Life Extension Magazine October 2011
Wheat: The Unhealthy Whole Grain Book Excerpt: Wheat Belly
By William Davis, MD
Flip through your parents’ or grandparents’ family albums and you’re likely to be struck by how thin everyone looks. The women probably wore size-four dresses and the men sported 32-inch waists. Overweight was something measured only by a few pounds; obesity rare. Overweight children? Almost never. Any 42-inch waists? Not here. Two-hundred-pound teenagers? Certainly not. The women of that world didn’t exercise much at all. How many times did you see your mom put on her jogging shoes to go out for a three-mile run? Nowadays I go outdoors on any nice day and see dozens of women jogging, riding their bicycles, power walking—things we’d virtually never see 40 or 50 years ago. And yet, we’re getting fatter and fatter every year. I am going to argue that the problem with the diet and health of most Americans is wheat—or what we are being sold that is called “wheat.” Documented peculiar effects of wheat on humans include appetite stimulation, exposure to brain-active exorphins (the counterpart of internally derived endorphins), exaggerated blood sugar surges that trigger cycles of satiety alternating with heightened appetite, the process of glycation that underlies disease and aging, inflammatory and pH effects that erode cartilage and damage bone, and activation of disordered immune responses. A complex range of diseases results from consumption of wheat, from celiac disease—the devastating intestinal disease that develops from exposure to wheat gluten—to an assortment of neurological disorders, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, curious rashes, and the paralyzing delusions of schizophrenia. The sad truth is that the proliferation of wheat products in the American diet parallels the expansion of our waists. Advice to cut fat and cholesterol intake and replace the calories with whole grains that was issued by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute through its National Cholesterol Education Program in 1985 coincides precisely with the start of a sharp upward climb in body weight for men and women. Ironically, 1985 also marks the year when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began tracking body weight statistics, documenting the explosion in obesity and diabetes that began that very year. So why has this seemingly benign plant that sustained generations of humans suddenly turned on us? For one thing, it is not the same grain our forebears ground into their daily bread. Wheat has changed dramatically in the past fifty years under the influence of agricultural scientists. Wheat strains have been hybridized, crossbred, and introgressed to make the wheat plant resistant to environmental conditions, such as drought, or pathogens, such as fungi. But most of all, genetic changes have been induced to increase yield per acre. Such enormous strides in yield have required drastic changes in genetic code. Such fundamental genetic changes have come at a price. Wheat starches are the complex carbohydrates that are the darlings of dietitians. “Complex” means that the carbohydrates in wheat are composed of polymers (repeating chains) of the simple sugar, glucose. Conventional wisdom, such as that from your dietitian or the USDA, says we should all reduce our consumption of simple carbohydrates in the form of candy and soft drinks, and increase our consumption of complex carbohydrates. Of the complex carbohydrate in wheat, 75 percent is the chain of branching glucose units, amylopectin, and 25 percent is the linear chain of glucose units, amylose. In the human gastrointestinal tract, both amylopectin and amylose are digested by the salivary and stomach enzyme amylase. Amylopectin is efficiently digested by amylase to glucose, while amylose is much less efficiently digested, some of it making its way to the colon undigested. Thus, the complex carbohydrate amylopectin is rapidly...