by LEAH ZERBE
January 16, 2014
Is wheat bad? Here's the quick backstory: The modern version of wheat is a far cry from the ancient plant. In fact, the newer, high-yield wheat we've been eating since the 1980s is full of genetic changes that seem to inflame our bodies, cause our guts to leak, and trigger autoimmune diseases.
To figure out some of the strange health problems associated with wheat, we flicked through the pages of the New York Times best-selling book Wheat Belly, and spoke with its author, cardiologist William Davis, MD.
But is a wheat-free diet really for you? Regardless of whether you suffer from celiac disease—an ailment triggered by wheat's gluten—or not, many experts now believe anyone giving up not just gluten, but wheat altogether, could enjoy tremendous weight loss and health benefits. "It means making soups, salad dressings, and dinners yourself, the most assured way to avoid problem ingredients," says Dr. Davis. "Wheat Bellyalso discourages people from resorting to the unhealthy gluten-free replacement foods."
Is wheat bad? You be the judge…
You've been brainwashed into thinking you need whole wheat as part of a healthy diet. The truth is, whole wheat, whether in bread or pasta form or hiding out as an ingredient in canned soup or frozen dinners, could be sending you on a path toward type 2 diabetes. Get this: Eating two slices of whole wheat bread could spike your blood sugar levels more than if you'd eat two tablespoons of pure sugar! "Aside from some extra fiber, eating two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different, and often worse, than drinking a can of sugar-sweetened soda or eating a sugary candy bar," Dr. Davis writes in Wheat Belly.
The chronic spikes in blood sugar and insulin spur the growth of dangerous visceral fat, an accumulation that leads to fat encasing your liver, kidneys, pancreas, small intestines, and, on the outside, your belly. This unique abdominal fat manufactures excess estrogen in both men and women. That increases the risk of breast cancer in women and could lead to dreaded "man boobs" in men. Use it as a signal that you need to cut wheat. "I'd go as far as saying that overly enthusiastic wheat consumption is the main cause of the obesity and diabetes crisis in the United States," Dr. Davis writes in Wheat Belly.
Skin is your largest organ and a major part of your immune system. Unfortunately, it is not immune to wheat's wicked health effects. According to Dr. Davis, also author of the new Wheat Belly 30-Minute (or Less!) Cookbook, wheat exerts age-advancing skin effects, including wrinkles and lost elasticity, due to the formation of advanced glycation end products, nasty muck that accumulates and ages us as it elevates our blood sugar. Wheat's been shown to advance aging and cause wrinkles, but it's also linked to other skin problems, including herpes-like skin inflammation, oral ulcers, psoriasis, and erythema nodosum, shiny red, hot, painful lesions that usually appear on the shins.
Ironically, the government pushes whole wheat as a healthy way to keep your heart in good shape. Dr. Davis says that no matter what type of wheat, be it organic, stone-ground, sprouted grain, or home-baked, it's still wheat, a combination of compounds that trigger high blood sugar, visceral fat, unhealthy cholesterol particles in the blood, and inflammation—all bad news for your heart.
There are many different causes of baldness, some of them hereditary, some of them side effects of medical treatments like chemotherapy. But one type, alopecia areata, could pertain to eating wheat, Dr. Davis says. Referring to hair loss that occurs in patches, usually from the scalp but sometimes in other parts of the body, too, alopecia areata is fueled by eating wheat and the celiac-like inflammation that flares up in the skin as a result, according to Wheat Belly. Dr. Davis has seen hair growth return in many of his bald patients after they give up wheat—no hair plugs, creams, or surgery required.
You've probably heard of "hormone disruptors," but how about pH disruptors? Acids that stress your body's normal pH are common in American diets, and animal products are often blamed. Enter wheat, the most commonly ingested grain in the American diet. Grains are the only plant foods that generate acidic by-products. And when your body is chronically acidic, it starts pulling calcium carbonate and calcium phosphates out of your bones to maintain a healthy pH. That's bad news for bone health: Your bones could eventually become demineralized, setting you up for osteoporosis and fractures.
Dr. Davis has seen thousands of patients enjoy fewer mood swings, better moods, deeper sleep, and better concentration when wheat is tossed from their diet. Getting off of it comes with short-term challenges, though. About 30 percent of people kicking the wheat habit experience withdrawal symptoms like irritability, extreme fatigue, brain fog, and even depression—all signs of addiction. And get this. Wheat's even been implicated in schizophrenia. Davis writes in Wheat Belly, "There have been reports of complete remission of the disease, such as the 72-year-old schizophrenic woman described by Duke University doctors, suffering with delusions, hallucinations, and suicide attempts with sharp objects and cleaning solutions over a period of 53 years, who experienced complete relief from psychosis and suicidal desires within eight days of stopping wheat."
Secret Wheat Hideouts
The bread aisle isn't the only place modern wheat hides. It's in tons of processed foods, including many:
• Frozen dinners
• Salad dressings
• Couscous products
• Different gums
• Canned soups and soup mixes
• Artificial food dyes (and some natural flavorings)
• Fast-food fries—they're often fried in the same oil as breaded chicken patties
• Many other places!
Secrets to Going Wheat-Free
It may take a little time to adjust, but going wheat free is easier than you might think, so long as you're willing to start cooking again. (The recipes can be fast and simple.) Three key steps are to:
• Start cooking from scratch (you'll save money and your health!).
• Create simple salad dressing using extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, minced garlic, and onion powder.
• Avoid fast-food joints and convenience foods in your supermarket