Can I eat quinoa?

. . . or beans, or brown rice, or sweet potatoes? Or how about amaranth, sorghum, oats, and buckwheat? Surely corn on the cob is okay!

These are, of course, non-wheat carbohydrates. They lack several crucial undesirable ingredients found in our old friend, wheat, including no:

Gliadin--The protein that degrades to exorphins, the compound from wheat digestion that exerts mind effects and stimulates appetite to the tune of 400 additional calories (on average) per day.
Gluten--The family of proteins that trigger immune diseases and neurologic impairment.
Amylopectin A--The highly-digestible "complex" carbohydrate that is no better--worse, in fact--than table sugar.

So why not eat these non-wheat grains all you want? If they don't cause appetite stimulation, behavioral outbursts in children with ADHD, addictive consumption of foods, dementia (i.e., gluten encephalopathy), etc., why not just eat them willy nilly?

Because they still increase blood sugar. Conventional wisdom is that these foods trend towards having a lower glycemic index than, say, table sugar, meaning it raises blood glucose less.

That's true . . . but very misleading. Oats, for instance, with a glycemic index of 55 compared to table sugar's 59, still sends blood sugar through the roof. Likewise, quinoa with a glycemic index of 53, will send blood sugar to, say, 150 mg/dl compared to 158 mg/dl for table sugar--yeah, sure, it's better, but it still stinks. And that's in non-diabetics. It's worse in diabetics.

Of course, John Q. Internist will tell you that, provided your blood sugars after eating don't exceed 200 mg/dl, you'll be okay. What he's really saying is "There's no need for diabetes medication, so you're okay. You will still be exposed to the many adverse health consequences of high blood sugar similar to, though less quickly than, a full diabetic, but that's not my problem."

In reality, most people can get away with consuming some of these non-wheat grains . . . provided portion size is limited. Beyond limiting portion size, there are two ways to better manage your carbohydrate sensitivity to ensure that metabolic distortions, such as high blood sugar, glycation, and small LDL particles, are not triggered.

More on that in the future.

Lipoproteins . . . zero!

With the recent refinements in our approach to correction of the lipoprotein abnormalities that lead to coronary plaque and heart disease risk, I have been witnessing more and more people achieve:

Small LDL particles 0 nmol/L
Lipoprotein(a) 0 nmol/L

For instance, Ted, a 58-year old man I saw in the office today started with:

Small LDL 1673 nmol/L
Lipoprotein(a) 219 nmol/L

In other words, both small LDL particles and lipoprotein(a) are being knocked down to zero values.

Incidentally, the combination of lipoprotein(a) with small LDL is among the most atherogenic (atherosclerotic plaque-causing) patterns known. Despite his athletic, slender build and avoidance of unhealthy habits, Ted's heart scan score was 922--very high.

So Ted followed the diet I advocate, i.e., wheat elimination followed by elimination of cornstarch, oats, and sugars; high-dose fish oil (total daily EPA + DHA of 6000 mg/day); vitamin D supplementation sufficient to achieve a 25-hydroxy vitamin D level of 60-70 ng/ml; iodine supplementation; and thyroid normalization which, in Ted's case, required supplementation with the T3 thyroid hormone, liothyronine, at a small dose.

The result:

Small LDL particles 0 nmol/L
Lipoprotein(a) 0 nmol/L

Not everybody, of course, is achieving these incredible--and previously impossible--results. But the numbers are growing. Ted is the third person to achieve zeroes all around, in fact, over the past 10 days.

Heart disease prevention is getting better and more powerful every day. And it ain't all about Lipitor and low-fat.

Chocolate almond biscotti

Biscotti are twice-baked biscuits or cookies that are perfect for dipping into coffee, latté, or espresso. These wheat-free, low-carb biscotti are rich with the taste of chocolate and almonds.

Yield: approximately 15 biscotti


2 cups almond meal
½ cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup cocoa powder (undutched)
½ cup dark chocolate chips
Sweetener equivalent to ½ cup sugar (e.g., liquid stevia, Truvia)
½ cup ricotta cheese, room temperature (replace with coconut milk if lactose intolerant)
4 tablespoons butter, melted (replace with coconut oil if lactose intolerant)
2 large eggs
¼ cup milk, unsweetened almond milk, or soy milk
¼ cup almond, peanut, or sunflower seed butter, room temperature

Preheat oven to 350º F.

Mix almond meal, walnuts, sweetener, cocoa powder, and chocolate chips in bowl. Mix in ricotta, butter, eggs, milk, and nut butter and blend by hand thoroughly.

Pour mix onto baking pan lined with parchment paper or greased with coconut oil or other oil. Shape into loaf approximately 1 inch deep and 3½ to 4 inches in width. Place in oven and bake for 40 minutes.

Remove loaf and allow to cool 15 minutes. Slice into approximately ¾-inch widths and lay each biscotto on its side on baking pan. Put back in oven for 10 minutes.

Remove pan and flip biscotti over. Place back in oven and bake an additional 5 minutes. Remove and cool.

Optional: For a little dark chocolate "icing":
Melt 3-4 oz semisweet or dark chocolate in microwave (in 15 second increments until melted) or in metal bowl placed in heated water. Stir in 1-2 teaspoons butter.
Dip each biscotti into melted chocolate mix or drizzle chocolate mixture over top of each biscotto.

Sun green tea

Here's a great way to enjoy the health benefits of green tea during the summer: sun green tea.

I dropped two green tea bags into approximately one-half gallon of cold water in a clear glass jar. I placed the jar in the sun (with top on) for four hours, then brought it into the kitchen. I served it as iced tea with a slice of lemon and mint leaf.

The sun green tea was a smoother than standard green tea brewed with hot water. Ordinarily, if you brew hot green tea for more than 3-5 minutes, it becomes more bitter or tannic. This sun green tea, despite steeping for four hours, was not the least bit bitter or tannic.

The green tea lasted well for about 48 hours, more than enough to enjoy several glasses per day.

Calling all super-duper weight losers!

Have you lost at least 1/2 your weight, e.g., 300 lbs down to 150 lbs? If you have, I have a major national magazine editor looking to talk to you.

If you have gone wheat-free and/or followed the dietary advice offered here in The Heart Scan Blog or through the Track Your Plaque program and would be willing to share your story, please let me know by commenting below. While losing half your body weight is not necessarily a requirement for health, it makes an incredibly inspiring story for others.

If we use your story, I will set aside a copy of my soon-to-be-released book, Wheat Belly.

Lp(a): Be patient with fish oil

High-dose omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil has become the number one strategy for reduction of lipoprotein(a), Lp(a), in the Track Your Plaque program for gaining control over coronary plaque and heart disease risk.

The original observations made in Tanzanian Bantus in the Lugalawa Study by Marcovina et al first suggested that higher dietary exposure to fish and perhaps omega-3 fatty acids from fish were associated with 40% lower levels of Lp(a). Interestingly, higher omega-3 exposure was also associated with having the longer apo(a) "tails" on Lp(a) molecules, a characteristic associated with more benign, less aggressive plaque-causing behavior.

Of course, the 600+ fish- consuming Bantus in the study consumed fish over a lifetime, from infancy on up through adulthood. So what is the time course of response if us non-Bantus take higher doses of fish oil to reduce Lp(a)?

We have been applying this approach in the Track Your Plaque program and in my office practice for the past few years. To my surprise, the majority of people taking 6000 mg per day of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, will drop Lp(a) after one year.  Some have required two years.  Therefore checking Lp(a) after, say, 3 or 6 months, is nearly useless. (An early response does, however, appear to predict a very vigorous 1-2 year response.)

I'm sure that there is an insightful lesson to be learned from the incredibly slow response, but I don't currently know what it is.  But this strategy has become so powerful, despite its slow nature, that it has allowed many people to back down on niacin.

Baby your pancreas

There it is, sitting quietly tucked under your diaphragm, nestled beneath layers of stomach and intestines, doing its job of monitoring blood sugar, producing insulin, and secreting the digestive enzymes that allow you to convert a fried egg, tomato, or dill pickle into the components that compose you.

But, if you've lived the life of most Americans, your pancreas has had a hard life. Starting as a child, it was forced into the equivalent of hard labor by your eating carbohydrate-rich foods like Lucky Charms, Cocoa Puffs, Hoho's, Ding Dongs, Scooter Pies, and macaroni and cheese. Into adolescent years and college, it was whipped into subservient labor with pizza, beer, pretzels, and ramen noodles. As an adult, the USDA, Surgeon General's office and other assorted purveyors of nutritional advice urged us to cut our fat, cholesterol, and eat more "healthy whole grains"; you complied, exposing your overworked pancreas to keep up its relentless work pace, spewing out insulin to accommodate the endless flow of carbohydrate-rich foods.

So here we are, middle aged or so, with pancreases that are beaten, worn, hobbling around with a walker, heaving and gasping due to having lost 50% or more of its insulin-producing beta cells. If continued to be forced to work overtime, it will fail, breathing its last breath as you and your doctor come to its rescue with metformin, Actos, Januvia, shots of Byetta, and eventually insulin, all aimed at corralling the blood sugar that your failed pancreas was meant to contain.

What if you don't want to rescue your flagging pancreas with drugs? What if you want to salvage your poor, wrinkled, exhausted pancreas, eaking out whatever is left out of the few beta cells you have left?

Well, then, baby your pancreas. If this were a car with 90,000 miles on it, but you want it to last 100,000, then change the oil frequently, keep it tuned, and otherwise baby your car, not subjecting it to extremes and neglect to accelerate its demise. Same with your pancreas: Allow it to rest, not subjecting it to the extremes of insulin production required by carbohydrate consumption. Don't expose it to foods like wheat flour, cornstarch, oats, rice starch, potatoes, and sucrose that demand overtime and hard labor out of your poor pancreas. Go after the foods that allow your pancreas to sleep through a meal like eggs, spinach, cucumbers, olive oil, and walnuts. Give your pancreas a nice back massage and steer clear of "healthy whole grains," the nutritional equivalent of a 26-mile marathon. Pay your pancreas a compliment or two and allow it to have occasional vacations with a brief fast.

Bread equals sugar

Bread, gluten-free or gluten-containing, in terms of carbohydrate content, is equivalent to sugar.

Two slices of store-bought whole grain bread, such as the gluten-free bread I discussed in my last post, equals 5- 6 teaspoons of table sugar:









Some breads can contain up to twice this quantity, i.e., 10-12 teaspoons equivalent readily-digestible carbohydrate.

Gluten-free carbohydrate mania

Here's a typical gluten-free product, a whole grain bread mix. "Whole grain," of course, suggests high-fiber, high nutrient composition, and health.









What's it made of? Here's the ingredient list:
Cornstarch, Tapioca Starch, Whole Grain Sorghum Flour, Whole Grain Teff Flour, Whole Grain Amaranth Flour, Soy Fiber, Xanthan Gum, Soy Protein, Natural Cocoa and Ascorbic Acid

In other words, carbohydrate, carbohydrate, carbohydrate, carbohydrate and some other stuff. It means that a sandwich with two slices of bread provides around 42 grams net carbohydrates, enough to send your blood sugar skyward, not to mention trigger visceral fat formation, glycation, small LDL particles and triglycerides.

Take a look at the ingredients and nutrition facts on the label of any number of gluten-free products and you will see the same thing. Many also have proud low-fat claims.

This is how far wrong the gluten-free world has drifted: Trade the lack of gluten for a host of unhealthy effects.

Gluten-free is going DOWN

The majority of gluten-free foods are junk foods.

People with celiac disease experience intestinal destruction and a multitude of other inflammatory conditions due to an immune response gone haywire. The disease  is debilitating and can be fatal unless all gliadin/gluten sources are eliminated, such as wheat, barley, and rye.

A gluten-free food industry to provide foods minus gliadin/gluten has emerged, now large enough to become an important economic force. Even some Big Food companies are getting into the act, like Kraft, that now lists foods they consider gluten-free.

So we have gluten-free breads, cupcakes, scones, pretzels, breakfast cereals, crackers, bagels, muffins, pancake mixes and on and on. All are made with ingredients like brown rice flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato starch. Occasionally, they are made with amaranth, teff, or quinoa, other less popular, but gluten-free, grains.

Problem: These gluten-free ingredients, while lacking gliadin and gluten, make you fat and diabetic. They increase visceral fat, cause blood sugar to skyrocket higher than nearly all other foods (even higher than wheat, which is already pretty bad), trigger formation of small LDL and triglycerides, and are responsible for exaggerated postprandial (after-eating) lipoprotein distortions. They cause heart disease, cataracts, arthritis, and a wide range of other conditions, all driven by the extreme levels of glycation they generate.

Eliminating all things wheat from the diet is one of the most powerful health strategies I have ever witnessed. But replacing lost wheat with manufactured gluten-free foods is little better than replacing your poppyseed muffin with a bowl of jelly beans.

Whenever we've relied on the food industry to supply a solution, they've managed to bungle it. Saturated fat was replaced with hydrogenated fat and polyunsaturates; sucrose replaced with high-fructose corn syrup. Now, they are replacing wheat gluten-containing foods with junk carbohydrates.

For this reason, I am bringing out a line of recipes and foods that will be wheat gliadin/gluten-free, do NOT contain the junk carbohydrates that gluten-free foods are made of, and are genuinely healthy. They are tasty, to boot.

The gluten-free industry needs to smarten up. Having a following that is free of cramps and diarrhea but are obese, diabetic, and hobbling on arthritic knees and hips is good for nobody.