While I have long been aware that most of our corn and soybeans have been genetically modified, I recently became aware that our wheat has also been tampered with. According to Dr. William Davis in his book “Wheat Belly,” we have been misled into thinking that grains are good for us, especially whole wheat. How did he arrive at this conclusion?
When Dr. Davis was in his early 40’s he saw a photograph of himself in a bathing suit and realized he had at least 30 lbs to lose. He ran some blood tests on himself and found he had triglycerides of 350 mg/dl (below 100 is the goal), low HDL (good) cholesterol, and a blood sugar of 161 mg/dl, which made him diabetic. Not good, especially for a cardiologist!! Yet he ran 3 to 5 miles each day and ate a diet that avoided excessive amounts of fats, meats, junk foods, and snacks.
So what was going on? He then realized that the major dietary change he had made in order to eat “healthier” was the addition of whole grains. After all, that’s what the government and associations like the American Diabetes Association advocate. Could this be his problem? His journey, which led to his writing his book, began as he started to investigate whether or not wheat could be causing his problems.
First and foremost, the wheat of today is not the wheat of our ancestors, not even of our grandparents or great grandparents. Einkorn wheat, which contains 14 chromosomes, is the original wild, then cultivated, wheat. Thousands of years ago, einkorn mated with 14-chromosome goatgrass, yielding a 28-chromosome wheat called emmer. Also before biblical times, emmer wheat mated with another 14-chromosome grain, yielding the 42-chromosome wheat, Triticum aestivum. Triticum changed very little over the centuries; however, the Triticum wheat of today is totally different, both inside and out. As you can see wheat has the ability to retain the sum of the parent genes, which is a boon to playing with genetics.
Today’s wheat is bred for yield, for ease of threshing, for shortened time between harvests, and for ease of baking. The wheat is even shorter in height, only 1-2 feet tall (goodbye “amber waves of grain”!). All these large breeding changes have occurred in a short amount of time, starting in the late 1940’s.
Despite these epic changes to wheat, no experiments were ever done to test the safety of this altered grain in humans or in animals. The problem with the hybridization of wheat is the formation of proteins that are not found in either parent. In one experiment 14 new gluten proteins were formed. Imagine the number of gluten proteins formed if you take the new offspring and mate it again! No wonder so many people are gluten allergic or sensitive today.
Who knows how all these new wheat proteins are affecting us? Our bodies have not had time to adapt in an evolutionary manner. And today it is no longer necessary to breed strains; now single genes can be inserted or removed to increase resistance to temperature, pests, and drought, etc.
The new wheat is ideally suited for the creation of donuts, croissants, and cinnamon buns, etc. The ancient wheat would not be suitable for the creation of these modern day treats.
But how does this “new” wheat affect us? There is definitely a negative impact on blood sugar.
We are told to avoid simple carbohydrates (like candy and soft drinks) and to increase our consumption of complex carbohydrates, like whole wheat. However, wheat is 75% amylopectin, a starch composed of branching units of glucose. Amylopectin is rapidly broken down into simple glucose and, thus, raises blood sugar. Other carbohydrates have different forms of amylopectin; those are not as efficiently broken down and, so, have less impact on glucose. The glycemic index (GI) measures how much blood sugar levels increase 90-120 minutes after a food is consumed. Few foods have a GI as high as wheat. In fact, whole wheat bread has a GI of 72 while plain table sugar comes in at 59! When blood sugar is raised, the pancreas releases insulin. The higher the blood sugar, the more insulin is produced. Insulin’s job is to move glucose into the cells. High insulin levels result in visceral fat deposition especially around the belly. This is how the body stores the extra energy from the glucose.
This visceral fat sends out inflammatory signals that cause the cells to lower their response to insulin; this condition is called insulin resistance.
In this situation the pancreas produces more insulin to try to help metabolize the sugar. This vicious cycle results in the creation of more and more visceral fat.
Picture the following example of this cycle. You eat whole wheat toast, your blood sugar spikes, and insulin pours out in response, causing your blood sugar to drop (hypoglycemia). You desire more sugar to again raise the blood sugar level.
Wheat also contains “exorphins” which addicts one to wheat. Additionally wheat acts as an appetite stimulant. For this reason eating wheat is not a good choice for anyone who is having a problem losing weight.
Besides the effect of wheat on blood sugar, Dr. Davis discusses many types of health problems that he has seen resolve when wheat is totally removed from the diet. Some of the conditions he discusses in the book are osteoporosis, cardiac problems, depression, fatigue, diabetes, cataracts, neuropathy, joint pains, ataxia, and aging.
Dr. Davis also gives specific advice on what to eat. Recipes are included. According to Dr. Davis, the important thing is to get all wheat out of your diet and to eat seeds, lots of vegetables, fruit, chicken, fish, and meat, if you are so inclined.
I highly recommend this book.
© 2012, Mark A. Breiner, DDS
The information presented is for educational purposes only. You should consult a qualified health practitioner for diagnosis and treatment.