I wanted to write an simple post to explain how fat came to be considered our enemy but actually the whole subject is really complex! Like the Swiss cheese model of accident causation, many factors lined up to convince us to believe fat is bad […]
Month: December 2018
Fat has unfairly been given bad press for several decades, leading to our avoidance of fats in the pursuit of health and weight loss goals. But now the foundations for the current low-fat nutritional advice are beginning to look increasingly shaky. What is fat and […]
Within the low-carb community and elsewhere, it’s often stated offhandedly that wheat is addictive. Certainly, many people feel that wheat is something they could never give up. It’s hard to imagine life without cereal, bread, pasta and cake! What would you eat? After all wheat makes up a large proportion of most peoples daily diet.
You have probably read many articles touting the benefits of eating whole grains, including wheat. The British Dietetic Association (BDA) state that evidence is growing that eating whole-grains regularly may reduce the risk of many common diseases including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
The BDA recommends 3 portions of wholewheat a day. They count a portion as one slice of bread, 3 tablespoons of cereal or 3 tablespoons of wholegrain pasta. These are pretty small compared to the average person’s intake of say, a bowl of cereal for breakfast; a sandwich made with two slices of bread for lunch; and a plate of pasta for dinner. The meals in this example would be over the recommended intake even before any snacks were taken into consideration. Regardless of whether wheat is addictive or not, we probably rely on it too heavily for quick and easy meals.
How could eating something that is supposed to be good for you be a bad thing?
Who should we believe?
According to Dr William Davis, Cardiologist and Author of ‘Wheat Belly’ “wheat is the perfect chronic poison”. He believes that the wheat we eat today is not the same as the wheat our grandparents ate. Davis calls wheat a genetically modified monster which he names “Frankenwheat”. He says it is responsible for an astonishing array of diseases – diabetes, obesity, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, dementia and cancer.
Confused? Didn’t the BDA state above that eating whole grains (including wheat) may reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes? And now Davis is saying just the opposite?
From my own studies of the low-carb research I believe that the BDA have homed in on the whole-grain aspect because it fits with current (but out-dated) nutritional guidelines. However, I have seen for myself, and in others, the benefits of cutting out grains. I believe that it is fibre, sourced from vegetables or from whole-grains in our diet that is likely to be the common factor in these two opposing theories.
Davis states that “Modern wheat is an 18″ tall plant created by genetic research in the 1960’s and 70’s. He notes that it has many new features including a protein known as gliadin”. He is not concerned with gluten as such. Gluten is implicated in coeliac disease and gluten intolerance, which affects only a small percentage of the population. Instead he is concerned with the new protein, gliadin, which is a potential problem for everyone. Davis believes gliadin binds to the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite. He believes this causes us to consume 440 more calories per day 365 days per year. Obviously this has big implications for the growing problem of obesity (pun intended!).
Wheat’s effect on blood sugar
Another concern is amylopectin A, a starch found in wheat and other high glycaemic index (GI) foods such as potatoes and rice. Amylopectin A is quickly converted to glucose and increases blood sugar levels even higher than if you ate a bar of chocolate. The cycle of eating wheat causes dramatic fluctuations in blood sugar.
When consuming wheat our blood sugar spikes and then dips significantly. This causes us to feel hungry again, so we eat more wheat-based products. The result is a very unhealthy eating pattern. When wheat is removed, the appetite stimulant is removed – and the constant hunger subsides.
Wheat is frequently the main culprit in the sugar / insulin roller-coaster driving the need to eat every couple of hours. But could wheat be addictive in a different sense – as an opiate like heroin or morphine? And even if it is addictive, is that necessarily a bad thing or could it be a human survival mechanism?
Dr William Davis believes wheat is addictive in the same way as opioid drugs such as heroin. Davis states that during digestion, wheat is broken down into opioid peptides (heroin-like molecules) which are able to bind to the opioid receptors in the brain.
There are studies looking into the effects of wheat and other foods on the brain. Specifically the potential for wheat’s opioid peptides (known as gluten exorphins and gliadorphin) to cross the blood brain barrier and bind to opioid receptors. However these studies have been performed on rat brains. Not even on whole living rats. On just the brains of dead rats! Humans are clearly not rats so just how much useful information can actually be taken away from this?
Many everyday foods are addictive?
You may be surprised to know that many everyday foods contain natural opioids or trigger an opioid-like response in the body. These foods include soy, spinach, rice, meat, fish, wheat, dairy, fruit, coffee and chocolate. Are these foods that we should be avoiding, or did ‘Mother Nature’ put those opioids in foods so that we will eat more of them? (1)
Pastas, breads, pizzas, pastries, cakes and cookies are the foods that people find hardest to give up. These are also the foods that, once removed from the diet, have the greatest tendency to cause “relapses” if eaten again. Part of this is likely to be habit. It is all we have ever known. Most of us have eaten these foods all our lives. We are influenced by healthy eating guidelines, clever marketing and convenience to eat these foods frequently. After all, a bowl of cereal or a sandwich is quick to prepare and healthy, right?
Just one more slice…
Prior to my low-carb journey I was aware that bread products in particular seemed to hold a slightly addictive property for me. I always felt that I was more successful at losing weight if I cut out bread. It’s only more recently that I have cut out wheat products altogether. I would often buy a fresh loaf of tiger bread for lunch on a Saturday. It was guaranteed not to last the day. I would go back for “just one more slice” throughout the afternoon even though I was not genuinely hungry. Just knowing it was there was enough to make me want more.
I’m sure my children are also affected by the pull of wheat. I have cut back drastically on buying sugar-laden sweet treats as I felt that cutting back on their sugar intake should be my first priority, However bread has now become their ‘go-to’ snack. Should I be worried? Is it better than all the supposedly-healthy-but-full-of-sugar cereal bars and biscuits they would have eaten before? I think it is the lesser of the two evils.
Improve health and protect your memory?
David Perlmutter MD is a neurologist and Author of ‘Grain Brain’. He believes that cutting wheat out of our diets can lead to a reduction in weight, decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and lead to improvements in chronic conditions. He believes avoiding wheat is proactive in preventing cognitive decline and neurological disease. According to Perlmutter:
“grains are simply not foods for people who want to be their best”
So is wheat addictive?
We can’t say for sure. There is some evidence but it’s a bit shaky. Certainly more research is required, only not on rats!
It seems to me that although it may trigger an opioid response in the body, it is more likely to be it’s ability to cause extreme blood sugar spikes and dips that leads us to keep coming back for more.
Research aside, there are certainly may people who have discovered for themselves the health benefits of removing wheat from their diets. Myself included. Do we really need to know whether it is truly addictive in order to continue to avoid it? I don’t think so.
From my own experience, I will continue to minimize wheat in my diet. I believe people eat way too much of it. It certainly appears to perpetuate its own consumption, for reasons not yet clear. I wish I could say for sure whether wheat is addictive or not – but I can’t…. yet.