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I had the “wheat-free” conversation with two friends recently, which prompted me to write this post.  Over the course of the last year and a half whenever I tell someone that I try to follow the Paleo lifestyle for eating, they always ask why I don’t eat grains.  I suppose sugar is a no-brainer for most people, as it was for me, but I didn’t always have a ready answer on the grain part.  I had only vague “grains are anti-nutrients” statements that I could not support with any memorable scientific notes.  Not being one to try to force people to my way of thinking, I’d shrug and let it go.  What’s right for me isn’t necessarily right for someone else.  Hadn’t I learned that already in my own household?

Last autumn when my husband was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic I read through the literature his doctor sent home with him.  It recommended low-fat foods, fruits, vegetables and lots of whole grains.  Ugh.  But I nearly lost it when the literature encouraged diet soft drinks and sugar-free candy.  ENCOURAGED!!!   I read the absurdities out loud and then tossed the literature across the table.

“Will you help me eat right?” my husband asked.

“I don’t agree with that crap,” I said, pointing to the literature endorsed by the American Diabetes Association. “I can’t even explain to you exactly why I don’t agree with it, but I can’t stomach the idea of medical professionals telling people whole grains and Aspartame are good for you.”

“Then we’ll throw those papers away.  Will you help me eat right?” he asked again.

How could I say no?  He was placing more trust in me than in his doctor, and I wasn’t about to let him down.  I jumped back on my Paleo bandwagon with both feet.  Dom immediately cut out grains and sugars.  His blood sugar, which we tested daily, normalized at once and over the course of the next three months he lost 20 pounds.  Even better than those awesome health benefits, we were enjoying cooking dinner together almost every night and sharing lunch at home during the workdays.  I decided to make it my mission to find out why this grain-free life was treating us so kindly.

Two of the books I have read in my quest are Grain Brain and Wheat Belly, both written by physicians and chock-full of science.  Admittedly, I sometimes found myself zoning out from all the scientific references, but two things caught my attention and held it: 1) Both doctors referenced cases of various illness and disorders which other doctors could not specifically diagnose – all alleviated with the elimination of grain from the diet; and 2) the scientific trials referenced in both books included tens of thousands of individuals – large scale research.  Conversely, I overheard our local news recently touting a health study in which 200 individuals participated.  Wow…a whole 200 people?  Please.

Even though I had already given up wheat and other grains, these books reinforced my resolve to avoid them.  Some basic facts that strengthened my understanding are:

  • It’s not my great-great-grandmother’s wheat.  The wheat we eat today has been so genetically modified in order to produce larger crops and greater profitability that it no longer resembles the wheat of our ancestors, and it wreaks havoc on the body in ways that ancient grains simply did not.
  • The inclusion of grains as the basis of our food pyramid (not to mention the sheer proportion of grains compared to other foods in our “recommended daily nutrition”) is not based on any scientific evidence.  It was pretty much decided by a group of politicians in the 70’s (who were likely trying to support corporate agriculture) and simply never challenged.
  • Genetically engineered wheat (roughly 99% of all wheat world-wide) can not survive in a natural environment.  Originally created to produce higher yields in an effort to offset world hunger, these grains were propelled into our food supply without any studies on their health effects.
  • From a blood glucose standpoint, a slice of whole wheat bread whacks out your blood sugar more than a Snickers bar.  (NOT that I am advocating you dine on Snickers!)  To be precise, a Snickers bar has a glycemic index (GI) of 49.  A slice of whole wheat bread has an average GI of 71.  This information alone makes me furious that the ADA literature I referred to earlier actually promoted wheat products and whole grains for people wanting to manage diabetes.  I guess I should just be happy that they didn’t advise we have a Snickers bar with our diet soda.

I looked at the American Diabetes Association’s website explanation of GI on various foods.  They list the GI of a piece of whole wheat bread as “medium GI (56-69)” while stating white bread has a “high GI (70+).” Conversely, according to the Harvard Medical School, whole wheat bread averages a GI of 71, the very same as white bread.  Surprising to most, a “healthy” bowl of instant oatmeal averages a GI of 83.  I looked extensively at various groups’ food GI charts and came to my own conclusion:  given the extensive varieties of food products available to us in the stores, the data pretty much can be expressed in any light to support any claim.  But I have to marvel at the fact that a whopping 79 million people in the U.S. are “pre-diabetic.”  From my standpoint, it’s easy to see why.

Okay, so I gave up bread (and oatmeal and crackers and cereal and donuts and… you get the picture).  Wanna know what else I gave up?  My ever-growing list includes joint pain, cramps, blemishes and skin oddities.  Dom gave up antacids entirely.  Just a little slip (which we made on two separate weekends) brings back symptoms we would have otherwise ignored in our former selves.  So many health inconveniences were just accepted as a part of life and aging.  But the elimination of wheat (and likely sugar too) has proven that life and aging can be so much better than we had been trained to accept!

So, what do I eat?  Well, lots of eggs, uncured meats, cheeses, whole milk (I’m “paleo plus dairy” 🙂 ) fruits, nuts and vegetables.  We drink red wine with dinner.  No sugars, no starches.  I rely on sweet potatoes for an indulgent carb boost and paleo “treats” for my occasional sweet tooth.  (See Living Healthy with Chocolate and PaleOMG for some awesome treat recipes!)  I don’t worry about calories, fat or cholesterol for many of the reasons cited in the two books referenced above.

And no, quitting wheat cold-turkey was not super-easy.  I actually did it three times before it stuck.  This last time, with Dominic’s health at stake and armed with much more information, I walked away from wheat and didn’t look back.  But I know how hard it can be… after all, I made an Italian give up pasta.

I’m no doctor and I don’t pretend to be.  I don’t know your personal situation and cannot guarantee any results for anyone, including myself.  But if you’re dealing with an ailment no one can identify, or you’re simply just wishing you could feel better, try eliminating wheat and grain from your diet.  Give it four weeks and see how you feel.  It may work for you; it may not.  I’m betting that it will.

I found a quote on Facebook the other day that stated, “Every time you eat or drink, you are either feeding disease or fighting it.”  (Credit: Heather Morgan, MS, NLC.)  I have learned that I’m a fighter.  How ’bout you?

I wish you health and peace.