Wheat-free 2007

Long ago, most of us made the change of reducing saturated fat in our diet. Few people now rely on butter (despite the idiotic butter vs. margarine controversy), full-fat dairy products, fried foods, and greasy meats. That's a healthy change, since saturated fat has conclusively been tied to various cancers, high blood pressure, rise in LDL, and is calorie-dense.

But if there were just one change you were to make beyond a reduction in saturated fat, a change that would translate into dramatic health benefits, it would be a drastic reduction, even elimination, of wheat products.

People do indeed eat enormous quantities of wheat flour-containing products. U.S. per capita consumption of wheat flour was 110 pounds in the early 1970s, and rose to 141 pounds in 1991. It's even higher now. 20% or more of most people's caloric intake every day is provided by wheat flour products.

Wheat containing foods are tasty and convenient. Witness the popularity of bagel shops, the goodie counter at Starbuck's, the proliferation of crackers, breads, and breakfast cereals at the grocery store. Patients are horrified when I suggest that they find a substitute for the sandwiches they eat every day. Even Mom said they were okay!

You're unlikely to hear much about this from the popular press. The wheat industry is enormous and exerts extraordinary clout, just like the drug industry. Texas alone farms 6 million acres of wheat, yielding over $2 billion for the state's economy. The "wheat chain" is complex and far-reaching: growers, processors, food manufacturers, the transportation industry, retailers, chemical producers, and on and on. Wheat futures are traded on the Chicago Board of Trade. Wheat is a major export industry for the U.S.

Of course, these are not evil people, intent on corrupting your health. In fact, most of them are probably working under the perception that they are raising a healthy product. The point is that the notion that wheat is healthy is deeply entrenched in the minds and economy of the U.S. Don't expect to hear unbiased commentary on the health effects of wheat products from most media sources.

What can you expect if you sharply reduce or eliminate wheat? The majority of people:

--Feel like a cloud has been lifted from their thinking.
--Don't experience the afternoon blah or tired feeling after lunch.
--Lose weight, sometimes substantial quantities.
--Raise HDL.
--Reduce small LDL.
--Reduce triglycerides, particularly if they start >100 mg/dl.
--Reduce blood sugar.

The reduction in small LDL can be especially impressive.

For most people, reducing or eliminating wheat is a sacrifice, a major change in food choices and even a loss of convenience. But the health benefits for most people can be dramatic.

Comments (4) -

  • Sue

    1/5/2007 1:26:00 AM |

    All very nicely said, and knowing the effects of wheat, very logical.  However....HOW?  We basically have to change everything we eat to eliminate wheat.Everything from the hamburger bun to sauce thickeners.  So when you're in the mood, a bit of HOW to eliminate wheat from our diets would be great!

  • Nancy

    1/5/2007 4:18:00 PM |

    Sue, as someone who studiously avoids gluten (from wheat, rye, etc), I suggest visiting some web sites regarding Celiac, people suffering from this disease have to avoid anything with gluten.  Just search the internet on celiac or gluten free and you'll be amazed at the resources and information.

    One web site in particular has a very good safe/forbidden list:

    But the easiest way to do it is to avoid most convenience foods and go back to eating foods that come without much processing and lots of added ingredients.

  • Dr. Davis

    1/6/2007 1:03:00 AM |

    I couldn't have said it better than Nancy. However, I will warn you that people with celiac, who strictly avoid wheat products, can also gravitate towads unhealthy non-wheat containing products, too.

    Reducing, even eliminating, wheat products is not that hard. But it does mean changing deeply-ingrained habits (no pun intended). Raw nuts and seeds, oat products, low-fat cottage cheese, yogurt, salsa, mustards, olive oil based salad dressings, fruit,  vegetables...There's thousands of foods that don't contain wheat. You've just been brainwashed by food manufacturers into believing that most foods must contain wheat.

  • M

    4/30/2007 4:22:00 PM |

    I'm reading this months after the fact, but every single wheat-related post after has been extremely interesting to me. I weep at the thought of having to give up my beloved breads and pastas, no really, but in trying to find wheat-free diets to follow (for weight loss), I've discovered I have several symptoms of celiac disease. This may be coincedental, but your blog has at least given me food for thought. I can't quite get my mind around no wheat, but you may have pointed me in the right direction.