I received a question from one of my clients today, with a link to an anti-wheat blog post. She asked for my thoughts. Is wheat really the reason why so many people are overweight? Should I stop eating wheat?
There is a lot of anti-wheat opinion out there. It’s a trend. Fueled by a book released last year, a lot of people are cutting wheat out of their diets. While I see no problem with not eating wheat per se, I do see a lot of exaggerated, scare-tactic claims, and some people seem to be convinced that the humble wheat grain is actually the most potently evil substance that has ever afflicted mankind. I am all for trying to identify any foods that don’t work well for you and steer clear of them, but what scares me a bit is that people seem to be avoiding wheat just because they read somewhere that it was bad. Not because they have any symptoms of an intolerance.
I’m not saying go out and eat Wonder Bread, but I think we could all benefit from some logic here.
I think wheat itself is a scapegoat for many people to point the finger at for their overweight (it’s easier than admitting their cookie or ice cream habit might be involved). About 1 in about 133 people actually have Celiac disease, an autoimmune condition in which gluten from wheat causes serious damage to the intestinal lining, but a larger number of people seem to have some level of intolerance or sensitivity to it, which isn’t formally diagnosable. Whether it’s truly 50% of the population, as a recently popular book claims, I’m doubtful.
Not that it matters, really. What matters is YOUR life and YOUR body. Is consuming wheat doing you a disservice, or would cutting out be a positive step for you? That is all that matters. Personally I did a wheat free stint and found that I digest it quite fine and noticed no difference in anything for avoiding it, so I have no qualms about including a piece of sprouted grain toast with my breakfast on most days. If you go wheat free and find that it DOES lead to good outcomes, awesome. Really, the only way to know is to give it a test drive.
However, if you go from eating Pop-Tarts for breakfast, bagels sandwiches for lunch, and pizza for dinner to having lean proteins and vegetables for each meal, drop 20 lbs and then say Look! Giving up that evil stuff wheat made you lose weight… I reserve the right to point at you and snicker.
Maybe your wheat-free diet just solved your processed food diet? Maybe?
Most commonly, people who benefit from excluding wheat from their diets replace it with lower calorie or higher nutrient foods. I think that’s great, whether you blame the wheat or not. If you trade a plate of pasta for a plate of vegetables instead, of course you’ll lose weight if all else stays the same. Someone who “feels better” without wheat may be choosing more whole foods with fiber (vegetables, beans, whole oats or other grains) instead of low fiber, low nutrient crackers and packaged white flour foods. I think pasta is pretty detrimental to most people’s diets, and that could be because it’s made from wheat, or it could be also because it’s high in calories and carbohydrates, raises blood sugar steeply, often eaten in mega-portions and coupled with a glass or two of wine. Just about any food you had instead would provide more satiety and nutrients for the calories. If you go from refined wheat foods to other refined grain foods (like rice or rice pasta), you may not see much benefit.
In summary: I’ve known a lot of people who feel better when they’re avoiding wheat. Some lose weight too. Whether it’s from choosing whole foods because crackers and cookies aren’t on the menu, taking in less calories, or because their bodies are happier and less inflamed without gluten….doesn’t really matter. If it works for you, it works.
For post-workout carbohydrates, you can choose oatmeal, sweet potatoes, quinoa or other grains. I made flour-free oat bran scones this week which I’m loving. I also like butternut and acorn squash or beans for carbs, but for larger or more active people, these might not be dense enough carb sources to get enough grams in, especially for people who want to gain muscle mass. You certainly don’t need wheat. It doesn’t provide a lot of nutrients to most people’s diets, so I’m all for doing an experiment if my clients want to try a wheat-free experiment.
My suggestion to everyone: testing for yourself and observing the outcome is far more helpful than reading emotionally-laden opinion pieces on the nutritional pariah of the moment. Because next week “they’ll” have you avoiding some other “evil” food. Eat what makes you feel and look your best.