Dr. Christopher Nagy: Going against the grain
ow frequently have we been told of the nutritional value of whole grains over refined flour? Itís as if whole grains are a health food, when in fact the scientific literature clearly demonstrates that this is not the case.
Extrapolating, and calling whole grains healthy just because they are ďless badĒ than refined white flour does not make them healthy. Knowledge of the available information revealing the health detriment of grains, especially wheat, is vital to improving oneís health.
The concept of ďhealthy whole grainsĒ that has been taught over the years is wrong. Modern grains, (particularly wheat) bear no resemblance to the staple they were prior to mankindís intervention, in an attempt to ďimproveĒ them via genetic engineering and hybridization. As man worked to improve crop yield by engineering wheat, he failed to fully consider the health effects that this might have on the human body. The nutritional content of wheat has been altered so dramatically that consuming whole grain wheat (as in bread, cereal, pasta etc.) raises blood sugar more than consuming table sugar. Todayís wheat is full of anti-nutrients and harmful proteins such as gluten, lectins, phytates and others that have a detrimental and disease generating effect on the body.
As the consumption of whole grains has been encouraged, the obesity crisis has spiraled out of control. Wheat consumption significantly increases blood sugar, which then raises insulin levels, resulting in fat storage and obesity, as well as other diseases. Visceral fat accumulation is highly associated with numerous disease states and wheat is a major contributor to this problem. Wheat is not the sole cause of the obesity epidemic but is a major player. Two slices of whole wheat bread can increase blood sugar more than 2 tablespoons of table sugar.
Wheat consumption contributes to insulin resistance/diabetes and a poor lipid profile (elevated triglycerides, increased cholesterol), resulting in the formation of small particle LDL (the cholesterol highly associated with heart disease). The high carb, low fat diet has been a miserable failure when it comes to improving cardiac and overall health.
Wheat consumption has been associated with obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, cataracts, skin wrinkling, acne and even dementia. These conditions are being encountered more frequently and often occur along a spectrum of wheat sensitivity. Wheat metabolism actually creates peptides called exorphins (similar to endorphins) which inhabit the same receptor in the brain as opiates (morphine, heroin). Yes, some may become addicted (bread is my crack!) to wheat and a mild withdrawal is possible if one stops cold turkey.
When mankind adopted agriculture as our primary method of food cultivation, our health began to deteriorate as a result. The consumption of grains is highly associated with the development of autoimmune disease (via gut toxicity/damage), one of the fastest growing disease conditions recognized in the U.S. Rheumatoid arthritis, as well as many of the other autoimmune condition we currently suffer from, are not recognized in the ancestral record prior to the adoption of agriculture and grains. There are numerous diseases directly associated with wheat ingestion, celiac disease being the most well-known (increase 400 percent in the last 50 years). Wheat/grain sensitivity is a spectrum disorder and though full blown celiac disease is not always the case, there are a number of disease conditions/illnesses that are associated with wheat and grain consumption. An estimated 40-50 percent of the population has some type of gluten sensitivity and most are completely unaware of it. Many just wonder why they are chronically ill or have irritable bowel?
The USDA food pyramid, utilized as a guide to nutrition, has traditionally recommended 6-11 servings of whole grains/day, as part of a well-rounded and complete diet. Sadly, these recommendations differ by about 1 percent when compared to the formula utilized to fatten pigs and cattle prior to slaughter. Grain finishing is the technique used to fatten livestock. Why should it be any different for humans if they are consuming 6-11 servings of grains/day?
I frequently see diabetic patients who are instructed to include whole grains with each meal to help balance their glucose levels. This is a recipe for disaster because this recommendation is essentially advising those with sugar and insulin problems to consume more sugar (wheat). As stated earlier, whole grains are not necessarily healthy; they are in some cases just less bad than white flour. The glycemic index (measurement of how food impacts sugar levels) of whole grain bread is higher than that of white bread as evidenced in the original study describing the glycemic index.
If you struggle with excess weight that you canít lose, despite your best efforts, skin rashes or lesions you canít rid yourself of, insulin resistance or diabetes, brain fog or poor cholesterol levels, try a wheat free diet for a month. Youíll be surprised at how much better you feel once you have eliminated wheat completely. Though most of this article focuses on the grain wheat, other grains are not necessarily free of problems either.
For those on the continued search for the optimal diet, I recommend the book, Wheat Belly, by William Davis, M.D. This book is an outstanding investigation into this topic and clearly discusses the risks involved with the inclusion of wheat and grains in the diet. You will be surprised at what you discover and likely disappointed that you/we have always been informed of the health benefits of whole grains in our diet.
Drop the wheat, drop the weight and improve your health. No one says itís going be easy but if you want to live and feel well, this is a great option to consider.
Christopher Nagy, MD, is the Chief Medical Officer at Cenegenics Carolinas Charlotte.