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Am I Harming My Health?

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.

Wheat elimination.

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.

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    I'm old enough to remember the 50s and yes, you're right that it was considered BAD for women to exercise or be 'too good' in sports. We were proud of the fact we couldn't throw or run, haha, but at the same time, we also danced all the time and that's pretty strenuous exercise.

    One thing I realized when I starting reading about low carb [ie, Gary Taubes, etc] is that also back in the 50's everybody 'knew' that bread, pasta, sugar, potatoes and so forth would make you fat - I was raised on what would essentially be a version of Atkins without realizing it but decided in the mid-80s to 'get healthier' and 'eat a healthier diet' - which is just about when I started to gain weight - why? Well, I wanted to have a 'balanced diet' and reduce the fat intake, which meant a lot more grain products. Hmmmm, what a coincidence! Now I'm re-learning how to eat more along the low-carb lines and I feel much better.

    The nay-sayers who claim 'low carb' is unhealthy and a 'fad diet' are also usually pushing 'low fat' and 'balanced' diets - which can also be considered a 'fad diet' since the emphasis is fairly recent for those. I don't think they are healthier, esp after reading some scientific research on the topic.
    2084 days ago
    I do eat farro (post-wheat-free) and without any of the previous wheat issues. Good stuff! Found it at Whole Foods. Dense, chewy and slightly nutty -looks like a fat oat when cooked. I like it as a cold salad with feta and sun-dried tomatoes.
    2085 days ago
    Wow! I have to read this book....so interesting (and disturbing) to hear of all the changes to wheat over the years. emoticon
    2085 days ago
    Thanks for the response, Cathy.... Costco here sells a sprouted farrow... we ate a lot of it pre-Paleo. Nice to know we can perhaps go back to it later.
    2086 days ago
    HLKLJGK: Thank you for that. :) I know this now, but I didn't know this 4 years ago when the damage was done. And we can't go back. At this point, a diet that is as unprocessed as possible (and that excludes milled grains flours) works best for me. I haven't reintroduced a lot of grains simply because I find them too calorie dense, and I'd rather eat other things like avocados. When I'm in maintenance, I may reconsider.
    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 8:52:45 PM
    big difference between whole grain and whole wheat flour which leads to a lot of confusion.

    Dr. Weil has a concise response:

    "Simply reduce your consumption of processed and refined foods (such as snack foods, white bread, sweetened drinks, and sugary desserts). Eat more sweet potatoes and fewer white potatoes, less bread (unless it's really chewy and grainy), more whole grains and fewer products made with flour, more beans and more temperate fruits (especially berries, cherries, apples, and pears) and fewer tropical ones."
    2086 days ago
    MOONCHILD1949: Great job with your A1C! I was never diagnosed prediabetes, but I was heading that way. My doctors were treating it as though it was an inevitability. :( I just stumbled on the 'cure' by accident.

    GETSTRONGRRR: I thought the sections about the process of genetic modification the most interesting (and shocking!) part, too! I've never been much of a baker, but I did recently learn how to make a pretty awesome pastry crust, homemade bread and pound cake. I am really curious to try the ancient grains. I guess emmer wheat is known as farro, and einkorn is available on Amazon. I'll have to check a Whole Foods next time I'm near one. Farro supposedly has a GI of 40, but I can't find anything for einkorn. Dr. Davis' blood sugar was pretty low after eating it, so it must be similar.

    Since I have a fairly good handle on how grains affect me metabolically, I'm really curious to see if emmer and einkorn trigger the same reaction. I've discovered that flaxseed crackers do not! So that satisfied my longing for crackers and cheese at lunch!
    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 8:25:14 PM
    Hey great insights as always. I too thought this book would be a re-hash of low carb preaching, with specifics on the high payoff of cutting out wheat.

    I found his discussions on the genetic changes to our wheat supply pretty disconcerting. one of our favorite pastimes with my 2 sons was to make bread.....we would spend hours on weekends preparing the dough, letting it rise, baking it and making a meal of fresh baked bread, cheeses & butter...I almost installed a clay oven in the back yard.

    Now, I'm not so sure that's a good hobby.....I'll miss the King Arthur catalogue
    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 7:59:38 PM
  • -LINDA_S
    I had a glucose tolerance test which also measured insulin a little over a year ago. It was not pretty--prediabetes/insulin resistance. I adopted a largely Paleo approach although not all that strict, and when I had my first A1C (never remember which letters to capitalize!) in March, it was 5.1, which is quite excellent. I was eating lots of fat and protein and not much in the way of carbs and it sure didn't hurt me!
    2086 days ago
    _RAMONA: Beta cells store and release insulin. Beta cells are destroyed in Type 1 diabetes by an autoimmune disorder. Beta cells are destroyed in Type 2 diabetes by excessively high blood glucose levels. They also naturally decline in function as we age...but overloading sugars shortens the life even further. Many cells in our body can regenerate and heal. Beta cells do not. :( It is one of the functions that has an expiration date.

    I read some research being done for beta cell regeneration for Type 1 diabetics, but nothing conclusive.
    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 7:26:58 PM
    Ah, Grape Nuts. I remember eating those once. Those suckers are dense!
    2086 days ago
    I've GOT TO get that book already!

    Can you say more about "my beta cell damage is permanent and irreversible"?

    I'm more used to hearing that the body can heal anything given enough opportunity... I even found 3 blogs that claim you can regrow your own teeth and heal cavities (though I am EXTREMELY skeptical, LOL).

    Really... there might have been a point at which I might have considered abandoning this course of action... thanks to your blog... NEVER.

    Have a great weekend... I'm off to spend mine in non-Paleo land. SIGH.
    2086 days ago
    oh, if exercise made us thin, I'd weight about 50 pounds!
    2086 days ago
    Great blog as always. As you know, I am new to the Primal/Paleo approach and so I like the shot in the arm your blog gives me. You make the point:

    - 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's facts like this that have me leaning toward only using things like quinoa when/if I end up wanting a higher carb addition to my day.
    2086 days ago
    LOL Jack Lalanne!!

    It's interesting that when I lived in Seattle I had a 50s housewife 'diet' of walking everywhere for my grocery shopping!

    The 50s menu looked delicous! Well except for the tinned pears - eww. I might have a theme day where I have a 1950's meal - mmm! But what's kind of weird is the article said they ate more calories, but the sample menu had fewer calories. Hmm. I'm also not sure about how many calories are burned cooking. I don't burn that many calories cooking!

    I'll have to research this more later! Thanks!
    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 4:51:39 PM

    Women exercised in the 1950s. They watched Jack Lalanne !

    Your post got me interested what women did for exercise in the 1950s. Here's a great article I found on the Daily Mail. It's a breakdown of food and calories British women consumed and expended in the 1950s.


    oh and they did have fads too. here's a fun video youtube. Actually, the Bongo Board IS still considered a really good workout. Surfers and skateboarders still use them.


    And you'll definitely enjoy this Grape Nuts commercial


    2086 days ago
    ARLENE_MOVES: It's strange to me that the idea is so controversial! When I made the switch, it immediately made sense to me that vegetables are more nutritious and less calorie dense than bread. I didn't expect the other health benefits, but it was a welcome surprise!
    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 4:27:05 PM
    Leaving wheat out of my diet makes me so much calmer also. I have Wheat Belly on my kindle as well as hard copy so I can loan out to doubters.

    All your points are spot on and anyone who decides to eliminate wheat will be doing themselves a huge favor.

    Good job!!!
    2086 days ago
    NAYPOOIE: That's exactly how I've arranged my 'personal' food pyramid. Grains and starches are in the 'enjoy sparingly' category along with cookies and cakes.
    2086 days ago
    Kayotic's point is one I never thought about, but it's so obvious if you do give it some thought. All that grain goes straight to sugar, and should be at the top of the pyramid just like sugar.

    2086 days ago
    ELISEL: Great points about the exercise, and I'd have to write a separate blog post to address it all! In general, I agree with you. I am not someone who believes that exercise doesn't matter. I just thought the author brought up an interesting point that people back in the 50s were generally thinner without chronic cardio.
    2086 days ago
    Great blog and very interesting points.

    The only point I do not agree with is the first one...that lack of exercise has nothing to do with us being fatter today. True, women didn't do structured exercise like we do today but their overall days were more active. The average woman was doing much more strenuous housework...not everyone had automatic washers and forget the dryers and dishwashers. You were doing that yourself. Today many women sit at a desk for 8 or more hours. That wasn't true back in the 50s. Also you didn't drive everywhere like we do today. I see people driving to the post office at the bottom of my hill...a 5 minute walk! Many women back then would walk to the market daily to get what they needed. Being on the move all day instead of sitting also increases your metabolism so you burn more calories all day even when you're doing nothing. So I do believe that people in the 50s did burn many more calories in their daily live than we do.

    But the other points I definitely agree with. The food we are eating today is not the same food they were eating then. It's kind of scary. I say do what works for you.
    2086 days ago
    2086 days ago
    EATNBOOGERS: We do have very different diets, and you know that I have the highest respect for your choices! I love that you and I can share our differences, and still respect and support each other. :)

    Like you, I agree that my body functions better on more fresh veg and fruit than grains.

    EGALITAIRE: No one has explained to me why eating MORE vegetables and fruit in place of grains is detrimental, either. As I demonstrated in another blog, an avocado has more vitamins and fiber than a slice of whole grain bread.
    2086 days ago
    As I've commented before, you and I have dissimilar diets, but I *will* say that I feel like there's just too much "room" for grains in the US diet recommendations. Moreover, not enough emphasis is placed on the fact that white flour is essentially poison. I have found that in order to be the weight I want to be, to feel good, and to be as fit as I want to be, there just has to be a lot of room for fruits and vegetables (and a lot less grainy stuff than recommended).

    I've really been pushing my kids on this, too. If they want a snack, I push them to have a fruit or veg or something protein dense, like nuts, or a hard-boiled egg, or a bowl of beans (which I think you don't eat?), or in the case of my one kid who's not veg, some sardines.
    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 12:50:44 PM
    The concept of wheat/whole grains being "essential" is at best a misnomer, at worst some form of conspiracy, intentional or unintentional.

    There are no nutrients in wheat/whole grains that can't be obtained elsewhere. The dire warnings of imminent health decline by not eating whole grains are disingenuous. Something is only essential if it can't be obtained through other options.

    I am very interested if anyone can explain why whole grains are essential, or even what makes them beneficial over say vegetables for obtaining fiber and carb energy.

    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 12:00:44 PM
    Always some very interesting info.
    2086 days ago
    Dr. Davis addresses this in the book. The reason the wheat derivatives are snuck into other foods is because it enhances hunger and makes you eat/buy more. The food industry knows very well what they are doing.
    2086 days ago
    I really need to get my hands on that book! Although I have to say, I feel like I'd have to read it in secret and not let hubby know that I'm working against him emoticon

    I think a huge part of the issue is the genetic modifications and bizarre chemical alterations we've made to wheat since the onset of industrialized food production. I also think that the reason why we're seeing more instances of Celiac disease and gluten intolerance is the fact that wheat derivatives are being "snuck" into foods. I have no problem with the idea of eating stoneground heirloom varieties of wheat in small quantities, just I have no problem with eating organic edamame or a single ear of peak-season sweet corn. But that doesn't mean that they should dominate our diets. One would never eat a diet comprised of apples, applesauce, apple chips, and apple juice -- and yet that's exactly what we do when we eat huge quantities of cereal, bread, soda, and snack products.

    A HUGE part of the problem is that we're no longer eating these foods in their natural forms -- we get wheat in the form of bleached, spongy Wundah Bread, soy in the form of oils and protein isolates, and corn in the form of syrup and isolated starches. These foods are completely unnatural, and our bodies have no idea how to process them!

    2086 days ago
    If you need a perfect representation of "modern plants are not the same as heirloom plants" pick up any commercially grown rose. Oh, they LOOK perfect. Long stems, luscious colors, what have you. But do they smell like a rose? Fat chance. In their fervor to build a more commercially viable product breeders have bred the smell almost completely out of them. Whole generations are growing up without knowing the heady, wonderful scent of nature-made roses.

    Thank God we don't eat them. Usually.


    One of the most amazing realizations I made when ditching the wheat and sugar from my diet was that higher blood pressure and higher blood sugar were NOT a part of normal aging. I always assumed that they went along with the hormonal changes that were mostly beyond a person's control. Turns out, not so much...
    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 11:09:27 AM
    SNOWSNAKE: I treat a wheat serving more like an occasional indulgence, like a piece of cake, rather than an essential component of my diet. I eat it if I want to, but not because I believe it's vital. I prefer an extra serving of vegetables or fruit instead.

    KAYOTIC: Eating more vegetables rather than wheat makes more sense to me, too! I agree it is backwards.
    2086 days ago

    Comment edited on: 8/2/2012 10:41:16 AM
    Interesting points about the wheat. While I'm not totally wheat-free, and don't believe I would have to go that far, I can see why it works for so many people. That said, I really don't eat as much bread as I used to...and I've often wondered why the bottom of that pyramid was whole grains instead of fruits and vegetables...that seems backward, really!
    2086 days ago
    Wow, this is amazing info that you have analyzed and compiled about your experiences, and I had to read it twice just to absorb it all. Thanks for sharing, and you have made me rethink about my morning toast...altho not a bread lover at all.... it's something Im eating because I thought Im supposed to for optimum health, Now I am rethinking the whole relationship thanks to your informative blog. ***SNOW***
    2086 days ago
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