Do you eat wheat? I thought so.

I'm itching to say that face-to-face to anyone from the wheat industry--agribusiness, baking, retail distribution . . . anybody. Because it's obvious; it's written on the face . . . and belly, and brain, and knees, and hips. And I believe I will soon have the opportunity.

Taking such a controversial stand in my new book, Wheat Belly, i.e., that wheat products, whole or refined, have NO ROLE IN THE HUMAN DIET whatsoever, was bound to provoke criticism and counterattacks. The wheat world has already taken a blow to the chin with the growing popularity of the (misguided) gluten-free movement and they're going to have to get into the business of media damage control.

Take a look at this press release from the Grain Foods Foundation:

RIDGWAY, COLO. — The Grain Foods Foundation has unveiled plans to counter media publicity attracted by “Wheat Belly.”

“Mullen, working with key members of the Grain Foods Foundation’s scientific advisory board, is addressing ‘Wheat Belly’ through proactive media outreach and its ongoing rapid response program,” said Ashley Reynolds, a Mullen account executive. “In particular, the public relations team will be contacting health and nutrition reporters at print and on-line media outlets, as well as editors at major women’s magazines to influence any diet-related stories that may be published in the coming months.”

. . . Ms. Reynolds, a registered dietitian, noted the author relies on anecdotal observations rather than scientific studies; wheat elimination “means missing out on a wealth of essential nutrients;” six servings of grain-based foods are recommended daily in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans; healthy weight loss depends on energy balance rather than elimination of specific foods; and elimination of wheat products makes sense only for those with medical diagnoses such as celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

She said the group will lean on its scientific advisory board members to “discredit the book and ensure our messages are backed by sound science. “

Here's some of their starting salvos on their Six Servings Blog.

This reminds me of the fight with Big Tobacco in the '70s: "No, sir, we in the tobacco industry know of no research demonstrating that smoking is bad for health," complete with shots of tobacco executives puffing away on cigarettes.

So brace yourself for a fight. These people are protecting a multi-billion dollar franchise, not to mention their livelihoods and incomes. It could get ugly.

Wheat Belly explodes on the scene!

Wheat Belly is finally available in Barnes and Noble and all major bookstores nationwide! Also available at Amazon. Electronic versions for Nook and Kindle, as well as an audio CD, will also be available.

The notion of Wheat Belly got its start right here on The Heart Scan Blog and the diet developed for the Track Your Plaque program to conquer heart disease and plaque.

Chapters in the book include:

Not Your Grandma's Muffins: The Creation of Modern Wheat
Whence and where did this familiar grain, 4 1/2-foot tall "amber waves of grain," become transformed into a 2-foot tall, high-yield genetically unique plant unfamiliar to humans? And why is this such a bad thing?

Cataracts, Wrinkles, and Dowager's Humps: Wheat and the Aging Process
If you thought that bagels and crackers are just about carbs, think again. Wheat consumption makes you age faster: cataracts, crow's feet, arthritis . . . you name it, wheat's been there, done that and brings you one step closer to the big nursing home in the sky with every bite.

My Particles are Bigger than Your Particles
Why consuming plenty of "healthy whole grains" is the path to heart disease and heart attack and why saying goodbye to them is among the most powerful strategies around for reduction or elimination of risk.

Hello, Intestine: It's Me, Wheat
No discussion of wheat is complete without talking about how celiac disease and other common intestinal ailments, like acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome, fit into the broader concept of wheat elimination.

Here's a YouTube video introduction to the book and concept posted on the YouTube Wheat Belly Channel. Also, join the discussions on The Wheat Belly Blog and Facebook. Have that last bite of blueberry muffin, because I predict you won't be turning back!

Good fat, bad fat

No, this is not a discussion of monounsaturated versus hydroxgenated fat. This is about the relatively benign fat that accumulates on your hips, rear end, or arms--the "good"--versus the deep visceral fat that encircles your intestines, kidneys, liver, pancreas, and heart--the "bad."

And I'm not talking about what looks good or bad. We've all seen the unsightly flabby upper arms of an overweight woman or the cellulite on her bulging thighs. It might look awful but, metabolically speaking, it is benign.

It's that muffin top, love handle, or wheat belly that encircles the waist, a marker for underlying deep visceral fat, that:

--Increases release of inflammatory mediators/markers like tumor necrosis factor, leptin, interleukins, and c-reactive protein
--Is itself inflamed. When examined under a microscope, visceral fat is riddled with inflammatory white blood cells.
--Stops producing the protective hormone, adiponectin.
--Traffics in fatty acids that enter the bloodstream, resulting in greater resistance to insulin, fat deposition in the liver (fatty liver), and increases blood levels of triglycerides
--Predicts greater cardiovascular risk. A flood of recent studies (here's one) has demonstrated that larger quantities of pericardial fat (i.e., visceral fat encircling the heart, visible on a CT scan or echocardiogram) are associated with increased likelihood of coronary disease and cardiovascular risk.

You can even have excessive quantities of bad visceral fat without much in the way of fat elsewhere. You know the body shape: skinny face, skinny arms, skinny legs . . . protuberant, flaccid belly, the so-called "skinny obese" person.

Nobody knows why fat in visceral stores is so much more evil and disease-related than, say, wheat on your backside. While you may struggle to pull your spreading backside into your jeans, it's waist girth that is the problem. You need to lose it.

You could take vitamin D or . . .

You could take vitamin D and achieve a desirable blood level of 25-hydroxy vitamin D (I aim for 60-70 ng/ml), or you could:

--Take Actos to mimic the enhanced insulin sensitivity generated by vitamin D
--Take lisinopril to mimic the angiotensin-converting enzyme blocking, antihypertensive effect of vitamin D
--Take Fosamax or Boniva to mimic the bone density-increasing effect of vitamin D
--Take Celexa or other SSRI antidepressants to mimic the mood-elevating and winter "blues"-relieving effect of vitamin D
---Take Niaspan to mimic the HDL-increasing, small LDL-reducing effect of vitamin D
--Take naproxen to mimic the pain-relieving effect of vitamin D

So, given a choice, what do most doctors choose? Of course, they choose from the menu as presented by the sexy sales representative sitting in the office waiting room. These medications, of course, are among the top sellers in the drug world, taken by millions of Americans and not just one at a time, but several per person.

The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine, the panel of volunteers charged with drafting a Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin D, says that you are already getting enough vitamin D, so don't bother taking any supplements and continue to wear your sunscreen. Wonder whose side they're on?

I continue to be impressed that many of the conditions that plague modern people are little more than deficiencies peculiar to modern life, such as vitamin D deficiency, or the result of the excesses of modern life, such as consumption of sucrose, fructose, corn, and "healthy whole grains."

I take 8000 units of gelcap vitamin D and haven't felt better.

More lipoproteins zero!

A few posts back, I talked about how more people are showing us zero lipoprotein(a) and zero small LDL. That was about 4 weeks ago. By then, I had seen 3 people with zero values on both.

Well, it's now up to 9 people: 9 people who have achieved zero lipoprotein(a) and zero small LDL. These are people who started with typical lipoprotein(a) values of 150-300 nmol/L and small LDL values of 1000-2000 nmol/L, both substantial.

I still don't know how many people or what percentage can expect to show such extravagant results. But the sharp increase over a relatively brief period of time is extremely encouraging!

Diet: One size does NOT fit all

Heart Scan Blog reader, Frustrated, posted this comment:

Dr. Davis,
I have spent the last 5 months eating a diet that completely eliminated all wheat products. It was very low carb, and consisted of relatively high protein (eggs, grass fed beef, grass fed raw cheese, oily fish, chicken), good level of olive oil, walnuts, fish oil (3 mg per day), raw vegetables, little bit of fruit. So I had good amount of monounsaturated fat as well as saturated fat from eggs and grass fed products.

My recent NMR showed:
LDL-p. 2,800
Small LDL particle 1700
Small HDL particle 20
HDL-C 40
LDL-C 114
Trigs. 224
Total chol 208

So I was disappointed. Where have I gone wrong? No wheat and sky-high LDL-p and 1700 small LDL particles.

This is indeed unusual. I see this perhaps 5 or 6 times over a year's time, while thousands of other people show the usual expected respone. I don't have Frustrated's lipoprotein panel prior to starting the diet, but I'll bet the starting panel was similar to this "after" panel.

The overwhelming majority of people who follow a diet like the one described--no wheat, limited carbohydrate, grass fed beef, fish, chicken, vegetables, limited fruit--obtain extravagant reductions in small LDL, increased HDL, and reduced triglycerides. So why did Frustrated end up with such disappointing results, values that potentially provide for high risk for heart disease?

There are several possibilities:

1) He/she is in the midst of substantial weight loss. When labs are drawn in the midst of weight loss, stored energy is being mobilized into the blood stream. This energy is mobilized as fatty acids and triglycerides which, upon entering the blood stream, cause increased triglycerides, reduced HDL, chaotic or unpredictable small LDL patterns, and increased blood sugar sufficient to be in the diabetic or pre-diabetic range. This all subsides and settles down to better values around 2 months after weight loss has plateaued.

2) Apo E4--If Frustrated has one or two apo E4 genes, then increased dietary fat will serve to exaggerate measures like small LDL despite the reduction in carbohydrates, LDL particle number, and triglycerides. This is a tough situation, since small LDL particles and high triglycerides signal carbohydrate sensitivity, while apo E4 makes this person, in effect, unable to deal with fats and dietary cholesterol. It gives me the creeps to talk about reducing fat intake, but this becomes necessary along with carbohydrate restriction, else statin drugs will come to the "rescue."

3) Apo E2 + Apo E4--It's possible that an apo E2 is present along with apo E4. Apo E2 makes this person extremely carbohydrate-sensitive and diabetes-prone with awful postprandial (after-meal) persistence of dietary byproducts, alongside the hyperabsorption of fats and dietary cholesterol from apo E4. This is a genuine nutritional rock and a hard place.

4) Other variants--There are probably a dozen or more other genetic variants, thankfully rare, such as apo B and apo C2 variants, that are not generally available for us to measure that could influence Frustrated's response.

5) The low-carb diet is not truly low-carb--Frustrated sounds like a pretty sharp cookie. But it's not uncommon for someone to overlook a substantial source of carbohydrate exposure that triggers these patterns. Fruit is a very common tripping point, since people generally regard unlimited fruit as a healthy thing. This does not seem to be Frustrated's problem. Others indulge in quinoa, sweet potatoes, millet or other carbohydrate sources that look and sound healthy but, in sufficient quantities, can still trigger this pattern.

6) Other--Hypothyroidism, kidney disease, nephrotic syndrome, hypercortisolism and some other relatively rare conditions are worth considering if none of the above apply.

Anyway, that's the list I use when this peculiar situation arises. If obvious weight loss is not the culprit, the next step is apo E testing. However, the wrong response is to reject the low-carbohydrate notion altogether and just limit fat, since this typically leads to uncontrolled small LDL, high triglycerides, and diabetes. It can often mean limiting carbohydrates while also limiting fats. Just as with the combination of apo E4 with Lipoprotein(a), I lump many of these patterns into the emerging world of genetic incompatibilities, genetic traits that code for incompatible metabolic phenomena.

Why ATP-3 is B--- S---

A Heart Scan Blog reader posted the link to this very excellent presentation by Dr. David Diamond, a neuroscientist at the University of South Florida.

ATP-3, or Adult Treatment Panel-3, is the set of cholesterol treatment guidelines as established by the National Cholesterol Education Panel, the guidelines used by practicing physicians nationwide. They are also the metric by which the "quality" of care is being judged by agencies like Medicare, health insurers, and other parties interested in policing healthcare. Dr. Diamond ably recounts how we ended up in this mess, the conflagration of "cut your fat, reduce cholesterol, and take a statin drug."

I was very impressed that, in his closing comments, he briefly discusses the pivotal role of glycation in heart disease causation. You will see in coming conversations how important an understanding of glycation is to create a healthy diet and lifestyle.

How far wrong can cholesterol be?

Conventional thinking is that high LDL cholesterol causes heart disease. In this line of thinking, reducing cholesterol by cutting fat and taking statin drugs thereby reduces or eliminates risk for heart disease.

Here's an (extreme) example of just how far wrong this simpleminded way of thinking can take you. At age 63, Michael had been told for the last 20 years that he was in great health, including "perfect" cholesterol values of LDL 73 mg/dl, HDL 61 mg/dl, triglycerides 102 mg/dl, total cholesterol 144 mg/dl. "Your [total] cholesterol is way below 200. You're in great shape!" his doctor told him.

Being skeptical because of the heart disease in his family, had a CT heart scan. His coronary calcium score: 4390. Needless to say, this is high . . . extremely high.

Extremely high coronary calcium scores like this carry high likelihood of death and heart attack, as high as 15-20% per year. So Michael was on borrowed time. It was damn lucky he hadn't yet experienced any cardiovascular events.

That's when Michael found our Track Your Plaque program that showed him how to 1) identify the causes of the extensive coronary atherosclerosis signified by his high calcium score, then 2) correct the causes.

The solutions, Michael learned, are relatively simple:

--Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation at a dose sufficient to yield substantial reductions in heart attack.
--"Normalization" of vitamin D blood levels (We aim for a 25-hydroxy vitamin D level of 60-70 ng/ml)
--Iodine supplementation and thyroid normalization
--A diet in which all wheat products are eliminated--whole wheat, white, it makes no difference--followed by carbohydrate restriction.
--Identification and correction of all hidden causes of coronary plaque such as small LDL particles and lipoprotein(a)

Yes, indeed: The information and online tools for health can handily exceed the limited "wisdom" dispensed by John Q. Primary Care doctor.

The best artificial sweeteners

Our new recipes, such as New York Style Cheesecake and Chocolate Coconut Bread, are wheat-free and low- or no-carbohydrate. They fit perfectly into the New Track Your Plaque Diet for gaining control over coronary atherosclerotic plaque, not to mention diabetes, pre-diabetes, hypertension, small LDL particles, high triglycerides, high inflammation (c-reactive protein) and other distortions of metabolism.

However, there's one compromise: We include use of non-nutritive sweeteners. It's therefore important to know that artificial sweeteners are not all created equal.

One common tripping point: maltodextrin.

Maltodextrin is composed of polymers (repeating subunits) of glucose, as few as 3 or as many as 20 or more glucose subunits. So maltodextrin is glucose sugar. While it lacks the especially destructive pentose sugar, fructose, maltodextrin is metabolized to glucose and thereby increases blood sugar substantially.

Many artificial sweeteners are bulked up with maltodextrin. For instance, granulated Splenda and Stevia in the Raw, two sweeteners billed as low-calorie and sugar-free that is used on a cup-for-cup basis like sugar, are primarily maltodextrin--with only a teensy bit of Splenda or stevia.

The best artificial sweeteners, i.e., the most benign without a load of maltodextrin, are:

Liquid stevia--Just the extract from stevia leaves and water. It can be a bit pricey, e.g., $10 for a 2 oz bottle, but a little goes a long way.

Truvia--While I'm not too fond of the manufacturer (Cargill), I believe that Truvia is among the better sweeteners around. It is a mixture of the natural sugar, erythritol, that generates little to no blood sugar effects and rebiana (rebaudioside), an isolate of stevia. Some people aren't too fond of the mild menthol-like cooling effect of the erythritol nor the slight aftertaste. I find it works pretty well in most recipes.

Be aware that, no matter which artificial sweetener you use, it has the potential to stimulate appetite. I therefore like to not eat foods sweetened with liquid stevia or Truvia in isolation but as part of a meal. That way, any appetite stimulation that results is substantially quelled by the proteins and fats ingested.

Sugar Nation

Former Men's Health editor, Jeff O'Connell, has just released his new book, Sugar Nation.

Back in 2009, Jeff contacted me to obtain some background insights into diabetes and its relationship with diet. He recently sent me a copy of his new book that contains some brief quotes from me.

Jeff is a writer, not a physician nor scientist. But I think that you will find his grasp of diabetes and the nutritional and lifestyle events that led him there far exceed the insights held by most practicing physicians. Like many of us, Jeff discovered how to find his way back from pre-diabetes through lessons he had to learn on his own, but not from his doctor.

Jeff tells this story as reporter, son of an estranged diabetic father with whom he reconnects as he approaches the end of his life, and as fellow sufferer of the pre-diabetic/diabetic mess that modern habits and "official" dietary advice have given us. Jeff's book is worth a read to see yet another dimension of the human stories that are emerging from this incredible nutritional tangle we find ourselves in.

Here's a unique YouTube video about Jeff's story.