Thursday, August 02, 2012
A response I frequently see regarding my low-grain diet is, "You might be losing weight, but you're increasing your risk of heart disease."
For the past 30 years, we've heard 'heart-healthy grains' and low-fat diets touted as the defacto diet for good health.
Michael Pollan said it best in "Omnivore's Dilemma". Whether we choose low-fat, low-carb, flexitarian, vegetarian or vegan, we are all gambling with our lives that the choice will be the right one for wellness and longevity.
The reason many people turned to low-carb (or other diets) is because low-fat failed to make them healthier or thinner. In many cases, it harmed their health.
I was not fat in my youth or halfway through my 20s. I gained weight on fast food and chain restaurants in my late 20s. I'm now in my late 30s and finally found what I needed to lose weight and improve health.
During the time when I was on a low-fat diet (approximately 4-5 years), I lost weight and rebounded year after year. Every year it was less on the loss, and little more on the rebound. My blood lipids were in borderline ranges, but they were declining. This was chalked up to normal aging decline. I already eliminated fast food, processed foods and refined sugar products, so this wasn't happening faster.
The 'heart healthy grains' took their place.
My blood pressure and blood glucose levels continued to rise. Despite the 'heart healthy grains', my risk of diabetes increased every year I ate 5-6 servings of them per day.
Salmon and ribeye steak don't cause blood glucose levels to spike.
Avocados don't cause blood glucose levels to spike.
Whole grain bread has the same effect on blood sugar as white bread.
Which is more likely to increase risk of diabetes then? Salmon, avocados, or wheat bread of any kind?
I just finished reading "Wheat Belly". When I changed my diet a year ago, I unwittingly put myself on a wheat belly diet. The single biggest change to my diet was cutting back my grain servings. You know the one where we were supposed to have 11 servings per day for optimal health? I only ate 5-6 servings per day and it kept me fat.
All of the issues Dr. Davis described went away. Bulging belly, inability to lose weight, IBS, and eczema. Cravings and insatiable hunger were things of the past. Blood pressure and lipids also declined to normal range for the first time in 4 years. All the traditional clinical markers of improving health, not declining.
I expected the book to be a lot of information I already knew, but I was pleasantly surprised.
Did you know:
- Lack of exercise isn't why people in the 50s were thinner than today. Women exercising was considered unseemly. The only appropriate exercise for women was gardening.
- Modern wheat is highly modified. It is completely dependent on human intervention for nutrition and reproduction.
- It is not the same wheat Mesopotamians and Egyptians cultivated. The ancient grains einkorn and emmer almost went extinct. These grains are higher in protein with lower glycemic impact than the modern wheat strain.
- It is not the same wheat our grandmothers used in the 50s and 60s. Our parents ate bread rolls with dinner that were significantly genetically different than modern wheat flour.
- Wheat contains a component that is highly addictive and euphoric. It is more like nicotine rather than an opiate. Snacking on crackers and chips is pleasurable and comforting, much like taking a drag is for smokers. Withdrawal symptoms are also similar to nicotine: moodiness, headaches, head fog, and cravings. Sounds like low carb flu, eh?
- Pancreatic beta cells are damaged by high blood sugar. The more beta cell damage, the more insulin resistant you become. Beta cells cannot regenerate - once they're gone, they're gone for good. If all beta cells die, you have irreversible diabetes.
- Whole wheat bread has a glycemic impact of 71. A tablespoon of sugar is 65. Snickers bar is 40. I eliminated Snickers from my diet 6 years ago, and replaced it with whole wheat bread. Two pieces of wheat bread with a slice of ham between it caused more beta cell damage than a Snickers bar.
When I get to goal weight, I was considering allowing a grain or starch servings per day in my diet. After reading this book, I will stick mostly to starches. Starches have a glycemic impact, but they don't have the addictive property of wheat that causes overeating. I prefer rice and potatoes over bread, anyway.
The hardest realization is accepting my beta cell damage is permanent and irreversible. Bad choices a decade ago mean I cannot tolerate carbs and sugar well today. An occasional indulgence like a frozen yogurt, sorbet, or cheesecake might mean less frequently than I hoped. Or rice and potatoes.
Am I worried that my diet today will harm my health in the future? 4 years ago, I believed the low-fat, heart healthy grains would help me avoid diabetes, and yet it hurdled me straight towards it.
As Michael Pollan says, we are all gambling our lives with any diet we choose. After 4 years of declining health on the ADA approved program, that one is not for me. 14 months of low-wheat diet has removed all my clinical risks of diabetes and heart disease, so I'm going to place my odds in favor of this.