Saturday, December 8, 2012

Wheat free diet for 2 weeks

I recently tried a 2 week wheat free diet just to see what all the buzz is about. This is a little different (not much) to the sometimes interchangeably used term 'gluten free.' Gluten free is generally referred to by someone with celiac disease - an autoimmune response to certain proteins in grains - most often wheat but also some barley, rye, and sometimes oats. Wheat free is just as it sounds - a diet free of all wheat including 'whole grain' and refined white.

First I needed a little history about why wheat is at the top of many discussions right now:

Common Wheat, or Bread Wheat, makes up about 95% of the wheat that is used today. It started as a cross between 3 different grass species that took place about 10,000 B.C.
Varieties of wheat that have forty-two chromosomes are the most recently evolved and most used types of wheat. All of these varieties have been cultivated by humans (as opposed to growing wild). They are hybrids of twenty-eight-chromosome wheats and wild fourteen-chromosome wheats or grasses. Early bread wheat was the result of the crossing of goat grass (Aegilops) with Triticum turgidum. Modern bread wheat varieties have forty-two chromosomes and evolved from crosses between emmer and goat grass, which is the source of the unique glutenin genes that give bread dough the ability to form gluten.
During the transformation of ancient wheat to common wheat a few important things have changed:
  1. Elevated levels of a starch called amylopectin A - easiest form of amylopectin to break down into glucose therefore raising the blood sugar in the body. 
  2. The new wheat with more chromosomes produces a larger variety of gluten proteins which can contribute to inflammation in the body and more cases of celiac disease.
  3. Proteins in wheat are broken down and converted into shorter proteins called polypeptides which are exorphins that bind to receptors in the brain making you "high" and therefore causing an addiction to the wheat itself.
When processed by your digestion, the proteins in wheat are converted into shorter proteins, "polypeptides," called "exorphins." They are like the endorphins you get from a runner's high and bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, making you high, and addicted just like a heroin addict. These wheat polypeptides are absorbed into the bloodstream and get right across the blood brain barrier. They are called "gluteomorphins," after "gluten" and "morphine."
Read more:
On average Americans eat 180 pounds of wheat per year. If you are not used to thinking about what you eat on a daily basis and actually start adding up what contains wheat you will quickly realize you eat wheat at nearly, or quite literally, every meal. For breakfast we eat cereal, pancakes, french toast, waffles, wheat toast, bagels, biscotti, pop tarts, muffins, scones, all mostly consisting of some form of wheat. For lunch we eat sandwich bread, crackers, croutons, flour tortillas, pasta, pita, pizza, pretzels, and cookies. Dinner is pasta, breaded chicken or fish, rolls, garlic bread, and dessert to follow is cakes, cookies, pies, brownies, cupcakes, or flour based puddings.

Wheat is hard to escape.

When one thing can dominate your diet as much as wheat can, and is so in demand by the global market that industrial farming methods are constantly advancing to keep up, that makes me uncomfortable. And when I start reading story headlines in the New York Times and CBS news like "Modern wheat a 'perfect, chronic poison' " and "Three hidden ways wheat is making you fat" I know I should pay attention.

Wheat free for 2 weeks

For the past 2 weeks I have cut approximately 95% of all wheat products out of my diet just to see how difficult it would be and how I would feel in the end.

I think everyone should be aware of how certain foods make them feel. Many of us suffer from food allergies and intolerances and just learn to live with the complications instead of making the connection between diet and quality of life.

As far as overall health I did not feel any different at the end of the two weeks. Digestion stayed the same, overall mood stayed the same, and energy levels as a whole stayed the same.

What I did notice were the situational changes. Even if I was taking in the same amount of calories I did not feel as tired as I often do right after a meal. I felt as if I was avoiding that 'crash' that often happens at my desk after a big lunch.

I lost 5 pounds over 2 weeks. I think this had a lot to do with the fact that I had to give up morning pastries - I love a scone or biscotti with coffee. I also had to give up evening snacks like a bowl of cereal or some crackers, and I was skipping the breads with soup or a heavy sandwich with lunch. At a birthday party I actually skipped the cake altogether and instead had a 'fun size' (bullshit on the 'fun' part) payday candy bar because it was laying on the table: Impulse eating at its best.

Over the past two weeks I began to really realize how easy it is to impulse eat a very high number of calories when you are used to eating wheat as a normal part of the diet. By skipping this one ingredient and without limiting calories on other foods I was still having to avoid a lot of my normal morning and afternoon rituals. Jimmy Johns was out, Starbucks pastries were out, pizza was out, mac and cheese was out, anything you would consider a fast food of any sort was ruled out.

In conclusion I personally am not convinced that wheat as a whole is bad for someone who is not genetically susceptible to have an intolerance or allergy, but more the exploitation of wheat, be it whole grain or refined white, that is causing us to overindulge in it and increase our intake of calories throughout a typical day quite often without even realizing it.

Wheat, like everything else in life, should be in moderation.