If you’ve been following my Wheat Belly conversations for a while, you may have gathered that the world of gluten-free foods is like deciphering whether the Russian government is involved in U.S. political and social media affairs, a murky, dangerous, misleading world filled with traps, tripwires, and wholesale deception. Ironically, many people, even some people who “reviewed” the original Wheat Belly book, declared “Wheat Belly is just this book about being gluten-free.” Anyone who actually reads the Wheat Belly books, of course, knows that I bash gluten-free processed foods for the awful products that they are. While you can be gluten-free following the Wheat Belly lifestyle, a better definition of the Wheat Belly lifestyle would be that we are grain-free, reverting back to a style of eating that defined human adaptation and evolution for the first 3.5 million years that our species has walked this planet. Humans who first consumed the seeds of grasses, AKA “grains,” experienced substantial health problems including explosive tooth decay, arthritis, and iron deficiency, all well-illustrated in the fossil record. More recently, farmers and agribusiness amplified the problems associated with wheat by selecting strains enriched in phytates and wheat germ agglutinin, altering the amino acid sequence of gliadin protein, while also genetically-modifying corn and exposing humans to glyphosate and Bt toxin—just the tip of the iceberg in the unhealthy changes introduced into grains.
But back to gluten-free. It is fine to be gluten-free and consume foods naturally gluten-free such as eggs, avocados, apples, salmon, lettuce, and dandelion greens. But it’s the gluten-free processed foods that introduce an entire range of problems for the unwitting humans who consume them. Gluten-free breads, bagels, pasta, wraps, etc. are made with combinations of cornstarch, rice flour, tapioca flour, or potato starch, ingredients that raise blood sugar higher than any other food, more than even wheat and sugar. If you were to check fingerstick blood sugars 30-60 minutes after consuming various foods to capture the peak level, you would observe something like this in a non-diabetic individual after a starting blood glucose of, say, 90 mg/dl:
- 8 ounces of baked salmon + large green salad with olive oil and vinegar: 95 mg/dl—essentially no change, the way it should be.
- Roast turkey sandwich with 2 slices of tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise on 2 slices whole wheat bread: 150 mg/dl—a moderate rise sufficient to provoke effects such as protein glycation, insulin resistance, liver de novo lipogenesis
- A bowl of gluten-free pasta with marinara sauce and grated Parmesan cheese and olive oil: 190 mg/dl—an extreme rise that accomplishes the same as a moderate rise, just more severe. High blood sugars also persist for many hours, given the slowed digestion of the compressed flour of pasta.
Blood sugar rises would be much higher after grains or gluten-free food consumption in people who are obese, have pre-diabetes, or type 2 diabetes. A blood sugar of 300 or 350 mg/dl would not be uncommon, for instance, in a type 2 diabetic after a bowl of gluten-free pasta.
In other words, the rise in blood sugar initiates a cascade of health phenomena that take you down the path of insulin resistance, irreversible protein glycation, expansion of visceral fat, provocation of small LDL particles that lead to heart disease, liver de novo lipogenesis that leads to fatty liver and high blood triglycerides/VLDL, phenomena that lead to increased potential for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, cirrhosis, and dementia.
To make matters worse, it is becoming clear that gluten-free foods are often not even gluten-free—10-30% of gluten free products have been found to contain measurable and potentially dangerous levels of gluten residues. This may be part of the explanation for why people with celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, cerebellar ataxia, and other forms of gluten intolerance continue to have symptoms despite following a strict gluten-free diet.
And gluten-free foods are often made with cornstarch. Beyond the blood sugar disasters that cornstarch creates, it also contains residues of the corn protein, zein, that resembles the gliadin protein within gluten and has been found to reactivate celiac and related responses in some people. In other words, gluten-free foods made with cornstarch are, in effect, gluten-containing.
You can be naturally gluten-free. But nobody should be eating the awful processed food products made with cornstarch, rice flour, tapioca flour, or potato starch—it’s simply not worth the considerable health price you pay.