What's Up With Wheat?

What's Up With Wheat?

By Gretchen Schisla

Chances are we all know someone who has an intolerance to wheat or is affected by celiac disease. Within my small circle alone I have two family members — one with a severe wheat allergy from birth and my brother-in-law who was diagnosed with hypothyroidism. After removing all wheat from his diet, he looks and feels like a new person. He says, “I’m really glad I did it — in addition to becoming more fit, I have increased energy, better metabolism and less pressure on my joints. I just feel better. In the beginning cutting out wheat was tough, but when you get used to it, it’s not a big deal. I can still enjoy wheat-free beer.”

According to David Katz, M.D., author of Time Magazine’s special nutrition issue “What to Eat Now,” if you search the web for the terms ‘gluten and weight,’ approximately 20 million items addressing weight loss will appear. And Mintel, a market research company, maintains that gluten-free is now a global trend. New food and drink product introductions in Brazil rose by 28%, followed by the US at 18%, then Spain, the UK and Germany each between 6–7%.

In the center of this deluge of information sits William Davis, M.D., a preventive cardiologist in Milwaukee and author of Wheat Belly. Dr. Davis’ unique approach to diet allows him to advocate reversal, not just prevention, of heart disease.

While his findings are too detailed to go into depth here, I’ll point out highlights:

  • While sophisticated, hybrid breeding techniques for plants took place in the 19th century, modern wheat remained essentially the same until the mid-20th century when the International Maize and Wheat Improvement (IMWIC) and other wheat research centers set out to combat world hunger.
  • China, now the world’s largest wheat producer, has increased yields from 8 bushels to 65 bushels per acre because of nitrogen-rich fertilizers and high-yielding dwarf wheat. Recent estimates have dwarf and semi-dwarf wheat comprising 99 percent of all wheat worldwide.
  • Despite dramatic changes in the genetic makeup of wheat and other crops, no animal or human safety testing was conducted on the new genetic strains created.
  • Based on extensive research, Dr. Davis believes that this new “mystery” wheat has been so crossbred, so fast and so often that we can no longer stomach the stuff.
  • His biggest worry is the link between our growing consumption of modern wheat and our rapidly rising epidemic of obesity and diabetes. He explains that wheat has a high-glycemic index (a measure of the effect that carbohydrates have on blood sugar levels). Carbohydrates like wheat that break down quickly during digestion release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream, triggering a release of insulin from the pancreas to move sugar into the cells. Over time, these spikes lead to insulin resistance and diabetes. Davis believes wheat is a major contributor.
  • Another contributor to disease is increased levels of visceral, or abdominal fat — hence the name “wheat belly.” The glucose spikes from wheat trigger the growth of fat, which accumulates around organs in the abdomen, like the liver, pancreas, intestines and heart. Visceral fat can cause inflammation and other conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, dementia, rheumatoid arthritis and colon cancer. “This is why waist circumference is proving to be a powerful predictor of all these conditions, as well as mortality.”
  • Why the wheat-free diet is helpful remains unclear, but after recommending it to more than 2,000 patients, Dr. Davis supports his belief that, in a vast majority of cases, the results are profoundly positive.

These are just a few of the main points, The Healing Project provides a chapter-by-chapter summary of Wheat Belly.

A friend with a wheat allergy says, “Eliminating grains and sugar altogether has dramatically helped reduce pain in my muscles and joints. They seem to cause inflammation.” Even if you don’t have a wheat allergy, there are a number of ways you can benefit from eliminating it from your diet. Try eating wheat-free for a month and see how you feel.

Here are some sites with further information:
Celiac Central
The Mayo Clinic Gluten-Free Diet
List of Wheat-Free Foods