Wheat is one of the most widely consumed grains in the world. For many, this cheap, hardy, and easy to store plant is their main food staple. In our society, people tend to either love it or blame it for everything.
Should you eat it?
Let’s start with the mainstream nutrition advice. Respected institutions such as Healthline and the US government tell us we must eat grains. In fact, choosemyplate.gov has a chart insisting that a woman my age requires no less than 3 ounces of whole grains, of which whole wheat is touted as one of the best, each and every day. Unless of course, she shouldn’t eat them.
Confused? You’re not alone. Check out this Healthline article about the benefits of wheat. It appears to be making the case for why people should eat whole wheat, but ends up debunking 3 out of its own 4 reasons to do.
Here are Healthline’s 4 positive points about wheat (paraphrased by me) and then their counterpoints in their own words:
1. Whole wheat is a good source of complex carbohydrates.
“Complex” carbohydrates are longer chains of sugar than “simple” carbohydrates, therefore it is claimed that they digest more slowly and increase blood sugar more slowly.
*Healthline’s own counterpoint: “…both white and whole wheat rank high on the glycemic index (GI), making them unsuitable for people with diabetes.”
2. Whole wheat is a good source of plant protein.
As far as plants go, whole wheat is indeed one of the most protein rich, with about 18% of its calories coming from protein. Most of this is a protein called gluten.
*Healthline’s own counterpoint: “Wheat gluten can have adverse health effects in people with gluten intolerance.”
3. Whole wheat is a good source of fiber.
Fiber is widely considered to be beneficial for weight loss and digestive health as it adds bulk to food without adding any calories. It adds no calories because it isn’t digestible, which means that is also adds bulk to stool and helps you stay “regular”.
*Healthline’s own counterpoint: “…wheat contains small amounts of soluble fibers, or fructans, that may cause digestive symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)”.
And that leads us to the only positive point for whole wheat that doesn’t come with a major caveat.
4. Whole wheat is a good source of several vitamins and minerals.
These include thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, iron, magnesium, and selenium. Especially when compared to refined flour, which contains none of these.
In the end, Healthline only produced one factor in wheat that isn’t more harmful to many people than it is helpful. Despite this, their conclusion is “Ultimately, if you enjoy breads, baked goods, and other wheat products in moderation, this ubiquitous grain is unlikely to harm your health.” That’s right folks, if you like it, then it’s good for you. Trust Healthline, they’re scientists.
For those of us who search for real evidence, or even just believe in the simple concept of cause and effect, we have to face the reality that there is a reason wheat exacerbates so many chronic conditions. There is a reason that it’s one of the least tolerated foods out there. Did some of our bodies just decide to rebel against this otherwise nourishing grain? Of course not.
Wheat contains several factors that are objectively “good” for no one. Why can some people can tolerate wheat while others cannot? It depends on the health of the person. If someone with a healthy digestive system eats wheat, there’s a good chance their body will be able to deal with all the potential damaging factors. That doesn’t mean the wheat is good for them, it means they can get away with eating it without feeling worse in the short term. For most of us, we have some digestive issues or insulin resistance, and our bodies are no longer as equipped to protect us from the effects of wheat. Here are some of reasons why wheat doesn’t work for so many of us.
Potential negative aspects of wheat:
1. Wheat can worsen digestive issues and autoimmune symptoms.
As Healthline did point out, gluten is a protein that’s problematic for many people. Gluten, the main protein in wheat, is made up of large protein chains that are difficult (for everyone) to digest. Some people experience more negative symptoms related to the difficulty of digesting these proteins, causing inflammation in the digestive tract, and can even lead to autoimmune symptoms.
2. Wheat can worsen neurological symptoms.
Gluten proteins are made up of a few different amino acids, including glutamic acid, which is the major excitatory neurotransmitter for your brain. This topic is a very deep rabbit hole, but the short story is that dietary glutamic acid can trigger or worsen neurological symptoms. This could intensify brain fog, autism, anxiety/panic attacks, seizures, Alzheimer’s, mental illness, and other neurological symptoms or conditions. Many foods contain natural glutamic acid, but the natural foods that contain the most are soy and wheat.
3. Wheat can worsen insulin resistance and Diabetes.
As Healthline mentioned, whole wheat is touted as a “complex” carbohydrate because the carbohydrate molecules are longer than they are in “simple” carbohydrates. It is then supposed to be inferred that it takes significantly longer to digest complex carbs and that leads to a slower increase in blood sugar, and a more stable insulin response. The Healthline article did admit the difference wasn’t significant, but they glossed over the extent of it. According to Harvard Medical School, white bread has a glycemic index of 75, while whole wheat is at 74. That is literally no real-world difference to your blood sugar or insulin levels. None at all. The fact remains that wheat of any kind creates a quick blood sugar spike and insulin response, potentially increasing insulin resistance, systemic inflammation, and Diabetic complications. Additionally, glutamic acid can bind to receptors in the intestines that trick the body into producing more insulin, which also worsens Type II Diabetes.
People with a vested interest try to tell us that whole wheat “…may reduce the risk of heart disease.” “…can support healthy digestion.” and “…may help with weight management.” They even go so far as to tell us we “require” a certain amount per day. But they don’t tell us how or why those things are true, because they aren’t. Not only are those claims dubious and unscientific at best, based on sketchy correlation studies, they are easily proven wrong on an individual level.
We can get the nutrients and micro-nutrients that wheat offers from many other sources, and we can feel better while we’re doing it. There’s nothing uniquely beneficial about wheat, but there are plenty of potentially harmful aspects to it. For most of us, the potential intestinal inflammation, autoimmune triggers, and insulin increasing effects far outweigh the few useful nutrients.
The best news I have about wheat is that there are so many delicious replacements that work better with our bodies. Some of my favorites are cassava flour, white rice flour, and cauliflower.😊
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