Wheat Is Good For You! (But Not How You’re Eating It)
Food fads, especially those surrounding wheat, have not served America well. Not one of them has restored us to health, and that’s because each one is underpinned by profit motives, rather than scientific evidence that manipulating macronutrients, eating specifically for your blood type, or putting your body into some kind of unnatural state is a positive way to live.
Wheat Health | Wheat is Good for You
In this article:
- The Advocacy Against Eating Wheat
- Why is Wheat Bad for You
- Why are Wheat Products Bad for You?
- Good Wheat Alternatives and Where to Buy Them
- The Bottom Line: Eat More Unprocessed, Whole Foods
- Dr. Michael Greger | How Not to Die
- 12 Steps to Whole Foods
The Advocacy Against Eating Wheat
Each new diet, miracle food, or weight-loss pill is potentially a billion-dollar business. But when science catches up, each one dies a natural death. It eventually proves itself bogus demanding the diet and food industry to present the next flashy, new fad.
A more recent “food fad,” as I’m sure you’ve seen on the shelves of grocery stores everywhere, is the gluten-free diet. Americans are now spending $16 billion annually on mostly processed “gluten-free” products.
Wheat is Bad and Good for You
In recent years, many authors and practitioners have reinforced that all grains, inherently, are dangerous. My Facebook Live video on gluten shows the books on my shelves supporting the idea that gluten is making you sick and the books that dispute that.
One thing is clear: Tens of millions of people in Southeast Asia, Africa, India, South America, and China are virtually disease-free, unlike Americans, despite eating a lot of grain.
“Wheat is Bad for You” Bandwagon
Many functional medicine doctors (physicians who look for root causes and treat the body holistically) have even jumped on the anti-grain bandwagon. It’s becoming popular to tell people not only to stop eating white flour but also to stop eating all wheat. The entire broad category of grains, that is. Other diets, like the Paleo diet and the Auto-Immune Protocol (AIP), even advocate for throwing out legumes.
Healthy Wheat Diet for Millions of Years
3.4 million years ago, according to a study out of the University of Utah, hominids grew grains like wheat and barley. Paleolithic humans ate whole, non-hybridized, in-season grains. There is even evidence of ancient Egyptians making bread with raw grains and yeast.
Grains and legumes have been foundational for cultures worldwide, since the dawn of time. The Bible calls it the “staff of life.” King Tut’s tomb was full of wheat for the afterlife.
Humans have been eating grains and legumes for millions of years, so the idea that these food groups are inherently bad is counterintuitive. Sub-saharan Africans survive mainly on cereal grains and root vegetables.
So why, suddenly, are many “holistic” or “functional” doctors telling us to completely eliminate these food groups from our diets?
Why is Wheat Bad for You?
The anti-wheat movement is based on carefully-curated data that doesn’t necessarily explain the whole picture. The truth is, some people allergically react to wheat. However, this reason may not be what the diet industry wants us to think.
Reacting to Chemicals
Instead of reacting to the wheat itself, it’s much more likely that people are reacting to the hybridization of the wheat, the chemicals and glyphosate (Roundup) sprayed on it, or something else entirely. An example is a compromised gut reacting to harder-to-digest proteins that actually have many nutritionally positive properties or some combination of those factors unrelated to gluten.
So, before we “throw the baby out with the bathwater” and demonize grains, let’s look at how eating grains (the kind with gluten and without) might be the most important part of our disease prevention and plant-based diet plans.
Why Are Wheat Products Bad for You?
1. Chemicals like Glyphosate (Roundup)
The ancient man ate a lot of grain. In fact, archaeological scientist Christina Warinner, who studies the teeth and plaque of paleolithic peoples, found countless traces of grains and legumes in the remains of teeth of Paleolithic humans.
We know mankind has been eating these food groups for thousands of years. (Research by Dr. John Douillard from University of Utah and author of Eat Wheat shows that mankind has been eating grain for 3.4M years, and has been eating meat for only 500,000 years.) But the amount of chemicals added to our modern-day crops is a major difference between the grains ancient man was eating and the grains we eat today.
What is Glyphosate?
Glyphosate, the active and highly toxic ingredient in the popular weed-killer called Roundup, is one of the most widely-used agricultural chemicals to date. It is not just contained to the crops and the farms as we’re ingesting the sprayed crops. Glyphosate is showing up everywhere in the United States — in the water, in the air, in our blood, vaccines, wine, and even in breast milk.
Spraying Glyphosate on Wheat
Some experts link the modern-day use of Roundup on crops to the rise of celiac disease. And because ancient man ate these foods throughout our entire human history, seemingly without issue, something else has to be causing our modern reactivity to gluten and grains. Glyphosate is a strong contender for that title. Growers are now spraying wheat and other crops not only during the growing season but also after harvest, to keep pests out!
You’ve likely heard the head-scratcher that “gluten sensitive” people from the U.S. are often astonished when they go to Europe and find that they can eat a croissant and suffer no symptoms. One theory is that in France, they do not spray their grains, unlike what Americans have been doing for many years. Another theory is that French bakers bake every day, whereas most American grain products are made weeks in advance, and preserved with chemicals.
2. Hybridization of Wheat
Hybridizing simply means breeding two species of plants to create a new, more desirable plant — one that is both pest-resistant and produces a higher yield. But the more hybridized the plant, the further away it is from its pure, natural form.
Hybridization has already occurred in many of our modern fruits and vegetables. Banana is one example. The “original” banana had little edible fruit and many seeds, so we’ve been able to cross-breed it with other wild plant species to create the yellow banana we enjoy today.
Why is Wheat Unhealthy When Hybridized?
The problem with hybridization of wheat is that the end-product bears such little resemblance to the wheat ancient man was eating that some experts are calling the modern-day crop “FrankenWheat.”
We’ve increased the number of chromosomes and altered the makeup of the wheat, so our bodies have a more difficult time even recognizing it.
Khorasan Wheat or Kamut
Kamut, or Khorasan wheat, provides more support for the theory that gluten itself might not be the problem. Kamut is an ancient wheat variety that has not been hybridized. It is a trending product in health food stores today, purchased by people who likely are aware of the controversies linked to hybridized durum and semolina wheat.
Hybridized Wheat or Durum Wheat
Durum wheat, which is found in the majority of wheat products internationally, has been the target of many hybridization experiments in recent generations.
Kamut vs Durum Wheat
Some researchers and experts would have you believe that Kamut would cause the greater gluten reactivity, because it has twice the amount of the “problem” gluten protein (alpha gliadin) as compared to other kinds of wheat, like durum.
But actually, most people who describe symptoms related to wheat or gluten have less reactivity, or none, to Kamut.
Gluten and Inflammation Research
Kamut not causing inflammation calls into the question the theory that alpha gliadin is the cause of gluten sensitivity, and forces us to reconsider if hybridization is the issue.
It turns out, despite hundreds of hybridizations of durum wheat in the past century, its gluten content is still approximately the same as it was. And while how much of it might not be the only consideration, it appears that even hybridization may not explain the entire problem with how Americans are consuming wheat products.
3. Already Poor Gut Health
Another factor in reactivity to wheat could be the compromised gut flora of people all over the world, especially in the Western world. This is often due to antibiotic use, as well as the Standard American Diet full of chemicals and little nutrition or fiber.
Taking Advantage of Food Sensitivity
Because of all the gut issues people are experiencing, “food sensitivity” testing is all the rage with functional practitioners. If you see a natural-health-leaning doctor and have any gut issues or allergies, she’s probably recommended this testing to you. This testing a big reason why people choose to eliminate all grains, gluten, or legumes from their diets.
The Credibility of Food Sensitivity Tests
I’ve taken about five of these tests, both in the U.S. and in Europe. Every single time I take one, my “food sensitivities” (none of which are severe, likely because of my clean diet the past 20+ years) are completely different.
Sometimes, I question their validity altogether. In fact, my friend, Dr. Alan Christianson, told me that he sends bloodwork from the same patient to two different labs and gets totally different results 80% of the time! He gets the same kind of totally dissimilar results sending the same person’s blood, marked as two different people, to the same lab.
That is, he told me, in 21 different tests, the dissimilarity of the lab results, whether to the same lab or two different labs, was equivalent to what you’d find in random chance.
Obsession Over Biomarkers
This makes me wonder if these lab results are just functional medicine’s latest favorite biomarker. After all, we Americans love our biomarkers: blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure, for instance. We worry about and fuss over them, measuring them constantly, as if they will tell us the true state of our health. When really, all of them are just symptoms of a deeper issue. So, while these expensive tests may give clues about temporary states of reaction to even good foods, they aren’t the holy grail.
And if you’re going to throw away grains (and legumes, another class of foods that trendy diets are maligning based on dubious claims that lectins, phytates, or other “anti-nutrients” are problematic), you’re going to be eating a lot of meat. That’s just almost a “given” in an anti-grain diet because you have to get enough calories and protein. (As nutritious and fiber-rich as greens, vegetables, and fruits are, we need more calories than they provide.) Then enters a much bigger problem.
A Bigger Problem than Wheat
Meat, eggs, and dairy products, especially in modern America, are problematic on so many levels. Meat, for example, is tainted with preservatives and curative carcinogens like nitrates and nitrites. Let’s not forget about the antibiotics, steroids, and hormones in poultry, beef, and pork. Don’t forget about the heavy metals and other pollutants in fish and seafood.
Each category of chemicals found in animal flesh and their milk and eggs has serious health consequences. They are harder for a compromised gut to break down. Whole-food plants are more recognizable to your body and easier for your gut to digest than animal proteins. They are also full of countless nutrients, like fiber, vitamins, and minerals, to help nourish your body and keep you healthy.
4. Wheat Products are Overly Refined
Another issue with the wheat we’re eating today is that it’s highly refined. With white bread, we’re throwing away the germ, which contains the vitamins. We’re also throwing away the bran, which has the fiber.
And we’re refining and processing what’s left, which leaves us not much but the gluey, flour-like “endosperm.”
Refining Modern Wheat
Our modern wheat is separated (so the endosperm remains and the germ and rice bran are discarded), milled, bleached, “enriched”, sifted, mixed, fermented, divided, molded, baked, sliced, preserved, and packaged. The process takes out all the nutrients early in the process. Then, synthetic versions of the original nutrients are added back. There’s only one ending: Your body digests white flour as sugar, and you crave more and more, keeping your blood sugar on a rollercoaster.
5. Eating too much Wheat out of Season
The way we eat wheat today is much different than the way man has eaten it historically. For one, we’re eating it all year, multiple times a day.
The average American is eating donuts, bagels, sandwiches, toast, croutons, cookies, and cake. After all, the low-fat craze of the 1980s and 1990s shifted Americans to a very carbohydrate-heavy diet, since refined carbs can be manufactured to be low in fat. The ancient man ate none of this.
Seasonal Diet of Wheat and Grains
The ancient man mostly ate unprocessed wheat and grains when they were in season, in the fall and winter. Their bodies naturally acclimated to these types of in-season foods and produced the digestive enzyme amylase to help them digest it easily. Or, so goes the Ayurvedic theory. They weren’t eating excessive amounts of it, all year, in highly altered forms, as followers of the Standard American Diet are doing.
6. We’re Replacing Wheat with Gluten-Free Processed Foods
The gluten-free industry is a $16 billion empire. Marketers of this growing fad industry are generally not keeping your best interests in mind, health-wise. Most gluten-free products use ingredients like added sugar, corn syrup, canola oil, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and more, which are often just as nutritionally deficient as the refined-flour wheat products they’re replacing. The sad part is that some people believe they are eating healthier by following the fads.
Harmful Effects of These Products
Powdered starches like rice starch (commonly found in gluten-free processed foods) actually spike blood sugar higher than whole wheat products do, which in turn can open the door for other health issues, like insulin resistance and weight gain.
Plus, Dr. John Douillard points to research that people who eat gluten-free products have 400 percent more mercury toxicity than wheat eaters, and are deficient in killer T cells.
Avoid Packaged and Processed Foods
A general rule is to avoid packaged, processed foods, no matter if they contain gluten or not, and eat a primarily whole-foods diet. Eat ancient varieties of whole wheat, such as Kamut, spelt, einkorn, or even other gluten-free grains rather than a processed rice flour bagel.
So yes, gluten-free products might be free of wheat and gluten, but now you’ve got other ingredients to worry about, like sugar, vegetable oils, heavy-metal contaminated rice, and processed inflammatory starches.
Good Wheat Alternatives and Where to Buy Them
By now, you’re wondering what types of grains are better choices than the hybridized, sprayed, and processed options we normally see in stores. Here are some ideas:
1. Ezekiel Bread
Search the frozen food section of your local grocery store for Ezekiel bread, a brand of bread which is comprised of a combination of grains and legumes: wheat, barley, millet, lentils, soybeans, and spelt. The grains are sprouted and made without milled flour, so this bread also touts the benefits of increased digestibility, increased vitamins (like B and C), and easier absorption of minerals.
2. Sprouted Grains
The good news is that more and more people are noticing the benefits of sprouted grains, so you have better choices at the grocery store and sometimes at restaurants. Make sure to buy only organic brown rice (in bread, and in general), as white rice is processed and most of the world’s rice is grown in China, where, after the Fukushima radioactive disaster, heavy metal contamination in conventional rice is high and common.
What is Sprouting?
Sprouting essentially allows the grain to become “alive.” Soaking the grain neutralizes enzyme inhibitors and releases stored nutrients, therefore multiplying the protein, bioavailable minerals, enzymes, vitamins, and more.
Better Alternative to White Bread
All of these things make sprouted foods a superior choice to your regular white bread. Along with Food for Life, some popular brand names for sprouted grains are ShaSha Co. or Silver Hills for bread, TruRoots for whole grains like lentils or quinoa, and Go Raw or Kashi for sprouted bars and cereals.
3. Ancient Whole Grains or Seeds
Ancient grains or seeds like sorghum, teff, millet, quinoa, buckwheat, or chia are excellent items to add to your shopping list, and none of those “grains” even contain gluten. (In fact, they don’t even technically qualify as grains, though they are similar in the ways they are cooked.)
Non-hybridized grains are also called heritage grains, as they aren’t changed by selective breeding over the years. Cook them and serve hot or cold in many ways: with a sauce, like you’d serve over pasta, or tossed with salads or any combination of steamed or raw veggies.
Popular brands of ancient grains include Ancient Harvest and Pure.
4. Manna or Yeast-Free Bread
Manna bread is a hearty, sprouted, naturally-leavened bread that doesn’t require yeast in the baking process.
Yeast is fed by sugar in the body and can be problematic for people with compromised gut issues and candida overgrowth. Yeast-free bread can be harder to find than the options mentioned above but check with your local health food store. It is becoming more commonly referred to as candida overgrowth or SIBO as other gut disorders become more widely diagnosed.
The most popular and widely available brand is Manna Organics.
Though not a part of the grain category, legumes are worth a mention here. They’re an inexpensive way to get your fill of protein, fiber and micronutrients. They’re also extremely easy to find, and they don’t spoil quickly, so you can stock up your cupboard without worry of impending expiration dates.
How to Prepare Legumes
Rinse and soak dried legumes overnight. Add 3 cups of water for every 1 cup of dried legumes in your pot. (This is a rough estimate. Read the package on your lentils, split peas, kidney beans, or other legumes as they do vary.)
Bring them to a boil. Simmer until tender (about 45 minutes for lentils or split peas, 2-3 hours for beans).
There are so many ways to eat legumes — sprouted on a salad, in a soup, in a stew, or seasoned as a side dish. You can find bags of dried legumes in the soup or bulk foods aisle of any grocery store. Some examples of legumes are:
- split peas