Heart healthy whole grains and the new agenda for the Wheat Lobby

This recent Six Servings post from our nice friends at the Wheat Lobby prompted me to make this counterpost.

Their post begins with:

According to the American Heart Association, the best way to keep your heart in peak form is by eating well and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Whole grains are a cornerstone of a heart-healthy diet and consuming them has been associated with a reduced risk of heart disease by keeping blood pressure, cholesterol – and even weight – in check. Because of these benefits, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends making at least half your grains whole grains. By following this simple recommendation, you will be well on your way to giving your heart a little more love.

I’d like to contribute my thoughts to this grain-based love fest.

Now, when we’re talking about heart disease, we’re talking about a topic I know something about. Having practiced cardiology essentially 7 days a week, 50 weeks a year for the last 23 years, having been involved in the care of tens of thousands of people with a wide variety of heart conditions, having performed 5000 heart catheterizations, thousands of coronary angioplasties, directional/rotational/translumiminal-extraction/excimer laser angioplasties, stent implantations, intracoronary ultrasounds, treated thousands of heart attacks and cardiac arrests, performed tens of thousands of stress tests in various forms, echocardiograms, and participated in research in heart disease, I think about heart disease, I talk about heart disease, I write about heart disease . . . so, let’s talk about heart disease, specifically coronary heart disease and coronary atherosclerosis, the conditions that lead to heart attack and the “need” for procedures like heart catheterizations, angioplasty, stent implantation, and bypass surgery.

As followers of the Wheat Belly discussion already know, data like the Physicians Health Study and the Nurses Health Study and the 12 other studies often cited that “prove” that whole grains are heart healthy actually do no such thing. They only demonstrate that, if white processed flour products are replaced with whole grains, there are indeed health benefits, including a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease. But they do not demonstrate that whole grains improve health over no grains. So let’s ask: What happens when non-wheat/grain consuming people consume “healthy whole grains” on factors relevant to heart health:

Increased levels of de novo lipogenesis–The human liver is an efficient “machine” for converting dietary carbohydrates, such as the amylopectin A and amylose of wheat, to triglyceride-containing particles released into the bloodstream or stored in the liver. Eat more wheat and particles like very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), signaled by increased triglycerides on a lipid panel, increase. Some remain in the liver, also; if enough are retained over time, “fatty liver” develops. High triglycerides also result in increased degradation of HDL particles: low HDL cholesterol, another cardiovascular risk.
Increased small LDL particles–The increased availability of VLDL particles in the bloodstream from grain consumption triggers a series of blood events that result in the formation of explosive quantities of small LDL particles. Typical small LDL of a non-grain consumer: 0 nmol/L small LDL particles. Typical small LDL of a whole grain-consumer: 600-1800 nmol/L–yes, explosive. Small LDL particles are not only more inflammatory, poorly recognized by the human liver, preferentially taken up by inflammatory white blood cells (macrophages) residing in the walls of atherosclerotic plaque, but they are also uncommonly long-lasting, typically lasting 7-10 or more days, compared to the 24 or so hours of large LDL particles. Small LDL particles are perfectly crafted to create coronary heart disease. One wheat indulgence = increased risk for heart disease for 7-10 days.
Increased fasting glucose and HbA1c–Eat foods that raise blood sugar and blood sugar goes up. I recognize how obvious that sounds–what knucklehead could not see this?–but that basic truth escapes people like the Wheat Lobby and their friends at places like the American Diabetes Association. High blood sugar after eating is reflected in the HbA1c value. Repetitive high blood sugar creates resistance to insulin and damage to pancreatic beta cells that produce insulin–fasting blood sugar goes up, pancreatic beta cell function becomes impaired, blood sugars go up farther . . . diabetes. Now that people are, to a greater and greater degree, heeding advice to consume more “healthy whole grains,” they are experiencing the worst epidemic of diabetes ever witnessed in the history of man on earth.
Increased visceral fat accumulation–As increased glucose/insulin does its work, the trigger for fat accumulation in visceral fat stores proceeds and fat collects around the abdominal organs (and heart), signaled on the surface by a protuberant abdomen, “muffin top,” “love handles,” etc. The more visceral fat, the greater the cardiovascular risk, as much as 2-4 fold greater. Also, recall that visceral fat is also inflammatory fat, reflected in inflammatory measures like higher c-reactive protein.
Impaired nutrient absorption–Grain consumers due to exposure to phytates, lectins, and wheat gliadin, have reduced absorption of magnesium, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin D, and other nutrients which can add up to increased cardiovascular risk.
Increased dental disease–The increased dental caries (cavities), gingivitis, dental plaque, tooth loss, and dental/facial deformities of wheat/grain consumption are increasingly being recognized as cardiovascular risk factors. Note that, even 100,000 years ago, before the availability of tooth brushes, toothpaste, dental floss, fluoridated water, and dentists, dental decay was uncommon, affecting less than 1% of teeth, compared to the 16-50% of teeth affected in wheat/grain consumers before vigorous dental hygiene became the norm.

Those are the biggest reasons why “healthy whole grains” are most definitely not heart healthy if your comparison group are non wheat/grain consumers.

The people in the Wheat Lobby are not entirely stupid. They fell into this nutritional trap, just as most people did, lulled by the flawed logic of nutrition and the flawed construction of epidemiologic observations. I believe that, more recently, they have smartened up. Rather than admit their logical errors–which would be disastrous for their industry!–they have chosen a second best: draw attention away from wheat and shine the spotlight on other grains such as quinoa and buckwheat. (Their current post features a recipe for Quinoa, Sweet Pepper, and Fig Salad–no wheat.)

Anyway, celebrate American Heart Month and . . . eat no “healthy whole grains”!

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66 Responses to Heart healthy whole grains and the new agenda for the Wheat Lobby

  1. Jennifer says:

    Hi Dr. Davis,
    This may sound like a crazy idea, but wouldn’t it be great if we could somehow get New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to read your book and start eating based on your philosophy? I think it would be a win-win for everyone since his struggle for losing weight has been a big topic of discussion lately. I would love it if the country saw him lose weight by following the Wheat Belly eating philosophy. What do you think of the idea?
    Thanks so much for everything you do!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      It would indeed be a wonderful thing for the wheat-free movement.

      However, I fear that a politician whose constituents include bakers, people working in the food industry, milling services, etc., all of whom stand to LOSE from this message, would take offense. So I am not hopeful that a politician ever picks up this baton.

      • Clydie says:

        Haha, speaking of New Jersey bakers, this got me thinking about another group of people in New Jersey who would greatly benefit from a wheat free diet: the fine folks at Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken. For those who don’t know, I’m referring to the cast of Cake Boss, which is a reality TV show about a family bakery known for their cakes, cupcakes and all things sugary and doughy. Going wheat free is probably a silly notion to them (as well as a possible career killer), but judging by the increasing collective girth of the cast from season to season, they’d be wise to cut back on the sampling all the goods.

    • Boundless says:

      > … could somehow get New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to read your book …

      As with the previous instances of Neal Boortz and Bill O’Reilly broadcasting their WB enlightenments, this is another case of: be careful what you wish for.

      In the specific case of Christie, Democrats may discount any diet message from him because he’s a Republican. Republicans may discount because they don’t think he’s much of a Republican, and everyone else may discount just because he’s a politician.

      > … Cake Boss …

      There’s a fabulous opportunity here for one of these pastry shows to exploit. Right now, they know that their product is an indulgence that should be consumed sparingly. Suppose they switched to low-carb grain-free pastries. There would be no guilt-laden limit on consumption, and they could lose weight, on air, eating the products.

      The current shows have pretty much exhausted the recipes for wheat, and are resorting to edible architecture. If they dumped wheat, there’s a whole new world to explore, and cookbooks to fill with novel recipes for new and healthy treats.

      A family member makes a dynamite low-carb grain-free frosted chocolate cupcake. It’s virtually indistinguishable from the more common toxic variety. One could eat nothing but, with no harm. If the Recipe feature of this blog ever gets fixed, we’ll contribute it back.

      • Jennifer says:

        If the entire country witnessed someone following the wheat-free diet and obviously losing weight, they would have a hard time discounting it though.

        Love the Cake Boss idea Clydie!!!

        • Nikki says:

          You would think that, but people in many of our daily lives have watched our personal improvements following the Wheat Belly way of life and yet, most refuse to accept that wheat is bad for them. I don’t think seeing someone “famous” lose weight would have any more impact than watching someone they know has had a lifelong weight struggle lose weight would.

    • Shirley says:

      Emeril Lagasse’s twin daughters are both Celiac and they published a cookbook last year. The book promotional video revealed Jilly and Emeril with serious wheat bellies. When I was in B & N I leafed thru the cookbook and found starches in every recipie read.

  2. Tracey Kuhlin says:

    Hi Dr. Davis,
    Have you seen this? The wheat industry’s answer to its competition with the other Frankenfoods, soy and corn: MORE BIOTECH WHEAT!

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Scary stuff, eh, Tracey?

      The answer to the wheat problem? Worse strains with even greater changes!

  3. Nancy Rivers says:

    Great post! Thank you. This makes so much sense.
    My husband and I started eliminating wheat 5 days ago. We both had headaches for about 3 or 4 days. Now feeling great. I’m still waiting for the book and cookbook to arrive. I have heard that you also recommend eliminating other grains and beans. Why the limit on beans? And is our usual breakfast of thick rolled oats, almonds, cinnamon, and yogurt OK?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      You are asking about carbohydrates, Nancy.

      Wheat Belly is about the changes introduced into modern wheat and the health benefits of stopping its consumption. However, if your interest is ideal health beyond that accomplished with wheat elimination, then most modern humans who have been miserably overexposed to carbohydrates the last 40 years also benefit by curtailing other carbohydrates, such as those in beans and sweetened yogurt. Most people do best by limiting carbohydrate exposure to 15 grams “net” carbs (total carbs – fiber) per meal or 4-6 hour digestive window.

      • Nancy Rivers says:

        Dr.Davis, Thank you so much for responding. I am looking forward to continuing with wheat elimination ( my husband is also completely on board), and reading your books.

  4. Lee Hurd says:

    Did anyone notice that the current “New Yorker” issue has an article about Dr. Oz where it’s stated that he eats mostly a paleo diet??? Who knew??

    • Malcolm says:

      Hello Lee:

      I did not see the New Yorker article. Did it mention whether Dr.Oz eats meat? My wife read in Oprah’s Magazine that he was vegetarian. That is not really “Paleo” in my opinion.


      • Boundless says:

        > That is not really “Paleo” in my opinion.

        Paleo as an identifying label is not terrifically useful. It doesn’t guarantee sufficiently low carb. It may include fructose (honey). It often excludes fermented dairy, which you may consider unnecessary. It isn’t even necessarily restricted to what was in vending machines in 8000 BC.

        So yes, it is necessary to look at ingredients and macronutrient breakdowns in “paleo” cookbooks. I looked at the sample pages on Amazon, and ordered a copy of this one.

        Paleo – so easy, a caveman could do it.

  5. Deana says:

    Dr. Davis,

    I’ve been following a mostly wheat-free diet for almost a week. I’m very curious to know if there are any ill effects from me consuming so much more fat in my diet now. I’ve been eating a lot more nuts, eggs, and cheese. I’ve watched a segment on Dr. Oz that showed how the liver reacts to a fatty meal. Over time it causes the liver to become cirrhotic. And also are there any untoward effects from consuming more cholesterol from eating increased animal products? Thanks so much!

    • Boundless says:

      > … Dr. Oz that showed how the liver reacts to a fatty meal.
      When was that clip recorded?
      Was that in the context of a typical glycemic diet, low carb, or ketogenic?

    • Dr. Davis says:

      This is fiction: Consumption of fat does NOT cause fatty liver; consumption of carbohydrates, via liver de novo lipogenesis, causes it.

      If you’ve read Wheat Belly, Deana, you will see that the corollary of rejecting advice to eat “healthy whole grains” is a further rejection of the notion to cut fat. There is indeed an extensive rationale provided in the book.

  6. Melissa says:

    I am trying to understand this whole concept you have. My father is not in the best shape he has coronary artery disease and had a triple bypass almost 2 years ago. He doesn’t have the best eating habits and he eats sandwiches everyday for lunch (and don’t think he will ever change that eating habit). However, my whole life and especially now that I am a nursing student it’s been drilled into my head whole grains and wheat are better for you than white. I have been trying for the longest time to get my dad to eat healthier. He had finally replaced his white bread for wheat in the last year. Now he watches Dr. Oz (which I am mostly happy with). However, the other day he watched the episode with you appearing and supposedly learn that wheat is bad for you. He has now replaced all wheat bread with white. I can’t help but feel unhappy about this decision. I really don’t have the time at the moment to read your book (like I said I am in nursing school). However, I want to understand if maybe my dad misunderstood something or whether you truly believe white bread is better for you than wheat.

    • Boundless says:

      > … whether you truly believe white bread is better for you than wheat.

      Where that that notion come from?
      The WB message is to eliminate wheat 100%, whether whole or white.

      Whole wheat is 5% less destructive than refined. But you can grab that dial, and crank it down to 100% less destructive.

  7. Dody says:

    I suffer from Afib. I have had a pacemaker for 14 years (I am 55) I have broken through Flecainide and after a disasterous ablation, tried Tikosyn, which failed as well. I have read your book and have been wheat free for four weeks! I have lost 11 pounds! I am wondering if this may eventually help my Afib as well? Right now I am trying out flecainide again (higher dosage.) Both of my parents had heart disease and each had 5 bypass openheart surgery.
    Even if the wheatless life does not help my afib – it sure has cured the aches and pains in my arms and legs and keeps me alert and craving free ALL DAY! Love your book. All the best -

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Hi, Dody–

      I’ve seen the frequency or duration of A Fib episodes diminish a number of times. However, with your fairly strong tendency for it, I believe the most you might hope for is better control, not elimination.

      Once A Fib gets established, it loves to come back.

  8. Jill says:

    Thank you so very much Dr. Davis for all your research and sharing with us ‘lay people. Do you have any info on Quinoa grain? I don’t see it in the cookbook. It would be nice to have an accumulated list of things that may be used on a wheat free diet. I go to the gluten free websites, but they always end up including ingredients that you say in your book are just as bad as wheat or gluten? Please advise.

  9. Peter says:

    So Dr Davis is saying that whole grains cause heart disease? What about clinical evidence that completely refutes this idea?