If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, take a look at the newsletter from the Whole Grains Council:
. . . in areas from climate change to nutrition, we see people swayed by pseudo-science every day. Twenty studies show the sky is blue. One study shows the sky is green – and before long, there’s someone who’s written a best-selling book claiming that everyone who ever told you the sky is blue was out to get you; new evidence shows the sky is definitely green.
Here are the claims that they say are among the “sky is green” fictions (with the Whole Grains Council counter in parentheses), followed by my comments on why this is yet another thinly-veiled attempt at grain propaganda:
“Whole grains cause inflammation” (actually, they reduce inflammation)
Here they make use of the widely-held misconception applied in nutrition: if you replace something bad–white flour–with something less bad–whole grains, and there is an apparent health benefit, such as reduced colon cancer, reduced diabetes, reduced cardiovascular disease, and less weight gain, then, by the logic of nutrition, a whole bunch of the less bad thing must therefore be good.
Whole grains absolutely do cause inflammation. This is not speculation; this is borne out by literally hundreds of studies demonstrating that, for example:
- Wheat germ agglutinin, WGA, is a potent bowel toxin that strips the intestinal lining free of healthy absorptive villi, even mimicking celiac disease in people without celiac disease; if it obtains access to the bloodstream (which is does and is reflected by antibodies to WGA in humans), then it is extremely inflammatory. WGA is toxic not only to humans, but to insects and other pests and, for this reason, geneticists have tried to engineer WGA genes into other crops and/or increase WGA expression, making foods more inflammatory.
- Gliadin opens the intestinal barriers, allowing unwanted intestinal contents access into the bloodstream, the first step in autoimmune inflammation. Gliadin derived peptide fragments also provoke inflammation via an interferon-mediated mechanism.
- Amylopectin A–the unique carbohydrate of wheat and grains, highly digestible by human amylase, is responsible for high blood sugars. This is why the glycemic index of whole wheat bread, for instance, is higher than table sugar (sucrose). High blood sugars trigger high blood insulin–repeated over and over again, as it would with a diet rich in “healthy whole grains–that, in turn, provokes insulin resistance that leads to visceral fat accumulation, the high inflammatory form of visceral fat. This is why I call it a “wheat belly.”
And, of course, foods made of wheat put all these inflammatory factors together. There are a number of other factors in wheat and related grains (D-amino acids, serpins, thioreductases, gamma gliadins, alpha amylase inhibitors, etc.) that further amplify inflammation, but those are the highlights.
“All grains make your blood sugar spike” (choose ‘good carbs’ and intact grains)
It’s pretty silly to even argue this, as it is in every table of glycemic index.
Glycemic index, GI, of whole wheat bread is 72; the GI of white bread is 69. (GI of sucrose is 59-65, depending on which study you consult.) Every other grain product, whole or processed, has a GI high enough to provoke high blood sugars after consumption. This is once again due to the high amylopectin content of wheat and grains. (The concept of GI is also flawed due to the arbitrary cutoffs used to designate high-GI, moderate-GI, and low GI such that even low GI foods raise blood sugar substantially. In the Wheat Belly lifestyle, we therefore look for foods that are zero or single-digit GIs.)
By the way, anybody can verify the blood sugar raising effect of grains in any form simply by checking a blood sugar immediately prior to consumption, then 30-60 minutes after eating, say, a sandwich, bagel, or oatmeal, and you will witness high blood sugars even in non-diabetics–prove it to yourself.
“U.S. wheat is GMO” (nope — farmers have fought this — and won!)
I never said that wheat was genetically modified, GM, because no commercially available strain of wheat has been subjected to gene-splicing to insert a gene–no argument here. Quote from Wheat Belly Total Health: ” . . . Public resistance has dampened efforts to bring genetically modified wheat to market, so no wheat currently sold is, in the terminology of genetics, ‘genetically modified.'”
What those nice people at the Whole Grains Council did not tell you is that, despite not being “GM,” the genetics of wheat have been extensively modified by other methods. The methods of chemical mutagenesis, for example, such as exposing wheat embryos to the toxic compound, sodium azide, to create the patented Clearfield wheat resistant to the herbicide imizamox, introduces dozens to hundreds of new mutations, unlike the handful introduced by GM. Yes, the much feared and maligned practice of crop GM is an improvement over some of the older methods that have been used to create wheat products for decades.
“Wheat is the reason we’re overweight and obese” (there’s no ONE reason)
Yes, of course there are other reasons, such as the proliferation of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup in processed foods, the use of bowel flora-disrupting aspartame in sugar-free soft drinks, increased reliance on antibiotics that also disrupt bowel flora, a more prescription drug-reliant society with agents that cause weight gain, and others. Arguing that wheat consumption is the only reason would be nuts.
But wheat is a big part of the reason. As with most other components of diet, we lack a formal epidemiological analysis to clinch the association between quantity of wheat consumption and weight (although the timing of introduction of the high-yield semidwarf wheat variant, coupled with advice to eat more “healthy whole grains,” coincides perfectly with the start of the obesity crisis). But we do know that:
- Gliadin-derived peptides exert opiate effects on the human brain
- Blocking such opiates reduces appetite by around 440 calories per day
- The hyperglycemia triggered by amylopectin A is followed, 90 to 120 minutes later, by hypoglycemia accompanied by hunger
There is also suspicious that WGA blocks leptin, the hormone of satiety that tells us when to stop eating. Put it all together, and it explains why we witness dramatic reductions in appetite, meal frequency, and calorie intake (despite never advising calorie restriction) in the Wheat Belly community. You can experience the appetite amplifying effect from wheat most clearly after you have been wheat-free for at least several weeks, then have a re-exposure–you will be ravenous, something I call the “I ate one cookie and gained 30 pounds” effect. And there is an easy way to test: just do it and watch what happens to your appetite once the wheat/grain opiate withdrawal process has ceased.
“Modern dwarf wheat has been bred to contain more gluten” (gluten hasn’t increased)
I never said such a stupid thing and we know that not to be true. In fact, modern wheat compared to ancient varieties typically contains less gluten. But it is not a matter of gluten quantity; many of the problems with modern wheat can be blamed on the changes recently introduced into the gliadin subunit of gluten–not quantity, but structure. We know that modern forms of gliadin are more inflammatory, more immune-stimulating, more allergic, along with some other effects. The gliadin of today is quite different from the gliadin of, say, 1960–this is not in dispute.
“We eat more wheat now than we used to” (we eat about half the wheat we ate in 1870)
Yes, that’s true. Consumption of traditional wheat reached a high in the 19th century, dropping during the early half of the 20th, then increasing again starting in the 1980s coinciding with the “eat more healthy whole grain” advice. So, to compare apples to apples, we concentrate on more recent trends when modern strains of wheat were consumed and lives have become more sedentary. And, once again, it is not entirely a question of quantity, but of the changed characteristics introduced by geneticists and agribusiness.
“Wheat is addictive” (only as addictive as spinach is)
Opiates (or “opioids”) are indeed present in many foods but they differ dramatically in affinity (binding power) to opiate receptors. The several opiates that derive from partial digestion of gliadin (A5, A4, B5, B4 and C) are the most powerful by a long stretch, followed by the casomorphin derived from dairy casein beta A1. All other opiate-like compounds from foods barely bind the opiate receptor at all. So comparing wheat-gliadin derived opiates to the very low affinity opiates from spinach or other foods is like saying that, because a nuclear bomb and a hand grenade are both explosives, there is no difference–there is a world of difference, of course.
Such have been the counterarguments to the Wheat Belly message, the sorts of simple-minded half-truths typical of the damage control of an embattled industry, no different than the anemic defenses offered by Big Tobacco. Such simple arguments also skirt some very important issues surrounding wheat and grains, such as the mineral absorption impairing effects of phytates, the 400% increase in celiac disease over the past 50 years, and the anthropological fact that we have consumed wheat for less than 1/2 of 1% of our time on earth.
Alright, enough science for a day. Go have some Wheat Belly Pizza!