In certain circles, wheat is considered one of the worst things you can eat.
Right up there with sugar.
When I tell this to people, they are often surprised.
Wheat is everywhere, and they’ve been eating it pretty much every day since they were old enough to chew.
They’ll say: “But I eat wheat and I’m fine”.
True. Some people eat wheat and do fine, at least on the surface.
But if you look around you, if you look at the general population, then you will see that things are anything but fine.
There is a major epidemic of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle diseases.
Something must be wrong. Sugar is probably a large part of it, but I think wheat plays a major role as well.
Let me explain why.
Why is Wheat Bad For You? Gluten is Part of the Reason
Wheat is the biggest source of gluten in the modern diet.
It is common knowledge that gluten can lead to a disease called Celiac Disease. This has been known for a while, but it is now believed that a large part of the population may be “sensitive” to Gluten.
This is characterized by the immune system “attacking” the peptides that gluten forms when it is broken down in the digestive tract (1).
What this means is that wheat is probably unhealthy for most people, not just those who have diagnosed celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
A High Glycemic Index, Causing Blood Sugar Spikes
What this means is that the starch in wheat gets broken down and absorbed very rapidly, leading to blood sugar spikes.
When blood sugar elevates quickly, insulin levels go up. Elevated insulin will bring the blood sugar back down, and a drop in blood sugar tends to cause hunger. This is the blood sugar “roller coaster” that I’m sure you’ve heard of or experienced.
Appetite Stimulating, Potentially Addictive
If you have ever gotten unnatural cravings for wheat containing products (such as pizza, pastries, bread, etc.) then it may have a biological mechanism.
The peptides formed when gluten is broken down by digestive enzymes are able to stimulate opioid receptors, which are the same receptors stimulated by endorphins and drugs like morphine (5).
Another indicator of gluten peptides being able to cross the blood-brain barrier is the fact that gluten consumption may increase risk of mental disorders like schizophrenia, and that celiac disease is associated with a 3-fold increase in risk of this disease (6, 7)
The administration of an opiate-blocking drug also changes the physiological responses to gluten, a strong indicator of it having an opiate-like activity (8).
Is wheat really addictive? Only time will tell.
Given how common unnatural cravings are to wheat (and sugar) containing products, the idea seems plausible to me.
If you think this is crazy, try not eating wheat for a week or two. Chances are that powerful cravings will show up, cravings that have nothing to do with hunger.
Whole Wheat and Blood Lipids
I’m going to tell you about a study that I find very interesting.
In it, researchers randomized 36 men into two groups. The groups were instructed to eat either oat cereal or wheat cereal, providing a total of 14g/day of fibre, for 12 weeks (9).
At the end of the study, the researchers extracted blood from both groups to measure their blood lipids.
The result: oat cereal decreased LDL cholesterol slightly, as well as small LDL (bad) and LDL particle number. Basically, whole oats for 12 weeks improved blood lipids significantly.
However, what I find to be a lot more interesting, and the authors don’t really highlight, is that whole wheat significantly worsened blood lipids compared to what they were at the beginning.
In fact, the whole wheat group increased LDL cholesterol by 8,0% and small LDL by 60,4% (The Really Bad Type). There was also a trend (but not significant) towards an increase in Triglycerides and Total Cholesterol in the Wheat Group.
There are subtypes of LDL cholesterol, small LDL being the one that is actually related to heart disease. What this means, is that wheat significantly harms blood lipids and increases atherogenic small LDL, the one that is highly associated with heart disease.
Be aware, that we’re talking about not-so-“healthy whole wheat”. Not the refined type.
Whole Wheat is the Lesser of Two Evils
You’ve probably heard million times that whole grains are better for you than refined grains.
Well, it is true, and whole wheat is definitely better for you as it contains more fibre and nutrients.
However, whole wheat is the lesser of two evils. It’s like comparing a filtered cigarette to an unfiltered cigarette. The filtered one is less harmful, but that doesn’t mean that it is good for you.
I personally believe wheat to be an extremely harmful food. Many people aren’t happy about this as wheat is the third most consumed grain in the world.
To make things difficult, the gluten in wheat has certain glue-like properties that make it very popular as a food additive, and as a result gluten is found almost everywhere.
If you want to avoid wheat, then you better start reading ingredients labels.
If a damaged intestinal lining, bloating, tiredness, potential addictiveness, a blood sugar rollercoaster and a 60% increase in small LDL isn’t a good enough reason to give it up, then I don’t know what is.