Monday, July 23, 2012

Is Wheat Evil?

This morning on the radio, the health reporter gave a summary of this article from Berkeley about "Wheatophobia".  

I won't pretend to know everything about both sides of the issue, but there are some basic problems with the Standard American Diet with respect to wheat.

How many meals a week does the average person eat that contains either bread, pasta, pizza, or cereal?  Look at the canned and boxed products in your cupboard.  What percentage of them contain corn syrup, corn starch, or corn oil?  Is it really good for us to get such a huge percentage of our calories from one food?  Even just giving a little love to buckwheat, rye, and barley might be better for us than the wheat and corn-centric diet most Americans eat today.

Apples are great for you, but if you were living primarily on applesauce I'd have some concern for your health.  If it was not intuitively wrong to you, I might point out how apples contain trace amounts of arsenic, and how arsenic was bad for your health.  Now most of us have at most one or two apples a day, and this arsenic level is not a problem.  Some studies even show a little bit of poison is actually good for you, and you may also be familiar with the phrase "the dose makes the poison".  

Wheat may contain proteins that are bad for human health.  The dosage required to cause a negative response may be different between different people.

I suggest that if you don't test positive on blood and stool tests for wheat antigens, but you suspect you have a problem with wheat, (let's say you're having trouble loosing weight, lack endurance, or have persistent digestive problems,)  first identify the symptoms that you have, take a log for a month or so of your symptoms.  Try to come up with an objective scale to rate your problems including frequency and intensity.  Then, go on an at least six week elimination diet.  Get rid of all grains, including corn.  Be careful of products such as sauces and beverages which are based on grain derived vinegar or alcohol.  Some would suggest going dairy free at the same time you go grain free, but personally I love my dairy, and I became less sensitive to it after going low carb.  Some people say that it can take six months for intestinal damage to heal after wheat stops aggravating the problem, so if you see a slight or no improvement you might consider extending the experiment to six months.  Keep up your journal during this period, keep referring back to your objective standards of frequency and intensity of your problems.  At the end of this trial period, re-introduce grains and once again measure your symptoms.

If you need a little help developing a grain free diet, try following an established diet like Perfect Health Diet, GAPS Diet, or find a Weston A Price Foundation chapter near you.  The Perfect Health Diet is strictly anti-grain, while on the other end of the scale Weston A Price Foundation focuses more on fermentation and nutrient dense foods that you might be switching to in place of grains.  Each of these diet groups has a different take on what foods are good/bad for you, but if you're not confident about formulating your own grain free diet, it may be best to follow in the footsteps of hundreds of others who have tried an experimental diet before you.  (More on wisdom of masses in a future post...)

It may be easiest to go on a diet like this in mid summer and fall when there is an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables at your local farmer's market.  Who misses bread when you have a truly ripe tomato or a root veggie roast?

If you have a problem with grain, you should show a clear pattern of improving on the elimination diet, and backsliding when you return to your old diet.  Once this clear pattern is established, you can repeat the experiment with more variables to find a long term diet you can live with.  Are x servings a week tolerable?  Does well fermented grain (home made fully fermented sour dough) have a different effect?  Does corn give you the same issues as wheat?  As you do these experiments, you may become familiar with early warning signs of a reaction and be able to do shorter reintroduction tests, but always give your body time to fully heal on the stricter diet between experiments.

If you don't show any improvement on a six month elimination diet, then you probably have no problems with  grains.  Although it might not hurt to put a little more variety in your diet, choosing different grains and avoiding eating mostly processed products that are mostly wheat, soy, and corn.

In my case, wheat itself does not seem to be a major issue, but carbohydrates and vegetable oils in general are.  Since cutting back on these foods, I've stopped gaining weight, (lost a little bit) I can tolerate more sun/heat, and I've stopped having low blood sugar attacks except on vacation when I'm eating other people's cooking.  Vegetable oils don't cause me any real measurable problems, but they sit very heavy in my stomach, while animal fats I seem to be able to digest quickly and efficiently without packing on weight.