Here in the United States 69% of the adult population is either overweight or obese. Since 1960 when the medical establishment began to promote the “cut the fat” dietary movement, the obesity rates have tripled. But the real upsurge in weight gain and diabetes rates began in 1985 when the U.S. government’s National Cholesterol Education Program began its campaign to replace dietary fat with “healthy whole grains.” In his book Wheat Belly, William Davis, MD provides a devastating case laying the blame for most of the cultural health problems of the last 50 years squarely at the feet of the darling of the health industry: wheat.
Wheat Dominates Our Diet
The fact is that wheat now dominates our diet here in the United States and much of western culture. Think about your favorite grocery store for a minute. Basically, excluding the perimeter, the center of the store is for the most part comprised of wheat based products. Picture the bread and breakfast cereal aisles for example. They are as expansive as they are for a reason; they sell like crazy.
And think as well about what we eat day to day and at each meal. For breakfast there is cereal, toast, bagels, waffles and pancakes, muffins, pastries and breakfast sandwiches. The lunch list includes innumerable forms of breads, sandwiches, subs, burgers, pizza, noodle based soups and pasta dishes. Dinners include pasta dishes, fresh bread, more pizza and burgers and baked goods for dessert. For the most part the main entrée, side dish and dessert usually include some form of wheat based product at each meal.
According to Dr. Davis there is no doubt the modern proliferation of wheat based products in our diet has paralleled the severe rate of overweight and obese adults here in the United States.
The Glycemic Index
Although there are certainly nutritional benefits to whole wheat products such as complex carbohydrates, fiber and B vitamins, in the end our metabolism converts the bulk of the nutritional content to glucose for energy. Herein lies the issue with a wheat dominated diet. The glycemic index (GI) of whole wheat is extremely high. Higher in fact than table sugar or a snickers bar.
The glycemic index is a measure of blood sugar. Glucose is the standard of comparison measured at an index of 100. Table sugar scores 59, a Snickers bar 41, white bread 69, Shredded Wheat cereal 67 and whole wheat bread 72. These are numbers from a University of Toronto study going way back to 1981, cited by the author. The GI for each of these foodstuffs will vary according to the reference, but the point to be noted here is that the end result of digested wheat products and table sugar in the bloodstream is pretty much the same.
Isn’t it interesting that even today, a product such as wheat which is promoted by those people supposedly in the know at the highest levels of government and the medical establishment would have a GI pretty much equal to that of table sugar. That Snickers bar is looking pretty good right now.
The Glucose Insulin Cycle & Visceral Fat
So why is a high GI score a bad thing? Because of the ravages the glucose insulin cycle has on the human body over the years.
As carbohydrates are digested and metabolized they are converted to glucose (sugar) in the blood stream. The body’s reaction is for the pancreas to release appropriate amounts of insulin to then convert and store the excess blood sugar as body fat. In the words of Dr. Davis “The higher the blood glucose after consumption of food, the greater the insulin level, the more fat is deposited.”
This cycle lasts about 120 minutes and is responsible for the sluggishness a couple of hours after a carbohydrate based meal when your blood sugar boomerangs and drops to low levels. It is also responsible for the hunger pangs at about the same point as your body cries out for immediate energy. And of course, we usually comply with a midmorning or midafternoon carbohydrate based snack before the next carb laden meal to start the cycle again.
This nonstop consumption of wheat and other simple carbohydrate based products creates a vicious cycle in which wheat in particular will tend to result in the deposit of visceral body fat. And this visceral fat or “Wheat Belly” is especially damaging in the long run.
According to the author:
- “the deep visceral fat of the wheat belly is associated with poor responsiveness, or resistance, to insulin, demanding higher and higher insulin levels, a situation that cultivates diabetes.”
- “Moreover, the bigger the wheat belly in males, the more estrogen is produced by fat tissue, and the larger the breasts.” (Yikes, this is not approved of here at BFN!)
- “The bigger your wheat belly, the more inflammatory responses that are triggered: heart disease and cancer.”
So it’s easy to see how our modern wheat based diet is responsible for the tremendous run up in body weight and associated health problems over the past 50 years or so. We have replaced a meat, fat and fresh produce based diet with one that is largely processed and carbohydrate based. And in light of that, the wheat driven glucose insulin cycle has resulted in the 30 pounds or so of additional weight the average male and female adult is now carrying around.
Wheat as an Appetite Stimulant
We’ve discussed above how the glucose insulin cycle promotes fat storage and snacking between meals as a result of the insulin produced low blood sugar after a high carb meal. As if that wasn’t enough of a problem, according to research cited in Wheat Belly, wheat also has addictive properties that physically mimic morphine in the brain.
The protein portion of wheat which is called gluten, when digested by enzymes in the stomach, is broken down into what are called polypeptides. And these particular gluten based polypeptides have the unique property of being able to cross over from the blood stream through the protective blood-brain barrier. The brain has this barrier for good reason. It is there to protect the brain from unwanted elements in the bloodstream.
“Once having gained entry into the brain, wheat polypeptides bind to the brain’s morphine receptor, the very same receptor to which opiate drugs bind.”
The researchers who identified this unique effect of digested wheat gluten in the brain “named the dominant polypeptide that crossed the blood – brain barrier gluteomorphin or morphine-like compound from gluten.” They also referred to theses polypeptides as “exorphins” because they are externally derived compounds which also mimic the effect of naturally occurring endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are what provide us with a natural sense of pleasure, such as a runner’s high.
And in another parallel, the gluteomorphin effects on the brain were also negated by administration of the drug Naloxone. Naloxone is a drug which will immediately end the intoxication or high from heroin. “Yes, opiate-blocking naloxone prevents the binding of wheat-derived exorphins to the brain.”
So consuming wheat will induce a mild euphoric feeling similar in brain origin to that of morphine or heroin. Obviously this gluten exorphin based euphoria is going to be much less intense, but is there any doubt now why many of us have an addiction to food?
“In effect, wheat is an appetite stimulant: It makes you want more— more cookies, cupcakes, pretzels, candy, soft drinks. More bagels, muffins, tacos, submarine sandwiches, pizza. It makes you want both wheat-containing and non-wheat-containing foods.”
“Understanding that wheat, specifically exorphins from gluten, have the potential to generate euphoria, addictive behavior, and appetite stimulation means that we have a potential means of weight control: Lose the wheat, lose the weight.”
More Head to Toe Destruction of Health
The good doctor then goes on through several chapters to document the evidence for many more oddities and adverse health effects from modern wheat:
- Although whole grain wheat is said to be a complex carbohydrate, which is normally a healthier choice than simple carbohydrates, its main glucose component is called amylopectin A. “The amylopectin A of wheat products, complex or no, might be regarded as a super-carbohydrate, a form of highly digestible carbohydrate that is more efficiently converted to blood sugar than nearly all other carbohydrate foods, simple or complex.”
- Today’s wheat that is used in all manner of products is not the same wheat of even 50 years ago. It has been hybridized and genetically modified for specific applications and to increase the yield per acre. Bagels, French bread and pizza dough have the properties they do because of these changes. And yield per acre has increased up to 10 fold. However, what has resulted is a new “Dwarf Wheat” 18 inches tall or so that cannot grow on its own without special nitrate fertilization and pest control.
- As a result of the tremendous change in the makeup of modern wheat, that pancake or muffin you had for breakfast is a lot different than those even your grandmother made for you as a child. And along the way there has been little research examining the possible adverse effects all of these hybridization and genetic changes are having on human health. This is something you might want to consider before your next sandwich because “Small changes in wheat protein structure can spell the difference between a devastating immune response to wheat protein versus no immune response at all.”
- The wheat protein gluten is of course associated with celiac disease, a devastating intestinal disorder. In congruence with the recent hybridization and genetic modification, the rate of celiac disease has quadrupled in the past 50 years. And as with increased insulin resistance over time, celiac disease can develop in anyone over their lifetime with the continued consumption of gluten based wheat products.
- In the long run, wheat is terrible for your bones and joints. The PH balance in our bodies is critical to our health. So much so that if it moves toward the acidic, the body will compensate by drawing alkaline stores from our bones to compensate. As hunter gatherers for 99.5% of our evolution the Paleo Diet of meat, vegetables, berries and nuts was ideal for a healthy PH balance. Grains and wheat in particular are highly acidic and will corrupt the PH balance, especially with our modern elevated consumption. “Modern eating patterns therefore create a chronic acidosis that in turn leads us to osteoporosis, bone fragility, and fractures.” Combine this with the additional wear and tear from bearing an extra 30, 40 or more additional pounds of body weight from all the fat deposition and knee and hip joints will eventually break down as well.
- One of the end products from blood sugar metabolism is called advanced glycation end products or AGEs. These are the byproducts that over time will result in the aging of our cells. For some of us this will eventually lead to cataracts, atherosclerosis, dementia and many other age related maladies. “Wheat, because of its unique blood glucose–increasing effect, makes you age faster. Via its blood sugar/AGE-increasing effects, wheat accelerates the rate at which you develop signs of skin aging, kidney dysfunction, dementia, atherosclerosis, and arthritis.”
- Our skin is the body’s largest organ. It is our external protective barrier to the outside world. Any problem or malady of the skin can be an indication of further internal distress. Skin conditions such as some rashes and acne are said to also be a result of wheat consumption. It’s been demonstrated through epidemiological evidence that the introduction of wheat into a new population will result in acne and rashes where there was no previous occurrence. Thus, feeding your teenager heathy whole grain wheat will likely exacerbate any embarrassing skin condition.
Let’s face it gentlemen, it seems like our modern carbohydrate based diet is not something that is conducive to a healthy productive life. What to eat then? What simple rules could we follow to maintain a healthy weight and the energy needed to pursue our best over the long term?
The Panzer Nutrition Plan
For starters, eliminate all wheat and refined sugars from your diet and make sweets and alcohol an occasional indulgence. All of these products have become a bad habit and a crutch to lean on that is stealing the health and vigor from many of you. I speak from personal experience on this one.
At some point you’ve got to make the decision to man up and live with some discipline when it comes to your consumption. Acquire satisfaction from experience and accomplishment rather than constantly turning to pizza, sweets and alcohol, for example. In the long run these foods will steal your life.
Another simple rule is to limit your beverages to plain water, coffee and tea. This is an easy area to eliminate refined sugar and more empty calories. Start the day with a full glass of water after the dehydration of a night’s rest to give yourself a running start. Then have a cup or two of coffee or tea in the morning before turning to water for the rest of the day. This simple guideline will eliminate a wide swath of unhealthy caloric consumption and leave more room for the nutritious foods to follow.
For your meals I recommend going “Paleo Plus.” Get your protein and fats from beef, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts and dairy. Your carbohydrates and micronutrients will come from vegetables, fruits, potatoes, yams and rice. Stay away from highly processed foods. Purchase and consume real whole foods cooked at home.
Make eating out at restaurants an occasional reward. But even then you can easily stay away from wheat based products and refined sugars. Order yourself a big steak, baked potato and a large salad and you are all set.
Eliminate the potential for stressed based improper eating at work by preparing your lunches ahead of time the night before. Take the time to cook up some chicken and vegetables in batches so you are good to go for a few days.
And finally, don’t eat anything after dinner and skip breakfast. The end result is that you will be intermittent fasting for about 16 hours a day. This will give your body the time to detoxify itself each day and train your metabolism to burn fat for energy. Get yourself lean and mean for the long term.
With the Panzer Plan then you’ve got an 8 hour window to eat healthy whole foods. If you are already at a healthy weight, you can pretty much eat your fill and have the energy to go all out every day. If you need to lose some weight you can “Go Hardcore And Cut Weight Like A Man” by following the same guidelines at a caloric deficit.
All the best,