The largest outside influence on my diet in the last year has come from two books — Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis and Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter Both books espouse the notion that modern wheat is bad for us to eat (Grain Brain is more about the dangers of carbs in general). I knew about the issues people had with gluten but counted myself lucky to not be counted among the sensitive. Little did I know there might be more to the story. I should have had an inkling though when looking back to the early 70’s when my sisters would go on this or that diet to lose weight as teenagers. They said then that bread would go straight to fat (“straight to the hips” is the exact quote) and that you could lose weight by just not eating breads (and anything made mainly with flour) and they proved it. Since then we have gotten a whole lot “smarter” and somewhere along the way it became popular to eat “more whole grains” almost to the exclusion of other considerations. If these gentlemen are right, then what we are being told to eat is at least partly “wrong” and has been for a couple of decades. Consensus medicine/science/whatever at work again it seems.
Below I will make my first attempt at book reviews. First Wheat Belly, then Grain Brain. These books are important in that we must find ways to eat optimally, in order to live healthier and longer, to be around so that we can take advantage of improved anti-aging knowledge and therapies that are sure to come down the road eventually. In short, I liked both books a great deal. Maybe I am a little late to the party since the first book, Wheat Belly, was initially published in 2011. But better late than never as they say. As I talk with my friends I’ve learned that many still have not heard about any of this. So here goes.
Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis is the best read if you want to understand more of the history of wheat and the background behind why the author feels that modern wheat is bad for you. A wheat belly is a sign of an accumulation of fat from eating foods that trigger insulin, which is the key hormone in the body’s fat storage process. Belly fat appears to be special in that it provokes inflammatory responses and is involved in abnormal metabolic signals to the body. According to the author, wheat is different from other grains in that whole wheat increases blood sugar as much or more than table sugar does! A number of case histories are referenced from his own practice. He has seen his diabetic and obese patients become non-diabetic and lose large amounts of weight–just by removing wheat from their diets. He notes other improvements his patients have experienced relating to reflux, cramping and diarrhea, rashes, rhuematoid arthritis, and asthma to name a few. Of course, these improvements are not so surprising for those suffering from celiac disease (gluten sensitivity). But more and more people are finding out that their problems can be traced to gluten and the author contends that these improvements can be gained by even the supposedly non-sensitive who may not test as sensitive or intolerant using standard methods. Modern wheat again, is just plain bad for everyone.
The history of wheat is explained in that the earliest forms of wild wheat, such as einkorn, had only 14 chromosomes. The wheat we eat today is not the same thing. It has changed dramatically in the past 50 years or so as it has undergone hybridization. It now has more than 40 chromosomes. It has changed from a tall, sparse grass to a knee-high, heavily producing plant that is dependent on modern farming techniques. No in-depth animal or safety testing has been conducted to fully ensure the safety of these new strains before going into production. Beyond basic safety though, the glycemic index for whole wheat is higher than a Snickers bar! The glycemic index (GI) according to Wikipedia “is a measure of how quickly blood glucose levels (i.e., blood sugar) rise after eating a particular type of food.” High blood sugar levels lead to fat development and wheat is more easily converted to blood sugar than most all other carbohydrates, simple or complex.
The author contends that over-consumption of wheat today is the main cause of obesity and diabetes in the US. Even scarier to me are it’s multiple negative affects on the brain and the rest of the body. When people stop eating wheat products, 30% experience symptoms akin to withdrawal. It is an appetite stimulant, making you want more of all kinds of foods. Gluten, one of the main components of wheat, is degraded in the body to a mix of polypeptides. Exorphins, as they are called, can pass through the blood-brain barrier and bind to the morphine receptor. Also, belly fat, once established, is special in that it can act like an endocrine gland like the thyroid or pancreas. It can be a factory for estrogen production in both men and women. Of course, we have all heard of celiac disease, which can have all kinds of negative effects. Wheat can make the small intestine permeable, allowing components of wheat into the bloodstream, resulting in autoimmune disorder effects. On and on it goes…
In the book there are chapters addressing diabetes, skin and bone conditions, cataracts, brain effects, heart disease, and the aging process. People have replaced lost fat calories (as directed by highly publicized guidelines for healthy eating) with whole grain wheat, resulting in historically unprecedented obesity levels, diabetes, and a myriad of poor health conditions. For example, our hunter-gatherer ancestors had simple diets consisting of meats, veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds, and roots which led to a slight alkaline effect in the body (and did not increase insulin). Our modern diet is acidic, leading to bone loss. In addition, high average blood sugar levels lead to the creation of AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) which have been associated with the aging process. They muck up the body by collecting in the arteries, lenses of the eyes, brain, liver, kidneys, skin (such as acne) and other organs. Eggs, nuts, olive oil, salmon don’t increase sugar levels but all carbs like apples, candies, and grains do. Further, related to heart disease, cholesterol numbers are waited for with dread by anyone going to the doctor today. But in reality it is such a necessary compound to the body that the body manufactures it. Cholesterol has gotten a bad rap overall but as usual, there is more to the story. High carb intake results in the liver increasing production of tryglycerides, which in turn results in increased LDL levels–the really bad stuff. These carb-induced “bad guys” are the cholesterol particles that collect in artery walls.
Wheat Belly wraps up with a discussion of foods to eat or not eat. After reading the first 13 chapters I was mostly sold on the author’s message. I had looked ahead a little and had seen some recipes but I did not find much here to suit my personal tastes. However, I recently noted in the local bookstore that a new Wheat Belly cookbook is out. After looking on Amazon, I see that there are actually two related cookbooks now: Wheat Belly Cookbook: 150 Recipes to Help You Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health and more recently, Wheat Belly 30-Minute (Or Less!) Cookbook: 200 Quick and Simple Recipes to Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. I intend to look at these soon but I have no opinion to share about them as yet. In abbreviated fashion, below is the Wheat Belly Nutritional Approach for Optimal Health.
Foods to consume in unlimited quantities:
- Raw nuts and seeds
- Healthy oils
- Meats and eggs
- Non-sugary condiments
Foods to consume in limited quantities:
- Non-cheese dairy
- Fruit and fruit juices
- Whole corn
- Non-wheat, non-gluten grains
- Soy products
Foods to consume rarely or never:
- Wheat products
- Unhealthy oils
- Gluten-free foods
- Dried fruit
- Fried foods
- Sugary snacks
- Sugary fructose-rich sweeteners
- Sugary condiments
I highly recommend that you obtain a copy of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health to read yourself. I think you will find the information compelling and convincing. More studies should be done but I agree with the author that enough information exists now to limit one’s consumption of wheat.
Grain Brain by Dr. David Perlmutter dovetails nicely with the book Wheat Belly. I read them back to back, reading Wheat Belly first. Grain Brain is not focused on wheat in particular though. Dr. Perlmutter expands greatly on the warnings in Wheat Belly to contend that carbohydrates thought of as healthy, even so-called healthy whole grains, are bad for your brain and that most everyone should be eating a low carb diet. Your brain thrives on fat and cholesterol according to Perlmutter, the only doctor in the country who is both a board-certified neurologist and Fellow of The American Board of Nutrition.
Grain Brain contains up to date information about gluten sensitivity and why you should be tested, and how to get properly tested. Perlmutter explains diseases caused by gluten sensitivity and inflammation, leading to the neurological affects that gluten sensitivity can cause. He explains the difference between gluten sensitivity and celiac. But even if you aren’t celiac this book will outline in great detail the damage gluten is causing to your health. Gluten leads to gut permeability and gut permeability leads to inflammation. Therefore, the information in the book applies to everyone and not just the gluten sensitive.
Backed up with studies and case histories, Perlmutter makes a potentially complex subject highly readable and understandable to the layman. He debunks the conventional wisdom about eating whole grains as espoused by some major health organizations. In short, eating carbs raises your blood sugar, not only in the short run but in the long run as well–leading to insulin resistance–a forerunner to type 2 diabetes. Complex carbs are actually worse than simple ones in that these highly recommended (by most health care professionals) options elevate the blood sugar for longer periods of time. Whole grain bread for example has a dramatically higher glycemic index when compared to pure table sugar! And high blood sugar leads to detrimental effects on the brain.
Ultimately, eating high glycemic index foods over and over again leads to an elevation of fasting blood sugars. Researchers have found that a fasting blood sugar, even in so-called high normal ranges and below what would qualify for a diabetes diagnosis, are associated with developing dementia. Also, fats such as cholesterol and saturated fats are vitally important for brain health. Cholesterol in general is not the problem but the LDL particles are at fault in that they get oxidized when bound to sugar, in a process called glycation. Against the common wisdom of today, people should be reducing their consumption of carbohydrates in favor of eating more foods like grass-fed beef, pasture-raised eggs, and coconut oil.
Maybe things are changing a little as of recently. Consider that the FDA has begun requiring consumer warnings on certain cholesterol lowering medications related to memory decline and other cognitive issues.
I highly recommend Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers. Every dietician/nutritionist, doctor, and wellness professional should read this book.
What are my personal conclusions or take-aways from reading the above two books? First, for me, I am going to stop eating any more wheat than I have to. I’m sold on that part. I am not going to be fanatic about it or go cold-turkey since I don’t have a known sensitivity. I am going to generally avoid breads and other foods where wheat is a major ingredient and endeavor to read ingredient lists for any wheat components more diligently. Over time, I plan to eat less and less until maybe, I can get down to basically zero. I don’t plan to go on a high protein diet except maybe for short term weight loss. So I am still eating a balance of carbs but I will try to get the bulk of them from other foods. Secondly, these books have made me that much more aware of the dangers of high-carb diets and sugar in particular. I was already concerned about the glycemic index of foods I consumed but these books helped to reinforce my opinions. BL
Updated 3/10/2014: Both books discussed above challenge the conventional wisdoms relating to carbohydrate consumption. However, for additional information relating to the potential downsides of high-protein diets, see this FoxNews article (or the Cell Metabolism press release here) about research into the potential dangers of a high-protein diet. The studies involved both humans and mice. Eating plant-derived protein resulted in a better overall outcome than eating protein from animal sources, but there was still a 3-fold increase in cancer mortality rates. A quote from the USC study author, Dr. Longo: “Cancer mortality was higher for high-protein [eaters] compared to current smokers.” To complicate matters, the findings were reversed for people over 65. It seems that at the least, from their findings (and other studies), that your current age, digestive health, gender, ratio/type/source of carbs/proteins/fats, and preparation methods, must all be considered in determining what a healthy, balanced diet is for any individual.
There appears to be no end in site on identifying what the “best available” diet information is. This is a major challenge for the average person. At present, everyone needs to adopt a continuous learning approach to find their own way. The goal is to stay healthy and alive until something more direct and fundamental can be done to extend life. Even then, healthy eating will likely be a necessity for a long time to come.