You munch on your morning toast or breakfast cereal, enjoy your favorite sandwich at lunch, and savor a slice of baguette when you dine out.
For thousands of years, bread was one of our most basic foods, called “the staff of life.”
Now it brings forth a slew of unflattering slogans, from Wheat Belly to Biscuit Face, to Grain Brain.
It’s believed to contribute to osteoarthritis, dowager’s humps, cataracts, wrinkles, and many of the symptoms we think are part of normal aging.
Is wheat really bad for everyone, or just for some people? Read on for some fascinating information about our once-favorite food.
“That baguette may look innocent, but it’s a lot harder on the joints than you think.” –Dr. William Davis
The Wheat Belly Connection to Arthritis
When cardiologist William Davis, MD wrote the New York Times best-selling book Wheat Belly, it sent everyone into a tailspin.
Celiac disease was once a rarity. Now it seems as if every second person you speak to has a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten. What’s changed?
Clearly something’s changed
For about 10,000 years, we have been eating various types of wheat without obvious problems. But in the past half century or so, gluten intolerance, celiac disease, and even wheat allergies seem to be skyrocketing. How could one plant that was once so beneficial suddenly become toxic to a large portion of the population?
There is a two-part answer.
1. The invention of the modern grain mill
Before the modern grain mill was invented, large stones ground all the parts of the wheat kernel into small pieces. The bran, germ, and endosperm were all mixed in together. This highly nutritious flour had to be used quickly or it would go bad. It was also difficult to keep bugs and rodents out of the ground flour because they were attracted to the easily accessible nutrients.
The 1870s hailed the advancement of modern living, when the newly-invented grain mill could process wheat by separating it from most of its original protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. This gave us the affordable white flour we use today, which has a long shelf life. It also eliminated the pest problem, as animals no longer attacked food that lacked nutrients.
2. Not your grandmother’s wheat
Since the 1980s, we’ve been eating newer, high-yield forms of wheat that have been genetically changed. These new hybrids are a distant cousin to the wheat our grandmothers ate at the beginning of the twentieth century, and bear little resemblance to the wheat used in ancient times.
Wheat was once more than four feet tall. Modern wheat is now a stocky two-foot plant. This new long-lasting wheat was developed by crossing wheat with non-wheat grasses to introduce new genes, and by using chemicals to induce mutations in wheat seeds.
According to Dr. Davis, “These alterations have been multiplied into tens of thousands of hybridizations…with no animal or safety testing done.”
How is modern wheat affecting our health?
Here are some fascinating facts about wheat, from Wheat Belly:
1. Wheat is largely responsible for our epidemic of obesity. It contains a combination of compounds that trigger high blood sugar, visceral fat, and unhealthy cholesterol particles in the blood.
2. Wheat inflames our bodies, causes our guts to leak, and triggers many autoimmune diseases.
3. Whether you eat home-baked, organic, stone-ground, or sprouted grain, it’s still wheat and does the same damage to your body.
4. Grains are the only plant foods that generate acidic by-products. When your body is chronically acidic, it pulls calcium out of your bones to maintain a healthy pH. This can lead your bones to become demineralized, setting you up for osteoporosis and fractures.
5. Two slices of whole wheat bread can spike blood sugar levels more than the equivalent of 2 tablespoons of pure sugar, and this can lead you on a path toward type 2 diabetes.
6. Wheat causes advanced glycation. Cooking meat at a high heat causes it to turn brown. Similarly, sugar molecules from wheat attach themselves to protein tissues such as collagen, slowly rearranging their youthful structure to lose elasticity. In your skin, this causes wrinkles and sagging.
It also causes stiffness and deterioration of the cartilage in joints, such as in the knee and hip.
What is the connection between wheat and arthritis?
In Wheat Belly
, Dr. William Davis says,
"We believe that arthritis is an unavoidable accompaniment of aging. Not true. Joints do indeed have the potential to serve us for the eight or so decades of our life….unless we ruin them with repeated insults such as excessive acidity and inflammatory molecules from visceral fat cells.
The cartilage in joints is uniquely susceptible to glycation, since cartilage cells are extremely long-lived and are incapable of reproducing. Once damaged, they do not recover. If cartilage proteins such as collages become glycated, they become abnormally stiff. The cumulative damage makes the cartilage brittle and unyielding, eventually crumbling. Joint inflammation, pain, and destruction result, the hallmarks of arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis has been shown to improve, and occasionally remit entirely with gluten removal.”
How can you go gluten-free?
At first, the idea of a breakfast without muffins or cereal, or lunch without a sandwich may seem like a daunting task. What will you eat?
It’s surprisingly easier than you thought. Here are some tips to go wheat-free and grain free:
1. Start cooking from scratch. Concentrate on eating lots of organic vegetables and fruits, nuts and seeds, grass-fed meats and wild fish (the basic Paleo Diet).
2. Create delicious salad dressings from healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil and avocado, with garlic, vinegar and spices, and you won’t feel hungry.
3. Avoid fast food and packaged foods that have hidden wheat, such as frozen dinners, canned soups and soup mixes, and bottled salad dressing. Wheat may be disguised under different names, and be lurking in artificial additives and even some so-called “natural” flavorings.
4. If you are extremely intolerant to gluten, be careful of cross-contamination in restaurants, or from packaged foods that may be gluten free but come in contact with gluten. It’s better to cook your own food because you know what’s in it.
5. Be aware that gluten may be hiding in places you never suspect. Traces of gluten can be in medications and even in lipsticks and lip balms. Although you don’t eat lipstick, just licking your lips can cause reactions in some people.
6. It’s easier and healthier to avoid grains completely than to buy packaged gluten-free replacements. They are usually expensive, contain starchy ingredients that are low in nutrients, and may cause weight gain.
7. If you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive, you may have to avoid all grains. If you are not gluten sensitive but want to avoid the long-term effects of modern wheat, you may be able to eat some ancient wheat varieties, such as Einkorn , Farro, Spelt , Red Fife, Triticale , or Kamut flours. These flours contain all the proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals of the original wheat kernel, but they can go rancid quickly, so find a trusted source that provides only the freshest ground flour available.
8. You can also eat grain-like seeds, such as amaranth, buckwheat, millet and quinoa, which are high in protein, gluten free, and considered some of the most nutritionally complete foods available.