Does wheat cause diabetes? Is the national message to eat more “healthy whole grains” to blame for the nationwide epidemic of diabetes? Can that bowl of bran cereal, English muffin, or plate of whole wheat pasta mean a life of drugs, insulin injections, and eight years shaved off your lifespan?
Yes, yes, and yes. Mind you, I am a vigorous advocate of the elimination of all wheat from the human diet. Even without hearing the rationale for this opinion, anyone reading the reams of testimonials on this blog can readily see that many, many people are experiencing substantial weight loss and health turnarounds by eliminating all things wheat.
But can we blame diabetes on wheat?
Yes, absolutely, as much as you can blame poor oral hygience for toothlessness in West Virginia. There are several reasons why wheat, more than many other food, causes diabetes:
–Any food that increases blood sugar to high levels (i.e., high glycemic index) also increases insulin to high levels. Repetitive high insulin leads to insulin resistance, which leads to visceral fat deposition, more insulin resistance, inflammation, etc., eventuating in diabetes.
–High blood sugar, such as that resulting from eating two slices of whole wheat bread, is toxic to pancreatic beta cells, the cells that produce insulin: glucotoxicity.
–Triglyceride-containing lipoproteins, such as chylomicrons and its remnants, are toxic to pancreatic beta cells: lipotoxicity.
–The gliadin protein of wheat stimulates appetite, causing the unwitting wheat consumer to eat, on average, 400 more calories per day, mostly from carbohydrates. 400 calories per day, 365 days per year . . . that’s a lot of extra calories, a lot of potential weight gain.
–The lectins of wheat (wheat germ agglutinin) are inflammatory, generating inflammation in multiple sites, such as joints, intestinal tract, and endocrine glands. Higher levels of inflammation and its various mediators (tumor necrosis factor, the interleukins, etc.) worsen insulin resistance, worsening the vicious cycle.
Some aspects of wheat (especially gliadin and lectins), of course, became much worse with the introduction of modern high-yield, semi-dwarf strains of wheat, compounded with the advice to cut your fat and eat more “healthy whole grains.” This deadly combination, reaching full volume in 1985, coincided precisely with the beginning of the explosion in diabetes in the U.S.:
Full data from the CDC here.
Sugars and processed foods made of such things as cornstarch and high-fructose corn syrup also make a major contribution. But these foods lack the direct inflammatory effects of lectins and the appetite-stimulating effects of gliadin. They are bad, but do not compare to the incredibly bad effects of this thing called “wheat.”
High-yield, semi-dwarf wheat was introduced into the U.S. in the mid-1970s, gained wider acceptance by farmers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, such that, by 1985, virtually all bagels, pizza, and bread originated with this darling of agricultural geneticists. The new gliadin of wheat (altered by several amino acids), a more effective appetite-stimulant than its predecessor, “old” gliadin, caused calorie consumption to increase by 400-500 calories per day. Americans gained weight. A several year lag followed before the uptick in diabetes began, as it requires 30,40, 50 or more pounds for most people to exhibit all the hallmarks of diabetes.
So we now have the world’s worst epidemic of diabetes ever witnessed since humans have walked on earth. Some “experts” argue that it’s genetics, it’s the overconsumption of Coca Cola and Mountain Dew. Others argue that it’s your physical inactivity, lives spent behind desks, looking at computer screens.
I personally became diabetic 20 years ago at a time when I was jogging 3-5 miles per day, cutting my fat, avoiding junk foods and soft drinks, and eating plenty of “healthy whole grains.” I wasn’t physically inactive nor did I indulge in junk carbohydrates. But I became diabetic. I believe this is the same situation experienced by millions, the people who are physically active, avoid junk and fast foods, and try to eat “healthy whole grains.”
20 years later, I exercise less intensively, don’t restrict my fat, and eat NO “healthy whole grains” like those made of wheat. My HbA1c: 4.8%, fasting glucose 84 mg/dl—on no drugs. I am no longer diabetic.
Let the Wheat Lobby and its supporters (read “pharmaceutical industry”) march out the “whole grains have been proven to healthier than white flour” argument. We all know that you cannot justify a food just because it is less bad than something else. Less bad does not necessarily mean good.