You may have heard the terms “wheat belly” or “grain brain” from some best-selling books and wonder is it just another diet gimmick? What is behind the gluten-free craze? Aisles at our local grocery stores are now dedicated to gluten-free foods. Menus are designating gluten free. And it seems like there are more people now with either gluten allergies or gluten intolerances.
Let me start by explaining that the wheat we know today is not the same that our grandparents ate. Wheat strains have been hybridized and crossbred in order to make a crop that yields twice as much, costs less, and is resistance to pesticides and environmental conditions. This was done with good intentions in the 1970s — it was an attempt to help world hunger. This new wheat has a higher quantity of genes for gluten proteins.
The other thing that people don’t realize is that the glycemic index (GI), the effect of a certain food on your blood sugar, is actually higher than sugar! The GI of white bread is 69, the GI of whole grain bread is 72, and the GI of a Snickers bar is 41– almost half as much! But we would never dream to tell diabetic patients they should eat more Snickers bars! Due to the resistant starches present in this GMO (genetically modified organism) wheat bread, this type of bread elevates your blood sugar more than almost all other types of carbohydrates.
It goes a little deeper than just the effect on your blood sugar. When wheat is exposed to your stomach acid and enzymes, it is degraded into a mix of polypeptides. These can cross into the brain (blood brain barrier) and actually *bind* to the brain’s morphine receptor, just as a narcotic would! As a result, people actually can become addicted to bread and experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to cut it out. There are published studies that show that conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), autism, and schizophrenia had improved once gluten was eliminated from their diet.
Along with stimulating your brain (not in a good way!), it also stimulates your appetite! It actually makes you want more cookies, crackers and other sugary snacks. Wheat causes high blood sugar, which stimulates high insulin, and then more insulin can lead to insulin resistance and more fat deposition, especially in the belly! It’s a vicious cycle! This yoyo effect of blood sugar can eventually lead to diabetes.
The problem was accentuated when the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommended, “Eat more healthy whole grains”. Patients are confused then when I suggest they eliminate it all together. When the low-fat craze happened, calories were replaced by grain-based foods. By eliminating gluten, you also decrease the inflammation that is going on in your body. Gluten is very irritating to the intestinal lining, and it causes poor digestion and absorption if you develop sensitivity to wheat. The inflammation-mediating hormones, such as tumor necrosis factor alpha, interleukins, and leptin, can also inflame joints. Other medical conditions that could be improved by eliminating wheat include arthritis and joint aches, cataracts, high cholesterol, cerebellar ataxia, migraine headaches, acne, psoriasis, vitiligo, eczema, and alopecia.
I can say personally, that when I eliminated gluten from my diet it helped with GI issues, as well as sleep and energy. But be very careful; don’t replace gluten with all gluten-free foods if you are trying to lose weight. Gluten-free foods, usually made with corn, rice flour, tapioca or potato flour often is higher in carbohydrates. Also, the gluten-free foods are typically more expensive. So, I would just pass on the bread and pasta all together! Eating gluten-free foods once in a while is ok, but don’t make it a big part of your diet!
Lose the wheat, lose the weight!