Sunday, October 3, 2010

Wheat - is it really good for us?

Wheat has been said to be really good for us - a whole grain, full of fiber. But the latest research is showing that grains, yes even whole grains, and especially wheat, can spike insulin levels, making us hungry, and therefore to overeat.

Wheat is converted into sugar by the body - so in actuality, it is just like eating sugar. UGH! Seems so unfair doesn't it?

Just another reason to start eating all whole foods, and no processed foods.

I was doing my own research, and found a great article worth sharing:

"There's nothing else I can do with my diet," declared Whitney, a 53-year old university faculty member.

"I don't eat meat. I never eat fried foods. I can't remember the last time I used butter. My idea of having a treat is a handful of blueberries. What else can I do?"

Whitney was clearly frustrated. With a CT heart scan score of 264, she was worried that trouble was just around the corner. Her lipoprotein panel had demonstrated a severe small LDL pattern, with 70% of all LDL particles in the small category. HDL was also low at 41 mg/dl.

"What did you eat for breakfast?" I asked.

"Same as always: Either Fiber One cereal or Shredded Wheat. No sugar, just skim milk. Sometimes I have some orange juice, fresh-squeezed of course."

"How about lunch?"

"If I brown-bag it, I'll usually have a reduced-fat turkey breast sandwich on whole grain bread. About once a week, I'll have a whole wheat bagel--no cream cheese, of course."


"Sometimes I have chicken--skinless--with a vegetable, corn, or salad. I love pasta, but I always use whole wheat."

"How about snacks?"

"I try not to snack. But, when I'm desperate, I usually grab some Triscuits or pretzels."

The problem with Whitney's diet was clear: Too many sugar-equivalents, otherwise known as wheat. I suggested that her diet was far too heavily laden with wheat products. She seemed skeptical. "But this is as low-fat as I can get! Now you're going to take away wheat?"

What happens when you eliminate wheat from your diet?

Several predictable, consistent changes can be observed:

--HDL cholesterol goes up.

--Triglycerides go down.

--Small LDL particles are reduced.

--LDL cholesterol drops (the amount dropped depends on the proportion of small LDL pattern)

--Blood sugar drops.

--Blood pressure drops.

--C-reactive protein (an index of imperceptible inflammation) drops.

In addition to these measurable changes, several perceptible improvements often develop: more energy, less afternoon "slump," better sleep, sometimes less rashes.

Since Whitney was skeptical, I suggested a simple 4 week "experiment": Eliminate wheat products entirely for 4 weeks and see for herself what happens. I also warned her that, while I believe that elimination of wheat is a great strategy, she could negate the benefits by indulging in candy, soft drinks, and other junk products. It would therefore be necessary to maintain an otherwise healthy diet.

So Whitney gave it a try for 4 weeks. To make up for the dropped calories, she increased her reliance on vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and healthy oils.

After losing 6 lbs over the 4 weeks without otherwise trying, she was convinced. She was further convinced when we reassessed her laboratory work: HDL went up 10 mg/dl; triglycerides down 120 mg/dl; blood sugar dropped from 112 mg/dl (pre-diabetic) to 95 mg/dl (normal). Several months later, we checked her lipoproteins. Small LDL had dropped to around 30% of total LDL--a big improvement.

It's contrary to conventional wisdom. It's counter to the USDA Food Pyramid. It's certainly not what the American Heart Association says. It could potentially disrupt the economics and politics of the enormously powerful food industry.

But, more often than not, the results are impressive to phenomenal.

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