Tracking your wheat-free experience

A comment was posted on the Facebook page for the Wheat Belly Blog about tracking the wheat-free experience. It concerned me because he/she was going to track things like cholesterol values.

Sadly, cholesterol values can be a crude and often misleading set of measures. (Anyone following my discussions on the Heart Scan Blog or the Track Your Plaque program knows that conventional cholesterol values are next to useless. Tracking the right data is crucial.) Cholesterol values can actually look worse after weight loss on a wheat-free diet, since LDL cholesterol, for instance, is a calculated and not a real measured value (what I call “fictitious LDL) and total cholesterol is an awful mix of both good (HDL) and bad (LDL).

So if you want to chronicle your wheat-free experience with measures that properly reflect the metabolic transformation, here are the measures to consider:

Weight–Of course.
Waist circumference–After all, the whole conversation started talking about wheat bellies!
Blood pressure
Fasting blood glucose, HbA1c–The HbA1c reflects your prior 60 days of around-the-clock blood glucose values. I aim for blood glucose 90 mg/dl or less and HbA1c 5.0% or less.
HDL, triglycerides–Unlike calculated LDL, these two values are measured and do reflect your wheat-free experience accurately with increased HDL and reduced triglycerides.
LDL particle number or apoprotein B–These are the real measures of LDL particles that plummet with wheat elimination.
Small LDL particles–Although most people don’t measure this, when you do you will witness huge reductions in measures of small LDL. I use the NMR method in my office and drops from, say, 2400 nmol/L to 300 nmol/L are common with wheat elimination. Recall that small LDL is the #1 most common cause for heart disease in the U.S., not “high cholesterol.” Wheat consumption increases small LDL particles; wheat elimination is the most powerful tool available for reduction of small LDL particles, particularly when combined with weight loss.
C-reactive protein–The reason why so many people talk about c-reactive protein (CRP) is because the pharmaceutical industry has fueled the discussion about it in the media with clinical trials like the JUPITER trial of Crestor in people with high CRP. But CRP and other measures of inflammation drop to the floor with wheat elimination.

Also, be sure to not have these sorts of measures until weight has stabilized. Blood drawn during ongoing weight loss will show confusing patterns, including reduced HDL, increased triglycerides, high blood glucose, and other distortions, all resulting from the flood of fatty acids that come from mobilization of stored fat. (For more discussion on this, see this Heart Scan Blog post.) I ask people to wait about 6-8 weeks after weight has plateaued before having blood drawn.

I am a big believer in tracking your experiences. But you’ve also got to choose the right values to track. No sense in tracking the speed you are driving by looking at the odometer.


Like This Post? Sign Up For Updates — It’s FREE!

Plus receive my latest collection of recipes, Wheatbelly Hearty Entrees!

Comments & Feedback...

  1. Rose

    Thank you! I’m heading to my doctor this week for my yearly physical, and wanted to know what “tests” to have done for my “before” counts. I’m just starting on this wheat free lifestyle, and just recently made a few unhealthy choices, but it sure didn’t take long to notice the difference in my energy, moods, and soreness in my hands came back fullforce. I’m sure I’m going to get the “talk” from my doctor, about how to improve things.. but I will just nod my head, and *agree* with things he says (sarcasim is very apparent when I say *agree* with him lol) .. then walk out and really embrace this wheat-free lifestyle .. THEN go back in a year for my next physical, and blow him away with results that come from not following his advice .. he’s “old school” and really puts emphasis on “calories in/calories out/more whole grains & veggies/less meat”..

    • How many docs have to be “old school” before they realize it’s a New Age in information and health?

      Sorry for the rant, Rose, but I hear this too often: Having to say things, little white lies, to assuage our docs. It shouldn’t be this way.

  2. Mike

    Please respond to my recent post about the various fillers (mainly maltodextrin) foound in many vitamin and supplement pills. Do these fillers represent a threat to those of us limiting carbs?

  3. Ron

    Hopefully that explains why my Blood Glucose was 113 at my recent test.

    Previously it had gone up to 107 and one of the main reasons I gave up grains and sugar. When I was tested a couple of weeks ago I had already lost over 20 pounds and expected BG to be well under 100 and was very surprised that it was higher. My HDL was 67 and my Triglycerides were 100.

    When I had the tests I was in the middle of rapid weight loss. I’m still losing but the rate has slowed to just over a pound per week. Doctor wants me retested in 3-4 months. By then I should be stabilized since I’ve already lost almost 25 pounds and weigh the same as when I got married.

  4. Angela

    Thanks for the info and tiimelines! Will maintain elimination for awhile and be patient regarding updated testing.

  5. Sara

    Thanks for the informative post. It is hard to wait sometimes because you want to know how you are doing, and also because “mainstream” medicine seems to think I am crazy (I’m in the medical field) so it would be nice to have some personal “ammunition” to fight back with.

    I started with a low carbohydrate diet about 2 week before the first test, and started the Wheat Belly Diet about a month after the first test. I have lost 14 pounds (was not technically overweight to begin with, just trying to prevent diabetes and obesity). I was also having trouble understanding why I was eating all the right foods (read: healthy whole grains), and feeling tired and hungry every 2-3 hours. Now I can easily wait 6-7 hours in between meals. Some GI complaints I had have improved as well. I never has a wheat belly, but my pants are now large on me, and people notice that my face is thinner.

    I had my cholesterol measured at my job on a cholestech machine.

    8/18/2011 11/18/2011
    TC:171 TC: 268
    HDL:47 HDL:72
    TRG: 62 TRG:69
    LDL: 112 LDL: 183

    I was pleased that the HDL went up, but not that happy at the rise in LDL. I know that the LDL is the only component that is calculated and not measured, but I actually wasn’t that pleased with the LDL of 112, even though it probably was lower due to low triglycerides. I’m a little concerned because this picture doesn’t seem to align with the pattern you described for weight loss, i.e. lower HDL , higher triglycerides, and was wondering if this indicate some genetic predisposition to high cholesterol on a high fat diet. I am still currently losing weight, but pretty slowly, maybe one pound every 2 weeks. By the way, I have been taking 5000IU vitamin D3 and recently started omega 3 fatty acid supplementation.

    • Hi, Sara–

      Don’t make any decisions until a real measured LDL particle number or apo B has been measured. Else you might end up on a statin drug . . . with no benefit.

  6. a different Heidi

    I have been grain free & sugar free since seeing you on Fox & Friends Sept. 26. Initially I felt great and slept well. Weight loss stalled after 4 weeks @ 8lbs. I have a family history of low thyroid, and my TSH has always been “high-normal”, but I felt fine. I was considering that with the elimination of enriched grains and salt, that part of my problem could be a sluggish thyroid since carb intake was less than 40 per day. I now have several classic symptoms of low thyroid, and after 9 weeks am hovering at an 11 pound loss. Sadly, I waited three weeks for a doctor’s appointment only to have my doc order a TSH, CBC, and lipid panel. When I asked him to also run a free T3 and free T4, he finally made eye contact with me and said there was absolutely no reason for that. A TSH will tell me everything I need to know. My dad had a goiter with normal TSH values. I’m sticking with the grain free lifestyle, but regardless of how my labs come back this week, I’m looking for another doc. Will my lipid panel be off if there is a thyroid issue?

    • Hi, Heidi–

      Run away from this doctor. He’s stuck somewhere in 1985. You can do a lot better than that.

      Yes, lipid values are substantially worsened by hypothyroidism. With this doctor, more than likely he will prescribe a statin drug before he gives you thyroid.

      • a different Heidi

        Thanks, Dr. Davis. I figured the lipids would be skewed as that is what eventually led to my father’s diagnosis.

  7. Donna Reinas

    Hi Dr. Davis,
    I would be interested in joining your Track Your Plaque program, but wonder how it works. Ideally, I’d like to get my husband to do it also. I’m not sure his doctor is very thorough. He typically mails my husband his blood test results and only gives an overall cholesteral level and nothing else and then checks off “Good!”
    At least my doctor gives me the LDL/HDL levels, ratio and risk factor, although according to what you have been saying, that is not enough either. I am concerned both of our doctors are not up-to-date.

    Do you recommend tests and then we ask our doctors to order them so we can track our progress? I am more than willing to invest in your program but wanted to know a little bit more about it before forking over the money…I”m not sure the website explained it….


    • Susie337

      I’m with Donna. I am seriously interested in the Track Your Plaque program, but would like to understand more about how it works before spending that much on it. I couldn’t figure that out from the website either.

      I do love the Wheat Belly program. I’ve believed in low carb for years and ‘tried’ on again and off again to follow it. Since reading your book, I have been following the program very closely and have lost weight and feel ‘way much better’ … my granddaughter would say. Thanks for all the work you do! Susie

  8. Mary

    I have been eating a Paleo lifestyle since Jan. 2011. I have lost about 50 lbs. and plan to lose 10 more. I feel great. Had a VAP cholesterol test recently: HDL -100, Triglycerides – 79, ApoB – 134, LDL-R – 177, LDL size pattern – A, Lipoprotein a – 24. I was given a statin prescription, which I will ignore.
    Am I correct that because I have large particle size LDL statins are unnecessary? I have increased my daily fish oil for the lipo a. My parents and grandparents all lived into their late 80s. No fam hx.
    I also have low free T3 – still within normal limits. I am having to find a new doctor for this that will look at this more closely, especially since I have symptoms.
    Any help will be appreciated.
    I have passed your book around to my whole family. Even have a good number of converts! Helps to be a walking advertisement

  9. Janet

    I had a cardiac calcium scoring test were I scored 340, indicating moderate to large amount plaque. Is this an accurate test to indicate the present of plaque? My doctor has wanted to put me on colesterol meds due to cholesterol levels considered to be high (240) mostly due to a high score of “good” colesterol. He nearly guaranteed the calcium scoring would indicate presence of plaque and it did. I’d like your opinion. I’ve been restricting wheat dramatically for over a month with a moderate weight loss (although I’m not really overweight).
    The cholesterol test was done about 3-4 weeks into the wheat reduction “diet”.

  10. Janet Wren

    My doctor wants me to take cholesterols meds; measured at 240 but he admits it’s the “good” cholesterol that’s high. Since I’ve resisted, he suggested a cardiac calcium scoring test which iI had, indicating a score of 340; moderate-high score. I want to know if that an accurate mesurement of plaque and value your opinion. I’d been drastically reducing wheat in my diet when cholesterol test was done and the numbers mirror those done in prior years tests.

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes, it is indeed an accurate measure of plaque.

      The answers for gaining control over your substantial heart disease risk are more likely to be found on my Heart Scan Blog and Track Your Plaque program.

  11. Hi Dr. Davis,
    I tried searching on your blog, but do you have information about cholesterol and triglycerides being too low, the reasons for it, and how to approach it?
    Loved your book! Thanks!

  12. Hi Dr. Davis —
    Every so often an organization called LifeLine Screening comes to town, setting up shop at an area church or legion hall, and soliciting 6 diagnostic screenings for $169: carotid artery (ultrasound), heart rhythm (EKG), kidneys (finger stick blood test), abdominal aorta (ultrasound), peripheral arteries (doesn’t say but probably ultrasound) and osteoporosis screening (ultrasound of the heel bone.) I’d like to have all of these screenings done for myself and my husband, but don’t know if this operation is legitimate or a scam. They say the whole screening takes just 10 minutes. Are these methodologies of screening accurate and useful? Do you have any experience with this organization? Is there somewhere else you’d recommend getting such screenings done? Thanks!

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes, they are legitimate and actually do a very nice job for a bargain price.

      Because health insurance and Medicare generally don’t like paying for “preventive” testing (they say they do, but don’t really), this service has proven very helpful to fill the need.