Following a Paleo diet means you eliminate many of the foods that surfaced during and after the agricultural revolution of about 10,000 years ago. Without a doubt, one of the most contentious and challenging foods to remove from the modern diet is wheat.
Grains play a major role in both standard diets and culture. They supply over 20% of the total food calories worldwide, and are national staples in many countries. Wheat and grain-based foods are all around us from bagels and pastries to pasta, bread, and breakfast cereals. Often the idea of eliminating these staples from your diet may seem ridiculous and possibly even ludicrous. Science is increasingly revealing how wheat consumption is potentially linked to a surprising number of health problems including obesity, heart conditions, a host of digestive concerns and a dramatic rise is celiac-like disorders. It appears this principle of the Paleo diet was spot on!
Wheat raises blood sugar levels, causes immunoreactivity, inhibits the absorption of important minerals, and aggravates your intestines. There is no doubt that gluten has become a concern, but the issues with grains and wheat specifically are way more complex.
- Gluten and Gliadin
Gluten is a protein composite of gliadin and glutenin that appears in grains including wheat, rye, barley, and spelt. Gluten is what helps dough rise and gives baked goods their chewy texture.
According to Dr. Alessio Fasano, the leading expert in gluten research, the problem is how these proteins are metabolized. Humans do not possess the specific enzyme to break the complex molecular bonds of gliadin. The gliadins are broken down into peptides which are too large to be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine. The cells of the wall lining separate in order to allow the larger peptide through.
Dr. Fasano explains that in a normal person, the intestinal walls close back up; the small intestine becomes normal again. The peptides remain in the intestinal tract and are simply excreted before the immune system notices them. In a person who reacts to gluten, the walls stay open as long as you are consuming gluten. How your body reacts (with a gluten sensitivity, wheat allergy or Celiac Disease) depends upon how long the cellular junctions remain separated, the number of peptides allowed through and the severity of the immune reaction to these foreign bodies. There is the potential for an aberrant immune response as your immune system reacts to these peptides as it would to any potential invader.
The gliadin and glutenin found in wheat and other grains are acting as immunogenic anti-nutrients. Unlike fruits, which are meant to be eaten, grains have defenses against consumption. They incite the immune system which further increases intestinal permeability, thus triggering systemic inflammation which can lead to a myriad of health concerns including celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. This also holds true for those not afflicted with celiac disease.
To make matters worse, gliadin degrades to a morphine-like compound when digested creating an appetite for even more wheat and fueling the claims that wheat has addictive qualities.
The effects of gluten and gliadin are unique to each individual but research has concluded that approximately 1.8 million Americans have celiac disease with another 1.4 million likely going undiagnosed. In addition, it's estimated that about 18 million Americans have non-celiac gluten sensitivity which results digestive and inflammatory issues. Currently about 1.6 million Americans have adopted a gluten-free diet despite having no diagnosis.
Lectin can be found in beans, cereal grains, nuts, and potatoes. These can have deleterious consequences when consumed in excess or when not appropriately prepared. Most lectins are benign and often therapeutic (they are used to fight the HIV virus). The lectins found in foods including whole grains and legumes bind to your insulin receptors and intestinal lining. This increases inflammation and contributes to conditions including autoimmune disease and insulin resistance and can facilitate the symptoms of metabolic syndrome independent of obesity.
Phytates are compounds found within the hulls of nuts, seeds, and grains. Phytic acid cannot be digested by humans. It binds to metal ions like calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron preventing their absorption.
Consequently, any minerals that might be provided by consuming grain-based foods are not well metabolized. Combined with gluten, phytates make it difficult for your body to absorb nutrients. This can set the stage for anemia and osteoporosis.
- Blood Sugar Dysregulation
Wheat consumption raises blood sugar and ranks higher than most foods on the glycemic index. It contains a compound known as amylopectin A which is more efficiently converted to blood sugar than just about any other carbohydrate, including table sugar.
Two slices of bread (white or ‘healthier’ whole wheat) can spike blood sugar to levels higher that single chocolate bar. Continuous blood sugar fluctuations are pro-inflammatory and lie at the root of many non-communicable diseases.
Wheat can also trigger effects that are not immediately noticeable. Small low-density lipoprotein (LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol) particles form after eating large amounts of high glycemic carbohydrates. These are responsible for the formation of atherosclerotic plaque, which in turn can trigger heart disease and stroke. Following a Paleo type diet and removing wheat has been proven to improve insulin sensitivity in those with ischaemic heart disease.
A common argument in favor of continuing to eat whole grains is that they provide necessary fiber. This is actually a bit of a myth. As a wellness and nutrition expert noted, there is a case for the detrimental effects of too much insoluble fiber in the diet. Eating plenty of vegetables and some fruit can provide a larger quantity of insoluble fiber vitamins and minerals than any grains could supply.
- Modern Wheat
Taking all the anti-nutrient properties of wheat into account, the wheat of modern times has been highly hybridized, exponentially exaggerating its negative impact on your body.
Back in the 1950s, scientists began cross-breeding wheat to make it hardier, shorter, and higher yielding. This hybridization, which was the basis for the Green Revolution won U.S. plant scientist Norman Borlaug the Nobel Prize, introduced some compounds into modern wheat varietals that are even more provoking to the human immune system.
Today’s hybridized wheat contains sodium azide , a known toxin, is highly sprayed with herbicides and is subjected to a gamma irradiation process during manufacturing. The hybridization process has also created new, novel proteins that are even more challenging to digest. This has led some researchers to surmise that the gluten and other compounds found in our modern wheat is responsible for the rising prevalence of celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity and other concerns felt with wheat consumption.
Removing wheat from your plate is fundamental on your journey to achieve your ultimate health and longevity. This is not just Paleo diet folklore, science has proven it!