Friday, April 18, 2014

Wheat Itself is Not the Enemy: REFINED Wheat is!

I have written about the whole gluten-free fad previously, but there is still too much bad press about wheat nowadays that I want to write another post to get people thinking rationally instead of giving into the media, diet fads, and what their friends tell them. Certainly if you have Celiac disease or if eating wheat causes gastrointestinal disturbances or any other health problems, you should avoid it. For those of you that think you should avoid wheat just because you hear it is bad, I encourage you to look at the type of wheat you are eating and do some research to come to your own informed conclusion.

I agree, refined wheat, and any refined grain for that matter, is very bad for you. Refined wheat (i.e: enriched wheat flour, wheat flour, unbleached wheat flour, etc) has been stripped of the healthiest parts, the bran and the germ, and removes over half of the thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber content. Because the grain has been stripped of most of its fiber, it breaks down very quickly to sugar upon eating. This breakdown to sugar causes a spike in blood sugar, and that spike in blood sugar is what causes major health problems: inflammation, storage of fat, and highs and lows in blood sugar. Refined wheat is found everywhere- from the pretzels you eat, to the rolls at restaurants, cookies, cakes, pastries, and most bread products in the American diet. I oftentimes tell my clients to think of refined grains as “poison”, which may sound ridiculous, but it kind of is. These refined grains have been linked to cardiovascular disease risk (high cholesterol, triglycerides), diabetes, and many other diseases.

Whole wheat (i.e.: whole wheat flour, stone-ground whole wheat flour, etc) has a lot more fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients than the refined wheat and is associated with optimal health- thus the reason it is highlighted on the World’s Healthiest Food website. Examples of whole grain wheat strains include straight up whole wheat, but also bulgur wheat, einkorn, farro, wheat berries, kamut, spelt, triticale, and many other variations. These are extremely nutritious grains and contribute over 8 grams of fiber per cooked cup, and most of your B vitamins.

Many people tell me that GMO wheat is the primary cause of American obesity and high rates of Celiac disease.  The European Union has some of the strictest laws and testing for GMO wheat. However, Western Europe continues to have the highest rates of Celiac disease diagnosed. European descent is a risk factor for Celiac disease.  In America, testing for Celiac has just picked up in the last 20 years, which would explain the rise in Celiac rates recently. Now Celiac disease is more well-known and doctors are testing for it, thus the reason for an increased known prevalence (more people are being diagnosed whereas previously they would have gone without a diagnosis).

As far as Americans and obesity, I think it has a lot to do with the sedentary lifestyle and poor food choices and quantities. Very few people gain weight when they travel to Europe, and many times people are consuming worse foods over there (cheese, lots of bread, oil, pastries, wine, beer, etc), but the difference is there they are walking for hours a day- they are much more active over there. Obesity in America is definitely caused by poor food choices, large portion sizes, high intakes of sugary foods and beverages, and eating refined wheat when at home. I sincerely doubt people are getting fat by eating the proper portion size of farro, bulgur, and wheat berries and staying within their calorie limits.

My recommendations: Avoid wheat if you experience negative side effects from consuming it. If you are fine with eating wheat, try to only eat whole grains. Cut out the refined grains and I guarantee you will feel more energetic and probably lose weight if that is your goal. Go to Whole Foods and find a new exotic grain in the bulk bins you haven’t tried: Freekah, farro, quinoa, red wheat berries, winter wheat, bulgur wheat, etc. Enjoy!

Other references (not hyperlinked above):

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