The case builds against wheat

Looking back over the past few posts I've made about the adverse health effects of wheat, I was surprised to see just how many people have posted descriptions of their dramatic experiences following this route.

While I've seen it in real life many times, it always helps to have corroboration from others. Here is what a number of Heart Scan Blog readers and commenters have said:

Barbara W said:

It's true! We've done it. My husband and I stopped eating all grains and sugar in February. At this point, we really don't miss them any more. It was a huge change, but it's worth the effort. I've lost over 20 pounds (10 to go)and my husband has lost 45 pounds (20 to go). On top of it, our body shapes have changed drastically. It is really amazing. I've got my waist back (and a whole wardrobe of clothes) - I'm thrilled.

I'm also very happy to be eating foods that I always loved like eggs, avocados, and meats - without feeling guilty that they're not good for me.

With the extremely hot weather this week in our area, we thought we'd "treat" ourselves to small ice cream cones. To our surprise, it wasn't that much of a treat. Didn't even taste as good as we'd anticipated. I know I would have been much more satisfied with a snack of smoked salmon with fresh dill, capers, chopped onion and drizzled with lemon juice.

Aside from weight changes, we both feel so much better in general - feel much more alert and move around with much greater flexibility, sleep well, never have any indigestion. We're really enjoying this. It's like feeling younger.

It's not a diet for us. This will be the way we eat from now on. Actually, we think our food has become more interesting and varied since giving up all the "white stuff". I guess we felt compelled to get a little more creative.

Eating out (or at other peoples' places) has probably been the hardest part of this adjustment. But now we're getting pretty comfortable saying what we won't eat. I'm starting to enjoy the reactions it produces.

Weight loss, increased energy, less abdominal bloating, better sleep--I've seen it many times, as well.

Dotslady said:

I was a victim of the '80s lowfat diet craze - doc told me I was obese, gave me the Standard American Diet and said to watch my fat (I'm not a big meat eater, didn't like mayo ... couldn't figure out where my fat was coming from! maybe the fries - I will admit I liked fries). I looked to the USDA food pyramid and to increase my fiber for the constipation I was experiencing. Bread with 3 grams of fiber wasn't good enough; I turned to Kashi cereals for 11 years. My constipation turned to steattorrhea and a celiac disease diagnosis! *No gut pains!* My PCP sent me to the gastroenterologist for a colonscopy because my ferritin was a 5 (20 is low range). Good thing I googled around and asked him to do an endoscopy or I'd be a zombie by now.

My symptoms were depression & anxiety, eczema, GERD, hypothyroidism, mild dizziness, tripping, Alzheimer's-like memory problems, insomnia, heart palpitations, fibromyalgia, worsening eyesight, mild cardiomyopathy, to name a few.

After six months gluten-free, I asked my gastroenterologist about feeling full early ... he said he didn't know what I was talking about! *shrug*

But *I* knew -- it was the gluten/starches! My satiety level has totally changed, and for the first time in my life I feel NORMAL!

Feeling satisfied with less is a prominent effect in my experience, too. You need to eat less, you're driven to snack less, less likely to give in to those evil little bedtime or middle-of-the-night impulses that make you feel ashamed and guilty.

An anonymous (female) commenter said:

My life changed when I cut not only all wheat, but all grains from my diet.

For the first time in my life, I was no longer hungry -no hunger pangs between meals; no overwhelming desire to snack. Now I eat at mealtimes without even thinking about food in between.

I've dropped 70 pounds, effortlessly, come off high blood pressure meds and control my blood sugar without medication.

I don't know whether it was just the elimination of grain, especially wheat, or whether it was a combination of grain elimnation along with a number of other changes, but I do know that mere reduction of grain consumption still left me hungry. It wasn't until I elimnated it that the overwhelming redution in appetite kicked in.

As a former wheat-addicted vegetarian, who thought she was eating healthily according to all the expert advice out there at the time, I can only shake my head at how mistaken I was.

That may be a record for me: 70 lbs!!

Stan said:

It's worth it and you won't look back!

Many things will improve, not just weight reduction: you will think clearer, your reflexes will improve, your breathing rate will go down, your blood pressure will normalize. You will never or rarely have a fever or viral infections like cold or flu. You will become more resistant to cold temperature and you will rarely feel tired, ever!

Ortcloud said:

Whenever I go out to breakfast I look around and I am in shock at what people eat for breakfast. Big stack of pancakes, fruit, fruit juice syrup, just like you said. This is not breakfast, this is dessert ! It has the same sugar and nutrition as a birthday cake, would anyone think cake is ok for breakfast ? No, but that is exactly the equivalent of what they are eating. Somehow we have been duped to think this is ok. For me, I typically eat an omelette when I go out, low carb and no sugar. I dont eat wheat but invariably it comes with the meal and I try to tell the waitress no thanks, they are stunned. They try to push some other type of wheat or sugar product on me instead, finally I have to tell them I dont eat wheat and they are doubly stunned. They cant comprehend it. We have a long way to go in terms of re-education.

Yes. Don't be surprised at the incomprehension, the rolled eyes, even the anger that can sometimes result. Imagine that told you that the food you've come to rely on and love is killing you!

Anne said:

I was overweight by only about 15lbs and I was having pitting edema in my legs and shortness of breath. My cardiologist and I were discussing the possible need of an angiogram. I was three years out from heart bypass surgery.

Before we could schedule the procedure, I tested positive for gluten sensitivity through I eliminated not only wheat but also barley and rye and oats(very contaminated with wheat) from my diet. Within a few weeks my edema was gone, my energy was up and I was no longer short of breath. I lost about 10 lbs. The main reason I gave up gluten was to see if I could stop the progression of my peripheral neuropathy. Getting off wheat and other gluten grains has given me back my life. I have been gluten free for 4 years and feel younger than I have in many years.

There are many gluten free processed foods, but I have found I feel my best when I stick with whole foods.

Ann has a different reason (gluten enteropathy, or celiac disease) for wanting to be wheat-free. But I've seen similar improvements that go beyond just relief of the symptoms attributable to the inflammatory intestinal effects of gluten elimination.

Wccaguy said:

I have relatively successfully cut carbs and grains from my diet thus far.

Because I've got some weight to lose, I have tried to keep the carb count low and I've lost 15 pounds since then.

I have also been very surprised at the significant reduction in my appetite. I've read about the experience of others with regard to appetite reduction and couldn't really imagine that it could happen for me too. But it has.

A few weeks ago, I attended a party catered by one of my favorite italian restaurants and got myself offtrack for two days. Then it took me a couple of days to get back on track because my appetite returned.

Check out Jimmy Moore's website for lots of ideas about variations of foods to try. The latest thing I picked up from Jimmy is the good old-fashioned hard boiled egg. Two or three eggs with some spicy hot sauce for breakfast and a handful of almonds mid-morning plus a couple glasses of water and I'm good for the morning no problem.

I find myself thinking about lunch not because I'm really hungry but out of habit.

The cool thing too now is that the more I do this, the more I'm just not tempted much to do anything but this diet.

Going wheat-free, along with a reduction in processed sugary foods like Hawaiian Punch, sodas, and candy, is the straightest, most direct path I know of to lose weight, obtain all the health benefits listed by our commenters, as well as achieve the lipoprotein corrections we seek, like reduction of small LDL particles and rise in HDL, in the Track Your Plaque program.

Comments (21) -

  • Anonymous

    10/29/2007 12:27:00 PM |

    Is the problem wheat in and of itself?  or is it with the food processing that goes into almost everything nowadays.  I wonder if people would be having the same problems if they ate a steady diet of Grandma's homemade bread instead of stuff off the supermarket shelf.

  • Dr. Davis

    10/29/2007 12:41:00 PM |

    Good point. In general, unprocessed is far better than processed. However, with wheat flour foods, I'm finding no difference. Both create weight gain, fatigue, increased blood sugar, small LDL etc.

  • Anonymous

    10/29/2007 1:26:00 PM |

    I am wondering which is better to use butter vs. a non-hydrogenated "smart balance" type of margarine. Can you address this? I am on a statin and trying to reduce my weight and raise my HDL while normalizing my other numbers.I would like to get off this statin (lovastatin - generic I think)Thanks! Greg

    PS- I use olive oil too and for awhile I was taking my local orgainic butter and mixing it half and half with organic olive oil for my own "blend" what do you think? That can also be done with organic canola oil for those who think olive oil is too strong of a tast.
    Thanks again!

  • Anonymous

    10/29/2007 3:42:00 PM |

    I wonder also if problems relate somewhat to modern forms of wheat, which has been adapted over the years for high yields, pest tolerance, etc. We have a daughter with celiac disease, and I read an article that maintained that the peptide chain implicated is not present in ancient forms of the grain, so they would be ok for celiacs. As far as processing goes, the article also suggested that the more time-consuming methods of making bread, like for sourdough, yield healthier bread. In short, it's what the modern world has done to wheat, not just wheat itself.

  • Anonymous

    10/29/2007 3:55:00 PM |

    Here's the article I mentioned in my last comment:

  • Paul Anderson

    10/29/2007 5:55:00 PM |

    I can certainly concur with the comments made here.

    After a brief flirtation with wheat reduction i eliminated all grains from my diet and, almost effortlessly lost about 28lbs.  I also experienced an almost total elimination of bloating, tiredness and my bowell habits improved.

    I do wonder if going one step further and eliminating any food that casues cravings might also be a good idea.  For me that seems to be the case with cheese and milk products, chocolate and cashew nuts (possibly containing lactose in the flavouring).  Its seems to be one of life's ironies that we crave foods for which we seem to have an intolerance.

    Thanks for a generally excellent blog.

  • Dr. Davis

    10/29/2007 6:42:00 PM |

    Interesting thought!

  • Dr. Davis

    10/29/2007 8:03:00 PM |

    I believe those are very reasonable alternatives to butter. However, the real effect on LDL may depend on the size distribution of your LDL particles. Small, for instance, responds to carbohydrate restriction, not so much to saturated fat restriction.

  • Anonymous

    10/29/2007 8:20:00 PM |

    Thanks for the butter response. I do have borderline small LDL. I had the test done last year at my suggestion after reading the South Beach Diet Heart Program. My physician knew nothing about it and of course said insurance would not pay.I had the test anyway.
    The whole saturated fat/cholesterol in food theories are confusing; science seems to be changing on these long standing beliefs but it sure keeps me confused.
    By the way - do you think the sprouted grain breads are better if one is to eat wheat? Does sprouted wheat behave diffently in the body and have a different effect on particle size of the LDL?
    Thanks- Greg

  • Dr. Davis

    10/29/2007 9:09:00 PM |

    Yes, the Ezekiel bread has a glycemic index of 35, fairly low, and seems to be a better choice than conventional breads.

  • Anonymous

    10/30/2007 1:28:00 AM |

    I've ran accross another interesting effect of wheat. Dr. Loren Cordain, of Colorado State University has found that wheat contains a protein that diminishes vitamin D synthesis in the skin. Here's a link with the info.......

  • Dr. Davis

    10/30/2007 1:37:00 AM |

    VERY interesting!

    Loren Cordain has truly been in the forefront of this argument.

  • Bix

    10/31/2007 12:26:00 PM |

    anonymous, Doesn't heat denature lectins ... such as wheat germ agglutinin?  I'm wondering if there are other processes that inactivate these substances, such as fermentation?

  • Anonymous

    11/1/2007 1:08:00 AM |

    Is a diet plan available today that suggests options for a whole wheat/grain free diet?

    As I read Barbara W's comment, I wondered - what does she eat for breakfast? I have stopped eating cereal, and been eating oats instead. It's been working out for me. I have been able to lose 27 lbs and have another 20 lbs to go. But I do get hunger pangs every now and  then, and go offtrack. As Barbara says, eating out has been the biggest challenge.

    I want to give the complete wheat/grain free diet a shot. Can you provide some recommendations on where I can refer for food options for breakfast, lunch and dinner? thanks.

  • Dr. Davis

    11/1/2007 2:40:00 AM |

    Protein and fat rich foods like raw nuts, traditional fermented cheeses, and more liberal use of healthy oils like olive can provide feelings of prolonged satiety. Also, the Paleo Diet and South Beach diets both provide plenty of advice in this nutritional vein.

    Also, watch for our new Track Your Plaque diet due to be out sometime this fall on the website.

  • TedHutchinson

    11/1/2007 10:37:00 PM |

    Readers here may be interested to listen to the presentation Loren Cordain gives entitled "Potential Therapeutic Characteristics of Pre-agricultural Diets in the Prevention and Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis"
    While the talk is aimed at the MS audience it is interesting to understand the way diet may create autoimmune conditions.
    Some, like the members of the audience may find the science a little difficult, if you click on the slides you can just watch the slides and listen to the talk without the distraction of audience activity.

  • Anonymous

    11/3/2007 1:48:00 PM |

    Dr Atkins
    offers tons of great low carb recipes as does Dr Bernstein's Diabetic Sol'n board.

    Looking forward to your new TYP diet, assuming sat fat won't be as much the enemy???SmileSmileSmile

  • Dr. Davis

    11/3/2007 7:10:00 PM |

    I'm really struggling with the saturated fat issue. I'm having trouble reconciling the "sat'd fat ain't so bad" argument, as skillfully articulated by Gary Taubes and Robert Atkins, with what I see in real life--ill-effects such as substantial hypertensive effects and pro-inflammatory effects.

    Among the difficulties with saturated fat-rich diets, of course, is that they do not occur in isolation. Sat'd fat foods like sausage come along with wheat toast, syrup on pancakes, etc., a smorgasbord of food ingredients.

    Nonethless, I'm going back to some of the old literature again and re-read.

  • gc

    11/3/2007 11:57:00 PM |

    However, sat fats for those reformed low carbers comes along with sausage, eggs, tomatoe and cuc slices......not pancakes.

    .......cup of java with bit of real cream, not skim milk that zooms your bg and cravings.

    My long term doc of 21 yrs asked me to run a group for her overweight diabetic patients and asked me why now could I do this when for the last 20 yr she put me on all these diets and sent me to not these weight loss programs and I couldnt do it then.....

    why now...

    ( low low cal, low low fat, celery, apples, skim milk, grains grains grains, I was starved)

    she asked.

    I said:cause I had fats in my life and didn't get hungry. I cannot lose weight when I am hungry, when I don't have fats I am starved, most diabetics are starved as their bg are bouncing up and down all the time, low bg makes you want to eat a house and hi bg makes you want to  at a house.

    .....having some fats makes you feel satiated and then you don't obsesses about food when you are not hungry.

    Yet initially on Atkins I was eating 2000 cal a day and lost a ton of weight in a few months.

    ...not being hungry means you dont eat pancakes, and all that sugar as you know it will make you crave whereas at brekkie if you still feel hungry you can add an extra sausage, or extra egg and know you don't need to eat again for 5 hr or so as it holds you for the day, your bg don't move or move only a small amt.

    Eventually you chol all comes down eating some sat fats and lots of good fats, so does it contribute that much to inflammation as does the hi carbs???

    Dr A didn't promote sausage and bacon, in fact, he said not allot as it had nitrates,stay away from chemicals and eat whole foods.

    Wish I was more scientific, I can only go by all the tons of material I read and how I feel and what my lab tests reflect.

    I have had some of the tests you recommend but not all the advanced lipo protein.

  • Anonymous

    11/8/2007 7:26:00 PM |

    Dr. Davis, I am a wheataholic.  But if I think back over the course of my life, there have been times in which my wheataholism has been in "remission." The remisions all occured on trips to the coast of Spain/Gibraltar, Haiti, Tucson (AZ), and Gulfport (MS). At the time, I certainly didn't realize what was happening, but after reflection, I can see something out of the ordinary occurred. In each location, I was with a group, so I had to eat what they ate (wheat products) while we all worked or hiked outside. During those times, I cannot remember one time after eating a wheat product did I have cravings, much less uncontrollable cravings. I thought the sun had something to do with it and that it must be the stimulation of Vit. D production in my skin. But then I had to rule that out because upon my return from these areas (and back to office work in Washington DC) I had to curtail my starches because of the resurgance of cravings. Now I have come to believe that the strengh of the sun's light boosted my seratonin levels creating the ability to view food, including wheat and other starches, in a reasonable manner. I know this topic has now past, but if you have any comments on this, it truly would be welcomed.


    12/31/2008 1:07:00 PM |

    Even though the case against wheat and specifically gluten is so cut and dry, why is it that people have to jump so many hoops to be diagnosed as celiac and there is no real recognition that having gluten antibodies in your bloodstream might be bad - but instead have to rely on TTG tests that only pick up about 80% of celiacs and not gluten sensitvity at all?  
    (I'm really struggling with this lassaiz faire attitude to something that is so toxic to so many people and BTW  thanks for blogging this. Wheat/gluten kills. And it's so insidious, it's in everything, and that can make it difficult for people to avoid it enough to get improved health effects.)