If you’ve already begun your Wheat Belly adventure, you know that wheat is a ubiquitous ingredient in processed foods, found in everything from salad dressing to licorice. Wheat, along with corn, can be found in virtually every processed food on supermarket shelves, cheap, tasty filler that provides the appearance of bulk and value.
In our quest to banish all things wheat and grain from our lives, you don’t need me to tell you that there are obvious sources of wheat: breads, rolls, pancake mix, wraps, pretzels, crackers, pies, cakes, muffins, breakfast cereals, breadcrumbs, bagels, muffins, ramen noodles, pasta in all its varied forms. These products fill several aisles all by themselves. You should therefore completely avoid the bread aisle, pasta aisle, breakfast cereal aisle, and the frozen food freezers (except for frozen veggies and berries).
Then there are the processed foods containing wheat, a list that numbers tens of thousands long in any major supermarket: canned soup, dry soup mixes, seasoning mixes, frozen dinners, licorice, granola, candy bars, sauces, gravies, lunch meats, sausages, dog food, cat food–just about everything short of laundry detergent and window cleaner. I liken avoiding wheat in processed foods to getting rid of the sand in your bathing suit, body cracks and crevices after a day at the beach: nearly impossible. Continuing to consume commercial processed foods and avoiding wheat is a loser’s game. That’s why our solution is to eat none of them, or at least minimize your reliance on such foods and examine labels carefully. In addition to its use as cheap filler, I believe that another reason why wheat is included in so many processed foods is that smart food scientists recognized in the late 1980s that the modified form of gliadin (yes, Grain Lobby: of course gliadin has been present in wheat throughout its evolution–it’s the newer forms of gliadin created by agricultural scientists and agribusiness that are in question) from modern high-yield semidwarf wheat that are a source for more potent gliadin-derived opiates that bind to the human brain and increase appetite and calorie consumption–eating processed foods results in eating more processed foods, typically 400-800 more calories per day, mostly in the form of carbohydrates.
And remember that we avoid wheat in all its forms: wheat flour, yes, but also panko, seitan, breading, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, rusk, roux and others. (Find a list in all the Wheat Belly books and cookbooks.) We also don’t fall for the marketing games used to sell us sprouted grain products, emmer, einkorn, spelt, kamut, or organic grains, as they all hold potential for re-triggering inflammation and autoimmune diseases, exert mind effects, cause migraine headaches, high blood sugars, gallbladder disruption, changes in bowel flora, etc. (Readers of Wheat Belly Total Health understand the rationale: We avoid consuming all seeds of grasses from the biological family Poaceae.)
If we avoid or minimize processed foods to avert the dreaded wheat re-exposure syndromes, what’s left to eat? (Some people are completely flummoxed at this point, having been so thoroughly brainwashed that wheat products should dominate diet. But shake it off: it’s really not that tough.) Start by eating real, single ingredient foods: eggs, meats, fish, coconut oil, raw or dry roasted nuts (with no other added ingredients), vegetables, fruit, legumes. These foods should provide the cornerstone of every meal. A baked pork chop with a side of steamed asparagus and mashed cauliflower seasoned with freshly-ground pepper and sea salt, for example, provides virtually no risk of containing wheat. (Even if the animal was “finished” with grains, their digestive system prevents any grain protein residues from contaminating the meat.)
As you gain confidence, then you can indeed begin to examine labels of selected processed foods to identify those safe for your lifestyle. You will be able to find the convenience items that are free of wheat ingredients, as well as other unwanted ingredients, such as added sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, etc. You should therefore be able to identify safe ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, hummus, salad dressings, and others. By following the Wheat Belly recipes, you will also learn that you can recreate just about any former wheat dish with safe ingredients, including a delicious pizza and tasty baked cakes and muffins.
You are not entirely safe yet, however, as, the longer you are wheat- and grain-free, the more sensitive you will become to re-exposures. This means that, for many of us, even cross-contamination from cooking utensils, for instance, may be enough to wreak havoc. More on that in a future Wheat Belly Blog post.