intake reduced both the risk of type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are associated with chronic inflammation.
Unless you have celiac disease or a legitimate wheat intolerance or allergy, which are also very rare, research shows that whole grains aren’t going to increase inflammation in your body. In fact, a few one-ounce servings per day is likely to reduce it.
Wheat-free dieters love to tell horror stories of genetic engineering to produce a poisonous modern wheat that is a mere shadow of the nourishing wheat of our ancestors.
This is pure fiction.
First, the hybridization event that gave us our common wheat occurred 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, so the ancestral wheat of a couple thousand years ago has the same genetic make-up as today’s.
Second, there is no genetically modified wheat in the current world food supply. Yes, none. What there is, however, is a grain that has changed through the natural process of selective breeding.
You see, just like people have been breeding race horses to make faster, stronger animals, farmers have been breeding plants to increase yield, food quality, and nutritional value. This is a perfectly natural, ongoing process that stretches back thousands of years and has positively impacted the food supply in many ways.
The biggest modern advance in wheat breeding came from Norman Borlaug, whose work with traditional plant breeding techniques resulted in wheat plants that could produce high yields in a variety of harsh conditions, and won him a Nobel Peace Prize.
Genetically and chemically speaking, wheat just hasn’t changed much in the last century and thus our modern variety can’t be blamed for our modern health problems.
The majority of people subjecting themselves to a wheat-free diet just want to look and feel good and reduce the likelihood of dying an untimely, miserable, painful, diseased death.
Well, while cutting wheat out of your diet may help you inadvertently reduce your overall calorie intake and replace non-nutritious processed foods with healthier alternatives, it doesn’t guarantee much in the way of living a long, healthy life.
Here’s what does, though…
- Manage your calorie and macronutrient intake properly.
- Exercise regularly, and include strength training.
- Get the majority of your daily calories from nutritional foods, which can include wheat.
- Limit your intake of refined carbohydrates like sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and highly processed grains.
- Eat enough fiber.
- Stay away from trans fats.
- Limit your intake of alcohol.
- Don’t smoke.
If that sounds like a lot of work or rules to follow…change your mind. It’s not. It’s rare these days, but that’s only because most people have the willpower of a lab rat and foresight of a nine-year-old. That list is just the basic ante-in if you want to live a long, vital, disease-free life.
The good news, however, is the longer you do something, the more comfortable it becomes. If you start incorporating those points into your life, one at a time, they’ll eventually become indispensable parts of your life.
And if you’re diligent about it, your grandchildren, and maybe even great grandchildren, will enjoy getting to know the real you one day, not the smelly weirdo hobbling around asking for latex gloves and Kleenex to clean the food.