One of the most frequent questions I have in practice is about wheat/gluten-free and my take on how it effects the body and mind. I started doing more research on the topic and I found more than enough reasons to cut out wheat completely from my own diet. Here are the top 8 to get you started:
1. Not the original wheat
First of all, wheat is not what it was thousands of years ago, or even fifty years ago. Wheat today is produced by countless hybridiazations making for thousands of different potentially harmfull proteins and other compounds We now have “wheat” that was grown in synthetic soil, saturated in chemicals, made to survive the worst environmental conditions and cultivated so that no pest would eat it – and we’re wondering if this could make us sick? Currently there is no requirement for crops that have undergone hybridization to be tested on animals or humans. Read more about this here and here.
2. Increases blood sugar higher than table sugar
Wheat’s main carbohydrate is Amylopectin A and raises your blood sugar higher and faster than any other carbohydrate including table sugar! When there is a large amount of sugar in your blood all at once, this signals a large amount of insulin to remove this sugar as quickly as possible and deliver this preferentially to your fat cells (why we call insulin the fat storage hormone). This is why you feel hungry an hour or two after eating a wheat product – all the sugar has been removed from your bloodstream by then and your cells are still hungry because your fat cells are hogging all of the energy.
Wheat contains a unique protein called gliadin which, when broken down in the body into polypeptides, crosses the blood-brain barrier and binds the morphine receptor in the brain (i.e. euphoric center). These particular polypeptides are termed “exorphins” (exogenous morphine like compounds) because of how like other opiates, you feel a mini-high after ingesting and a slump short while after. In short, these exorphins stimulate the addictive, pleasure seeking part of your brain, stimulating your appetite making you want more and more. Just as other drugs that bind the morphin receptor (think heroin, morphin), this repeated exposure distorts the brain causing mental fog, sluggishness, fatigue and makes one more susceptible to depression and other psychological disorders down the road.
Interesting note - there are now drugs that contain naloxone to treat obesity. Naloxone is formerly known as a drug used to treat narcotic overdose, most notably heroin. It works for weight loss because it blocks the morphine receptor, exorphins are unable to bind, and thus prevents appetite from being stimulated.
4. Blocks your brain from understanding you are full
Digested wheat proteins have been found to block the leptin receptor. This is bad because leptin functions to tell our brain that we are full - if this is being blocked, you are more likely to be hungrier regardless of how much you may have just eaten.
5. Increased risk for diabetes and obesity
This goes along with it’s addictive like quality, stimulating your appetite, increasing blood sugar rapidly, and blocking the mechanism that tells you that you are full. This is a recipe for you to overeat (overeat carbohydrates in particular because of their addictive quality), which leads to obesity and diabetes from too much carbohydrate ingestion aka chronic high blood sugar. I hear all the time from slender patients not understanding how they can be at risk for diabetes with a normal weight and eating healthy “whole grains.” It doesn’t matter if you are thin or overweight, if you are consuming a high carbohydrate diet (which is easiest to do with consuming too many wheat products) your blood sugar will be chronically elevated unless you start making changes.
6. Worsening ADHD
This is still a controversial topic and more studies need to be done to look at this, but there have been many studies showing the improvement of ADHD in children and adults when cutting out the wheat products. You can read more about this here.
7. Inflammation to your gut
Gluten is the main protein of wheat, and it is made up of two proteins gliadin and glutenins. Gliadin is the primary group that triggers the immune response (i.e. infallmation) in celiac diease. But even beyond gluten and celiac diease, there are a wide range of other proteins present in wheat, more than could ever be accounted for due to the countless transformations via countless cross-breeding of strains as discussed above. These modified proteins as well as gluten have been shown to be associated with irritable bowel syndrome in non-celiac disease individuals, and accounts for digestive issues in individuals without full-blown celiac diease. This is why individuals who cut out wheat tend to have less stomach issues.
8. Joint inflammation
As discussed above, wheat products raise your blood sugar more than nearly all foods. The more your blood sugar rises, the more glycation occurs. Glycation is when a sugar binds to protein causing irrversible changes, and thereby modifies proteins in the blood stream, body tissues, and joints. Glycation is particularly damaging to cartilage, and when cartilage proteins become glycated they become stiff. Overtime, glycation makes the cartilage brittle, stiff, and crumbling resulting in more pain and destruction in your joints.
I know it sounds hard to cut back on wheat (because wheat is in virtually all processed foods), but replace with filling full fat foods – avocado, eggs, olive oil, cheese, etc. Healthy non-processed fats should be the bulk of your diet, as the low-fat craze has brought upon the increased obesity, diabetes, and heart diease rate since it was instituted in the 1970s - more on this for another post. If you want to read more about the effects of wheat I highly recommend the book Wheat Belly by cardiologist William Davis, MD.
Patients come into my office everyday for stomach issues (gas, bloating, constipation, etc) and believe that gluten must be the sole culprit. Yes, gluten certainly can wreak havoc on the body, but another factor could be an intolerance to one or more types of FODMAPs. FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates found in virtually all gluten containing food products and can cause the same undesirable gastrointestinal side effects as gluten.
FODMAP stands for “fermentable oligosaccharides disaccharides monosaccharides and polyols" and include fructans (wheat, pastries, pasta), galactans (chickpeas, lentils, beans, soy), lactose (all dairy products), fructose (honey, apples, pears), and polyols (sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and stone fruits such as as avocado). Foods range in their amount of FODMAPs, some having very low amounts that are unlikely to cause stomach issues, to foods that have very high amounts which are most likely to cause problems.
FODMAP containing foods may only cause side effects when eaten in large amounts (i.e. the American diet) so just because your favorite food is on the high FODMAP list does not necessarily mean it needs to be completely eliminated from your diet. Figure out if you have sensitivity to FODMAPs by cutting out FODMAP containing foods for a few weeks and then slowly re-introducing them back into your diet one at a time, and/or pay attention to how you feel after eating FODMAP rich foods.
Below is a list of FODMAP containing foods - from low amounts of FODMAPs to high amounts.
Board Certified Nurse Practitioner in California. Blogging about health, fitness and mindfulness.