Should You Eat Wheat?
This is one of the most controversial topics in the nutrition world. It can be overwhelming looking at all the data and opinions from doctors and other fellow nutritionists. Where do you start?
What Is Wheat? What Is It Made Up Of?
Whole wheat has been touted for years about being ‘heart-healthy’ and full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. It’s in a category of a cereal grain. Wheat has been around for centuries, so what’s the problem now? Wheat has been hybridized and changed so much from what our ancestors used to eat and prepare that it’s really comparing apples and oranges. A study showed that the mineral density in wheat grain over the last 160 years have been decreasing (9). It showed that the increasing yield and harvest index is a reason for the mineral concentration in wheat to decrease. With the amount of wheat that is consumed and the lower micronutrient density in it is a recipe for disaster. It has been said that the average American will consume 55 lbs of wheat in a year. WOAH, that’s lot. Another study in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that patients with IBS responded better with ancient wheat products versus the modern grains (10). With the huge change of wheat strains, correct preparation methods aren’t used, coupled with eating too much of it — in my opinion, this is why wheat is hurting us in this society. Is it worth the risk to eat wheat when there are plenty of more nutrient-dense options to take its place? Wheat also has components that can be harmful to us as well — gluten, gliadin, amylopectin A, WGA (wheat germ agglutinin). What is all that?
Amylopectin-A is a specific starch for wheat products. Why is this bad component of wheat? This starch has been shown to increase insulin levels at a scary rate. The higher insulin spikes you get & the frequency you get them throughout the day can lead to insulin resistance and chronic diseases. This study shows that rats that fed on amylopectin (vs amylose -another starch in wheat) shot their insulin levels up compared to the amylose. Amylopectin can promote the development of insulin resistance. Amylopectin & amylose are both in wheat starch, but amylopectin is about 80% of that starch. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition did another study with humans ingesting amylose vs amylopectin to see if the structure of the starch could influence metabolic factors. Glucose and insulin responses were significantly higher in the amylopectin group. We can see that amylopectin A spikes insulin at an alarmingly rate. To remind you about how important insulin is to our bodies, insulin is a hormone that is made by the pancreas. It has many functions, but one of the most known functions is that it is released to help the sugar in the blood go into the cells for fuel. When blood sugar is continuously high (having a diet high in carbohydrates), more insulin is being made to keep up with blood sugar. It will eventually become ‘sensitized’ and it will be hard for your body & insulin levels to keep up. Therefore, you are left with a lot of glucose not being absorbed. This leads to chronic diseases that are at an all-time high right now, like diabetes. Chronic high insulin levels also leads to fat in the abdominal area. Aren’t we all trying to get rid of the flab in our mid-section area? So, amylopectin being a big insulin spiker is scary.
I think everyone has heard of the word gluten. Going gluten free has become one of the most popular nutrition trends. Is it for you or no? Gluten is a substance in wheat that helps breads form and make it elastic and flexible. Gluten helps wheat form into many different versions — breads, pastas, pancakes, etc. Gluten can be a serious inflammatory, which about 1% of the world has celiac disease. This disease is VERY sensitive to gluten. Someone who is diagnosed with celiac disease must stay away from all gluten because it can cause digestive troubles and body inflammation. What about others that don’t have celiac disease? There are people that may still feel symptoms (digestive or not digestive) that improve without gluten in their diet. This is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity. It is very real. A couple of my clients have been tested for gluten reactions and while they don’t have celiac disease, their body does respond negatively toward gluten. I am a strong advocate for getting a food sensitivity test because every individual is different. There is a study that was taken out of an Air Force Base and it stated there are many people that go undiagnosed with celiac disease. This undiagnosed celiac disease is associated with a 4-fold increased risk of death. Lancet posted a study years ago about the increase risk of death is 600% increase when you sneak gluten in and you are truly sensitive to it. What about those gluten-free products? I suggest staying away from those. I have found, maybe, one or two products that were okay, but most gluten-free products in the stores are just as bad and just as processed.
This is a protein that is a component of the gluten protein. It’s not as talked about, but it does have some effects that can cause serious health issues. All of our food and nutrients are absorbed in our small intestine. In the small intestine, we have tight junctions that allow nutrients to go through and keeps the things out that aren’t supposed to go the blood stream. Zonulin is a hormone that is in charge of opening/closing these tight junctions. When these tight junctions aren’t tight anymore, it’s called leaky gut. Which can lead to auto-immune diseases and other chronic illnesses. This protein called gliadin actually activates zonulin and opens up these tight junctions and because of the size of gliadin as peptides and things that aren’t supposed to go through (gluten, undigested food particles, toxins, etc) are able to pass through. This is where gluten can become an inflammatory — being in a place it’s not supposed to be in. It’s very dangerous for people who have a wheat sensitivity or celiac disease.
Gliadin can actually bypass the blood brain barrier and help stimulate appetite, which leads to eating more.
WGA (Wheat Germ Agglutinin)
WGA is a type of lectin that is in wheat. Lectins are a plant’s defense system from being ingested. Without proper preparation, lectins can wreck havoc in the gut as it can lead to leaky gut and imbalances in the gut flora. It also stop nutrients from being absorbed – which ultimately will lead to nutrient deficiencies that leads to chronic illness. These are called anti-nutrients in food. In an article in Green Med Info, they explain how WGA can also bypass the blood-brain barrier –
“WGA can pass through the blood brain barrier through a process called ‘adsorptive endocytosis’ WGA may attach to the protective coating on the nerves known as the myelin sheathand is capable of inhibiting nerve growth factor which is important for the growth, maintenance, and survival of certain target neurons. WGA binds to N-Acetylglucosamine which is believed to function as an atypical neurotransmitter functioning in nocioceptive (pain) pathways”
A study that was in the Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology showed that WGA stimulated the immune system at the gastrointestinal interface and promoted pro-inflammatory cytokines. To be healthy, we aim for minimal inflammation in our body.
How Should You Prepare Wheat?
We have shifted from how out ancestors used to prepare foods to having foods ready for us in an instant. I believe how we are preparing foods now or should I say lack of preparation of foods now is hurting us. A study in the International Journal of Food Science Nutrition stated that wheat grains would need be soaked for 24 hours and germinated for 7 days to increase the level of antioxidants in wheat. Do you think that big companies that make thousands of bread loaves have time for that? I think not.
Freshly baked sourdough bread has even been studied to be tolerated by celiac patients. This is because sourdough bread is soaked and fermented started with lactobacilli to reduce the irritants.
What About Pesticides And Wheat?
Wheat is a very large crop in the U.S. and most of the crops are dosed in pesticides, especially right before harvest. The glyphosate (AKA Roundup) that is the most popular herbicide inhibits cytochrome P450. This enzyme is huge to us because it helps us detoxify. A study researched this and it showed how this enzyme works with the gut bacteria & linked glyphosate to the negative effect it can have on our micro biome. Roundup kills our beneficial bacteria in our guts, increase the risk of leaky gut, which automatically increases the risk of diseases, especially autoimmune diseases. Remember – A HEALTHY GUT IS A HEALTHY HUMAN. When things are wrong with our gut, chances of chronic diseases increase.
Remember, all carbohydrates turn into sugars into the body. If you are not an athlete, you are most likely not burning through your glycogen stores, so all those extra carbohydrates from wheat can turn into fat. I personally don’t recommend intaking wheat products regularly and it being a staple in your diet — why take in something so controversial when there are plenty more nutrient-dense options in place of wheat? If you are not sure if you are sensitive to wheat, go to your doctor and ask for a food sensitivity test, like ALCAT, where you can get that checked out. You may not have the obvious signs of wheat sensitivity, so I always recommend getting checked out. If you are sensitive to wheat products, I suggest staying away from it at all times. If you aren’t sensitive to wheat, indulging once in awhile, is probably okay. Stick to organic, ancient strains of wheat.
Stay healthy my friends!