Sorry but Wheat is not a Real Food, and here’s why

Sorry but Wheat is not a Real Food, and here’s why 960 535 Janie

If you have come to see me for a nutritional consultation then you know that I recommend completely avoiding wheat, and many of you have seen great health improvements from a period without wheat. But I know there is a huge majority out there that think that 5-7 servings of “healthy whole grains” should be eaten every day and the whole gluten-free thing is a tiresome fad.

So let me explain why modern wheat is a problem for everybody (not just Celiacs).

I have my own definition of what constitutes a Real Food. It has to:

  1. Be as close to its natural state as possible
  2. Be nutritious
  3. Not contain toxins

So let’s cover each of these points in relation to modern wheat.

Is wheat as close to its natural state as possible?

wheat-diffsThe wheat we eat today is completely different to the wheat we were eating up until the 1960’s-1970s. In fact it is a different species. In Biblical times a wheat strain called Einkorn was eaten and then this naturally hybridised with a species of grass to become a new strain of wheat called Emmer which was what we ate up until we recently began tinkering with its genetics.

During the mid 20th century it became a priority to “improve” wheat in various ways – by increasing the yield, increasing the gluten content (to make better bread), to grow faster and to have resistance to pesticides and drought. Although not genetically modified according to the traditional definition, it has been forced to hybridise in petri dishes in laboratories with other grass species, and there are literally thousands of different wheat varieties now out there.

So what, you might say, what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that our modern wheat has 42 chromosomes (as compared to 14 in Einkorn and 28 in Emmer) and while the majority of the proteins expressed in modern wheat are identical to Emmer wheat, 5% of proteins are completely new. That means we have created a new species of wheat expressing completely new proteins never before seen by the human digestive system, and we just made an assumption that these would be fine without any testing of any kind. Nobody has ever done any research on these new proteins, of which the majority are glutens, and what they do to our bodies.

So when someone says their parents milled and ate their own flour for decades and they were healthy so what’s the problem? The problem is the flour they were milling is completely different to the flour of today.

The final nail in the coffin confirming that wheat is not close to its natural source is that the modern wheat plant cannot grow without human intervention of nitrogen fertiliser and pest control. If you sow it in a field and leave it to its own devices it will not survive. How can that be considered a “natural state” in any way?

If it can’t sustain its own life how can it sustain ours?

Is wheat nutritious?

Wheat has traditionally been considered a “starvation food”, the reason being that it has a poor nutritional profile but it stores well so is a food to fall back on when more nutritious food is harder to find over winter.

Yes you read correctly – wheat has a poor nutritional profile. Calorie for calorie, wheat contains a low amount of most nutrients compared to other plant foods like vegetables. When you eat wheat you are actually displacing a more nutrient rich plant food that you could be consuming instead. Vegetables have more B group vitamins, iron and magnesium to name a few.

In addition, the high level of phytic acid found in wheat – especially the whole grain type – blocks absorption of essential minerals like iron, zinc and calcium, and the breakdown of wheat fibre actually requires a lot of vitamins, especially vitamin D, which contributes to Vitamin D deficiency which is being linked to health issues like cancer and diabetes. Wheat is also an extremely acidic food. Most plants are alkaline or neutral but wheat is one of the few that is highly acidic and the only way the body has to neutralise the acidity is to pull minerals like calcium out of the bones. There is more and more research linking wheat to osteoporosis as a result of the vitamin D and calcium deficiency it can cause.

If you happen to have a gluten-mediated antibody response which may or may not cause Celiac Disease (damage of the small intestinal lining) – which now has a prevalence of greater than 1 in 100 people and rising – you will become deficient in many nutrients as you are unable to digest food properly. Note that many Celiac sufferers do not experience the obvious digestive symptoms, so you may have Celiac disease and not even know it.

So wheat not only contains very little nutrition when compared to alternatives like vegetables, but other components of wheat actually inhibit the absorption of some essential nutrients, and the digestion and breakdown of wheat also overutilises other nutrients.

So you actually end up with worse nutrition when regularly consuming wheat products.

Just to finish up with on this point, we are told that we need fibre from wheat, but the top 300 food products highest in fibre (aside from wheat bran and corn bran) are all fruit and vegetables. 100g of whole wheat bread only provides 5-7g of fibre compared to say 100g of cauliflower which gives you 32g of fibre. When they say whole grains are high in fibre, they mean higher than processed grains. Doh!

Does wheat contain toxins?

Hell yes. Where do I start? How much time do you have?

Almost everybody has heard of gluten. 80% of all proteins in wheat are glutens which our digestive system is unable to breakdown fully into amino acids, but instead stay as larger “peptides”. Many people have an immune response to gluten –those who have an immune response in their small intestines that leads to damage to the gut wall have Celiac Disease – but a gluten mediated immune response does not always involve the digestive system. Different antibodies are produced in different people and not all of them show up in tests. And responses to gluten do not always involve the immune system – many people do not produce antibodies to gluten but still have a sensitivity to the rogue peptides in their intestines.

celiac icebergImmune and non-immune reactions usually both lead to a problem called “leaky gut” which is now being called “non-celiac gluten-sensitivity”. The gluten causes increased permeability of the small intestinal lining which allows the contents of the intestines to leak into the blood stream. Normally this should not happen – our gut is actually the first line of immune defence – but gluten causes holes in the wall of the gut allowing undigested food particles, bacteria and gluten to enter the blood stream – a place where they should never, ever be.

What happens next is frightening. An amino acid sequence in gluten actually closely resembles some human cellular proteins – this is called molecular mimicry – and because the body thinks its own tissues are causing havoc in the blood stream, it starts to create antibodies against its own tissue. This is known as an autoimmune response, where the body attacks itself. This seems to occur in the weakest tissues in the body so the response can be different for everybody – it can affect any tissue in the body! Autoimmune responses can include rashes, liver disease, autoimmune diseases (thyroid, MS, rheumatoid arthritis), IBS, acid reflux, Crohn’s disease, diabetes (destruction of the pancreatic cells) and neurological impairment (depression, schizophrenia, ADHD).

There are also various other peptides that cause serious health issues such as the lectin, Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA). The latest research shows it can do direct damage to just about any tissue in the human body with no requirements for a person to have a genetic susceptibility to be sensitive to it. So basically it affects everyone. It is being linked to a vast array of chronic inflammatory and degenerative conditions. Note that lectins are found in all grains, not just wheat, and they are not reduced by sprouting or germination.

And then there are the gliadomorphins. These peptides are opiates that are toxic to the brain. They cause neural degeneration and inflammation and have been linked to dementia, anxiety, depression, and they cause incredible cravings. Every 2 hours the body craves more wheat and the cycle of addiction is set up for more and more wheat consumption. Would you be surprised to know that opiate blocking drugs like Naloxone used to treat heroin addiction, can be used to treat wheat addiction by stopping cravings? And Noloxone has also been used to successfully treat schizophrenia because the binding of the wheat gliadomorphins to brain cells appears to be involved in the condition for many people.

And then there is Amylopectin A. Possibly not considered a toxin as the body can break it down, however it has some special properties that render it a problem for most people. Wheat is a carbohydrate, but it is a special kind of carbohydrate because it is the only plant to contain the “super-carbohydrate” Amylopectin A. Potatoes, bananas and beans contain a form of branched, complex carbohydrates that takes some time to breakdown into glucose, but Amylopectin A found only in wheat, can be broken down into glucose just as fast as table sugar. You may have heard that the GI of wholegrain bread is higher than table sugar – this is why.

The effects of the constant raised blood sugar – and hence raised insulin – are extreme (remember most people are eating wheat in every meal and every snack – about every 2 hours due to the opiate-generated cravings). The body has to maintain blood sugar within a very small range – too much or too little leads to death – so when the body receives a massive dose of sugar every 2 hours from wheat, it has to put the sugar somewhere. And that somewhere is what is called visceral fat, or the fat that accumulates around your organs in the mid region, aka. “wheat belly”.

wheat-bellyWhile we have been preoccupied with exercising more, eating less fat and eating our 6-7 servings of “heart healthy whole grains” every day, visceral fat has continued to amass around our abdomen. And visceral fat has some special functions compared to the more benign fat that accumulates in the hips and thighs. Visceral fat leads to fatty liver, fatty kidneys and it releases special signalling molecules that produce constant inflammation throughout the body. The release of these molecules is linked to diabetes, hypertension and heart disease – which is why waist circumference is such a powerful predictor of mortality. Visceral fat also secretes estrogen which is particularly problematic in men leading to the development of “man-boobs” and infertility, and upsets women’s menstrual cycles.  There are also now an increasing array of research papers linking visceral body fat to dementia, rheumatoid arthritis, colon cancer and more.

So eventually increasing visceral fat leads to obesity, and then finally the body cannot cope with the chronic raised levels of insulin anymore. The pancreatic cells are then no longer able to manufacture insulin, and this is diabetes. Is it any wonder obesity and diabetes are increasing at a rapid rate and are threatening to bring down national economies?

Even more concerning, a high level of blood sugar has been shown to be one of the main causes of atherosclerosis. We have all been led to believe that it is cholesterol that is the demon but this is not the case. In its attempts to lower the blood sugar the body converts glucose to triglycerides in the liver, and there is a massive amount of triglycerides that have to be packaged into lipoproteins (LDLs) for distribution around the body. The demand for triglyceride transport is constant and so the body produces a great number of LDLs and it is this increased quantity of particles that is being shown to be the highest risk factor for heart disease. When people stop eating wheat they find their triglyceride levels drop significantly as does the quantity of LDL particles in their blood stream.

Last but not least, the raised level of blood sugar also leads to the constant over production of Advanced Glycation End Products (AGES) which are the agents that cause cataracts, wrinkles and are suspected to be related to atherosclerosis. They are a natural part of aging that occur when a protein crosslinks with sugar within our cells (think of bread becoming toast). With our increased sugar load we see a massive production of AGES – contributing to premature aging.

Conclusion

So in light of all this can we really consider modern wheat to be a real food?  If you are still not convinced, let me point out the fact that after going wheat free and experiencing an amazing turn around in health and body weight, the majority of people experience what can only be called food poisoning when re-introducing it, with symptoms such as nausea, bloating, diarrhoea, cramping, joint pain, and also re-triggering of health issues that may have resolved after going wheat-free like arthritis and rashes. You won’t find this sort of problem if you stop eating broccoli or bananas for 30 days.

One final thing to think about: We consider Celiac Disease to be an unhealthy response to a healthy food – but what it is the other way around? What if it is a healthy response to an unhealthy food? What if the body has evolved a mechanism to flatten the intestines in some people to stop the dangerous wheat peptides entering the blood stream? Since it can’t stop the autoimmune response that ensues, starvation, or at least a body signal that something is wrong, is preferable to an autoimmune assault. Perhaps Celiacs are the more highly evolved among us?

Do you really want to risk your health on an untested food that appears to be linked to so many health issues? Humans are designed to be adaptable, but our bodies have simply not had time to adapt to this new food-stuff, and we are paying the price with our health.

There is abundant anecdotal evidence that dropping wheat from the diet can have a significant effect on both health and body weight, and there is more and more research supporting this. Most people report profound changes within a few days, and then it can take months to clear up a skin condition, or maybe longer to resolve an autoimmune disease.

So I encourage you to try the 30 day wheat-free challenge. And by that I mean wheat-free – not almost wheat-free – because even a small amount of wheat can sabotage any health improvements that may be taking place. You might be pleasantly surprised and you may even find that life without wheat is not so hard.

If you want to learn more about the negative effects of wheat on human health I highly recommend Wheat Belly by William Davis available from Fishpond.

Information and images from Wheat Belly

Celiac Iceberg image from CIDPUSA