The quick answer: Whole grains are the staff of life. But we need to be careful of—and perhaps tested for—excess dietary sugar and gluten intolerance. (I apologize for the length of this post, but it presents issues of rising importance.)
Wholesome and Toxic Grain Products
In the first post on grains, Staff of Life, Healthy Change #10 said: “Enjoy a variety of whole grains.” It’s good advice but you’ve likely noticed how hard it is to find healthy grain products.
So in past posts we searched the local supermarket aisles. We wanted to see whole grains, more fiber than added sugar, minimal processing, and very limited artificial ingredients/chemicals. My favorite post was Waking Up in the Bread Aisle, but there was also Trouble in the Cereal Aisle and The Chip Aisle? It’s All OK (on national holidays).
We didn’t bother to search the cookie aisle, or the in-store bakery for anything healthy. The reality is very little in these aisles is good for you. The stuff is over-processed and over-priced. Mostly we cook our own grain products—it’s cheaper and healthier. We do like the sourdough bread at the local Sprouts—it’s mostly whole grain and the extra time needed for sourdough to rise helps break down troublesome glutens.
Grain Brain and Wheat Belly
Whole foods are healthy—they’re the stuff of life, but not for all. Peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, fish, and shellfish are good for nearly everyone, but can be deadly to a few. If you’re allergic to one of these tasty foods, you have to respect that. It’s a harsh reminder that we’re all genetically different.
The Word of Wisdom calls grains the “staff of life” giving special attention to wheat. But some are allergic to wheat; others are sensitive to the glutens in wheat. Two books have raised questions about wheat: Grain Brain and Wheat Belly.
Here are three conclusions I’ve made from these books:
#1 Mankind wasn’t designed for the Modern American Diet (MAD). In particular, we eat too much sugar, and too much of refined grains which quickly metabolize to sugar. Our high dietary Glycemic Index (GI) results in chronically elevated blood sugar, elevated serum insulin, an overworked pancreas, and the risk of diabetes and a host of related diseases including dementia and Alzheimer’s that are growing scary fast.
Two themes of Word of Wisdom Living call for slashing sugar intake and minimizing or avoiding refined grains. We’ve got this covered pretty well in the Healthy Changes but they must be taken seriously.
#2 Whole grains, minimally processed, are healthy in moderation for most but not everyone. Take wheat for example: A few are allergic to wheat and others don’t tolerate certain glutens (found in wheat, rye, and barley).
The post-WWII Green Revolution caused new forms of glutens that some—we don’t know how many—can’t tolerate. The effects can be serious, scientists are still figuring this out, but for some it is a grave problem affecting many organs—more extensive than just Crohn’s disease, which is pretty bad by itself.
#3 The factors noted above result in inflammation, free radicals, and advanced glycation end products (AGEs) that accelerate aging, and are common risk factors for the chronic diseases. These diseases have a common origin beginning with metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, various cancers, and, worst of all, dementia (including Alzheimer’s).
How Diet Can Protect from Diabetes, Heart Disease, Dementia and Other Scary Diseases
The chronic diseases share multiple lifestyle causes, beginning with tobacco and alcohol abuse. Our sedentary life style is also problematic. The Modern American Diet (MAD) presents many risk factors, like factory seed oils (refining byproducts like trans fats, etc.), and a harmfully high Glycemic Index (from excess sugar intake and refined grains), etc.
These lead to the chronic diseases. The chemistry is complex and not fully understood but we know enough to take certain actions. I deduced a five-step process from reading Grain Brain and Wheat Belly. I’m going to discuss it with my doctor but it looks like this:
- Be proactive about slashing sugar intake, especially forms of fructose. (We’re doing well on this, I think.)
- Minimize refined grains that quickly metabolize to sugar, like store-bought cookies, crackers and chips.
- Enjoy whole-grain breads, especially sourdough. I enjoy these with lots of butter, which also slows down the GI response.
- To confirm you’re doing enough, take two insulin tests. Basically, your blood sugar can be fine (blood glucose testers are surprisingly cheap at the drugstore) but your pancreas may be working too hard to produce enough insulin because cells are becoming resistant. A fasting insulin test can measure this insulin resistance. The other test is called hemoglobin A1c and it tells how well your blood sugar has been over the last 90 days. Here’s the claim: The A1c test is the best predictor of your future health and longevity, including your risk of dementia.
- If you have worrisome symptoms (you can read more here), test for wheat or gluten intolerance. Dr. Perlmutton recommends the Cyrex 3 array to see if you have a hidden intolerance. If you do, you’ll want to know before the damage is (irreversibly) bad enough to force you to a doctor.
Healthy Change #23
Around the world, grains are the staff of life. Whole grains are an affordable source of essential nutrients; without them billions could starve. So we endorse a diet based on whole grains, including wheat. Healthy Change #10, as noted, says: Enjoy a variety of whole grains.
But I think we need a new Healthy Change that reflects the concerns raised in Wheat Belly and Grain Brain. These books, both written by MDs, present preliminary evidence that modern wheat is problematic for some, perhaps many. Until more is known we propose Healthy Change #23:
To confirm you diet has a healthy GI, talk to your doctor about a fasting insulin test and Hemoglobin A1c test. (All should have these tests at some point) In addition, if you have worrisome symptoms, ask about the Cyrex 3 array for wheat/gluten intolerance.
Please comment on your experience with blood glucose control, insulin testing, or wheat/gluten intolerance. This is a growing problem and we have much to learn.