Be gluten-free without "gluten-free"

While I've discussed this before, it is such a confusing issue that I'd like to discuss it again.

I advocate wheat elimination because consumption of products made from modern dwarf Triticum aestivum:

--Triggers formation of extravagant quantities of small LDL and LDL particle number (or apoprotein B)
--Triggers inflammatory phenomena like c-reactive protein, increases leptin resistance, and reduction of the protective adipocytokine, adiponectin.
--Encourages accumulation of deep visceral fat ("wheat belly") that is inflammatory and causes resistance to insulin
--Increases blood sugar more than nearly all other foods--higher than a Milky Way bar, higher than a Snickers bar, higher than table sugar.
--Is being linked to a growing number of immune-mediated diseases, including celiac disease (quadrupled over past 50 years), type 1 diabetes in children, and cerebellar ataxia and peripheral neuropathies.

This last group of wheat-related phenomena are primarily due to gluten, the collection of 50+ proteins found in each wheat plant. For this reason, people diagnosed with celiac disease are advised to eliminate gluten from wheat and other sources (barley, rye, triticale, bulgur) and to eat gluten-free foods.

Gluten-free has therefore come to be viewed as wheat-free and problem-free. It ain't so.

Among the few foods that increase blood glucose higher than wheat: cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch--Yup: the ingredients commonly used to replace wheat in gluten-free foods. They are also flagrant triggers of the small LDL pattern, along with increased triglycerides, reduced HDL, increased visceral fat, increased blood pressure. In short, gluten-free foods lack the immune and brain effects of wheat gluten, but still make you fat, hypertensive, and diabetic.

I tell patients to view gluten-free foods like jelly beans: Gluten-free pancakes, muffins, breads, etc. are indulgences, not healthy replacements for wheat. It's okay to have a few jelly beans now and then. But they should not be part of a frequent or daily routine. Same with gluten-free foods.

Comments (23) -

  • Kris @ Health Blog

    3/8/2011 10:12:04 PM |

    I think it's kind of funny sometimes reading low-carb forums and recipe sites.

    It's incredible how much time they spend on inventing all sorts of "gluten-free" or "low-carb" cakes, muffins, pancakes and all sorts of stuff that definitely doesn't look healthy even though it might technically be "gluten-free or low-carb".

    These things surely aren't the real, wholesome foods that we need to be healthy. Like you say, good as rare indulgences though.

  • Tuck

    3/8/2011 10:22:59 PM |

    This is spot-on.

  • Vick

    3/8/2011 11:08:01 PM |

    What are your latest thoughts on Einkorn flour?

  • Anne

    3/8/2011 11:23:24 PM |

    I think the paleo/primal people have it right - remove all grains and processed foods.

    Don't substitute a SAD for a GF SAD.

    I started to heal when I removed gluten, but doing even better grain free and sugar free.

  • Batang Regla

    3/9/2011 12:26:42 AM |

    When i read the ingredients of a shampoo and hair styling products i saw wheat protein. Is this safe applying to my hair?

  • Patty

    3/9/2011 12:38:40 AM |

    I started a Paleo/Primal version of tastespotting and while most people have submitted Paleo friendly recipes, I was really surprised at how many recipes we have had to reject because they were Paleo or Primal remakes of some kind of dessert or bread.

  • Dr. William Davis

    3/9/2011 1:49:36 AM |

    Hi, Kris--

    I agree. A return to real, whole food is the right path.

    Interestingly, I was recently strongly encouraged by an editor of a forthcoming book I'm working on to develop wheat-free, low-carb recipes. I also walked down this path, having to develop recipes that mimicked wheat-containing dishes.

    After a 3-month exercise in cooking, cooking again, with several disasters along the way, I continue to believe that these wheat-free, low-carb dishes like "breads" and "muffins" are, at best, meant to be occasional indulgences.

    Hi, Tuck-


    Hi, Vick--

    I continue to believe that einkorn is an interesting replacement for wheat for some, but not all, people.

    It raises the question: Are humans meant to consume wheat at all, regardless of form? I believe that most people can get away with occasional consumption of einkorn, but that the majority of people cannot safely consume modern dwarf Triticum aestivum.

    I classify einkorn not too far from gluten-free foods: it lacks many of the immunogenic properties of modern wheat, but it still a carbohydrate.

    Ideally, I continue to believe that the ideal diet is something close to what Anne is articulating.

  • Ari

    3/9/2011 1:50:34 AM |

    How often is "now and then"?

    Personally, I eat a one or two small bread rolls on the Sabbath and that's the extent of my wheat consumption.  Does that count as "now and then"?

  • Richard A.

    3/9/2011 2:30:10 AM |

    There are recipes for flax bread made from flax seed meal. Here is one example --

  • Amber

    3/9/2011 1:53:49 PM |

    I started using Coconut or Almond flour for the occasional dessert type dish with excellent results.

    Problems though with making a sauce since there isn't a real substitute that thickens correctly. I rely more on home made-legal marinades for flavor.  

    Now that I have been grain free since May, I find any exposure will cause intense illness that lasts for hours.

  • Dr. William Davis

    3/9/2011 3:52:05 PM |

    Hi, Ari--

    Provided you have no abnormal celiac markers to wheat, occasional consumption likely has no adverse consequences beyond the "re-exposure syndromes" of gastrointestinal distress, asthma, joint paints/arthralgias, and transient behavioral effects.

    There is no threshold to stay below except to individualize your exposure tolerance by such things as blood glucose control, expression of small LDL, triglycerides, etc. Most people can get away with one a month or so exposure.

  • Misty

    3/9/2011 9:11:18 PM |

    Long time "listener" first time "caller". Dr. Davis, thank you so very much for all the info you provide here. I am a 42 yr old 4th generation Type 2 diabetic. Six months ago I largely gave up wheat (still have pizza on occasion) and it is the ONLY thing that has EVER dropped my A1c since diagnosis 7 years ago - despite adding medications, etc. It dropped from 6.9 to 6.6. I am currently under an endo's care and am shooting for 6.0 with some tweaking and fine-tuning. As a younger diabetic, I plan to live a long life with this disease so good control is vital to me.

    I also wanted to thank you for the info on Vit D. I requested that test and found out I'm deficient - at 20 and 28 is the cutoff to normal. I know now that I had some pretty major symptoms of a deficiency - odd muscle pains, unexplained bone pain around January every year, etc. Not a huge surprise I'm deficient since I live in South Dakota and now coat myself in sunscreen thanks to basal cell carcinoma. My GP wanted me on the VitD2 horse pills to correct the deficiency but I refused. I raised it 8 points in 4 weeks by taking 1000iu/day of Vit D3 gelcaps (I metabolize meds extremely quickly so started small). Nobody could believe it. I did Smile I am taking 2000iu/day now and shooting for a much higher, normal number.

    Heart disease is the cancer in both sides of my family so your blog is a Godsend to me. Thank you so very much for the information you provide on this blog.

  • Jeanne

    3/9/2011 9:13:55 PM |

    How do you feel about arrowroot as a thickener to replace cornstarch, etc.?

  • Prachi

    3/10/2011 9:36:39 PM |

    Hi doc

    I have vit d level of 16 but blood calcium of 10. How much milk can i drink daily and what should be my starting dose for vit d

  • Anonymous

    3/10/2011 11:23:56 PM |

    Prachi: Try
    D3(IU) = Weight(lbs) * 40
    For example, a 150 lb person would take 6000IU D3 per day. Works well for many people.

  • ShottleBop

    3/11/2011 3:10:30 PM |

    I have heard from others (on Dr. Bernstein's diabetes discussion forum) that Konjac flour works well as a thickener, without affecting blood glucose levels.

  • Dr. William Davis

    3/11/2011 10:07:44 PM |


    Way too much carbohydrate in arrowroot.

    Shottle makes a good suggestion: konjac root, similar to that used to make shirataki noodles.

  • Anonymous

    3/12/2011 3:13:33 PM |

    I've got a's not really germane to the blog post but here goes:  I've given up grains, only using natural organic products when possible, take CLO, and a myriad of vitamins including magnesium and all the rest.  I just started taking MK-7 about a week ago and noticed within 24 hours my blood pressure dropped substantially, my energy surged, and my mood has increased a ton.  Can I attribute this to the MK-7 or am I just experiencing a quasi-manic / placebo effect state?

  • Vick

    3/13/2011 2:58:59 AM |

    Dr. Davis:

    I see einkorn as a great choice when you feel you have a need for that slice of bread or waffle.  When you slip and feel you need a grain... choose einkorn.

    I make a small loaf of bread that is sliced and then frozen.  It lasts my wife and I a minimum of 2 weeks.  

    We treat as a good choice when we are going to fall off the wagon.

  • reikime

    3/15/2011 5:04:06 AM |

    Hi Dr.D,
    In your reply to Ari, you mention "re-exposure" syndromes. IMHO, these represent gluten or wheat intolerance and certainly excludes gluten in those testing positive for celiac.
    However, even in the non-celiac gluten sensitive population, new studies show damage occuring to joints, increased risks of lymphoma,neurological changes, just as if the person was diagnosed celiac.

    Cutting edge wisdom believes if you have any symptoms or re-exposure symptoms you should eliminate it before you either : 1. become celiac 2. develop an autoimmune disease, or 3. neurological damage.

    BTW, I agree wholeheartedly with avoiding the gluten free food traps. SO many fall headfirst into them.

    More people from the Celiac sites should read this post.

  • WereBear

    4/30/2011 1:12:05 PM |

    I've found this to be a highly pertinent article for me, gluten-free for four and a half months now. We recently got a new supermarket in town with a big gluten-free section, and bless their hearts, I had several friends tell me about it.

    But going there and reading the labels reveals they are very high in sugar and starch; so as a happy low carber, they do me no good at all!

    I've gotten a new mixer and am exploring the many ways of Rev Rolls, instead.

  • Shoiley

    5/6/2011 4:07:34 PM |

    Tried to go wheat-free several times, but the withdrawls including insomnia, constipation, head buzz and brain fog, were hell and I gave up. Each time I ate gluten-free breads. Has anyone else experienced this?

  • Gluten Intolerance

    5/10/2011 11:58:41 PM |

    I saw lots of people who are getting better after how many days because of gluten free diet and even sugar free. Most people are following the most recommended diet and its gluten free and dairy free.