The death of wheat?

With the steady rise of gluten-free fare, the staple grain is at the center of a storm. Two opposing experts debate its fate.

For amber waves of grain. Eat your Wheaties. Wheat has been sung about in America The Beautiful, championed by Olympic athletes, and generally in-‘grained’ into our popular psyche as a reliable food staple. As the key component in most cereals, breads, pastas and baked goods, it’s almost un-American to think of passing on it. But lately, there’s a growing nutritional divide with some experts advocating that we give wheat up— and not just for a short-term low-carb fix. (Those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity reside in this camp with good reason.) Others argue that this very notion messes with years of a tried-and-true food pyramid.

But could you benefit from eliminating wheat even if you’re not allergic? Cardiologist William Davis, author of Wheat Belly, says yes. Unlike most heart docs who spend their time lampooning red meat, Davis focuses on modern-day wheat, outlining how it causes everything from addictive behavior and weight gain to inflammation and “bagel face” (and, no, not the kind administered through a forehead saline drip as fun Japanese past-time). Get off wheat, he says, and your acid reflux and irritable bowel will be gone in 3-5 days, “and most people start losing weight within 48 hours.” But what of the people who seem to eat wheat without incident? Davis concedes that 20-30% of people may have no perceived problems with the grain, though internal testing may show otherwise. Here, Precision Nutrition Coach and Registered Dietician Ryan Andrews explains why he’ll keep eating wheat and Davis makes a case for permanently eliminating the grain from your diet. You decide:

The Case for Wheat:

1. Whole wheat is healthy and nutritious.
It contains Vitamins B1, B2, B3, selenium, magnesium, manganese and folate. It’s also a good source of fiber. The exception is if you have celiac disease or are gluten sensitive, then of course it’s not a good choice. But many people are going gluten-free because they perceive it to be healthier — they’re passing on wheat bread and then eating gluten-free cookies. A piece of whole grain sprouted wheat bread can be healthier than a processed cookie with added sugar that’s made from potato starch or rice flour.

2. Eating wheat doesn’t automatically mean a puffy face and body.
You can be lean, muscular and healthy and eat wheat. Now, if you eat wheat products and breads that are too high in salt, then sure, you could get puffy. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control evaluated the top ten sources of sodium in the American diet and they found bread to be number one. But that includes wheat-free breads too, like those made from potato, quinoa, and other grains. So the key when eating wheat bread is to look for low-sodium varieties and puffiness shouldn’t be a problem.

3. Wheat is filling and can prevent you from overeating other foods.
When you cut wheat out, it’s easy to reach for foods that may be even more caloric, like nuts, meats and fruits. I see this all the time with clients. They cut out their morning wheat toast and then add an extra egg and more cheese to their omelette because they feel deprived. In the end, this compensation can translate to more body fat.

4. Not all wheat products will spike your blood sugar.
Sprouted wheat is often combined with other sprouted foods like lentils, sunflower seeds and quinoa, and the combination gives you additional nutrients plus protein, which gives it a lower glycemic index than regular wheat toast. Top a slice off with a couple tablespoons of peanut butter, and you end up with about 15-20 grams of protein and the fat and protein will slow down absorption.

5. Wheat may contain toxins, but so do most foods.
We get exposed to toxins everyday from a variety of foods — from the pesticides and chemicals used on them to the plastic containers they’re stored in. We’re also exposed in our water, air, and beauty and grooming products. I think focusing on using a water filter, changing up your products and cutting down on plastics is a better plan than cutting out a daily slice of wheat toast.

The Case Against Wheat:

1. Modern wheat is addictive.
Today’s wheat has been altered to increase the yield per acre, and a naturally occurring protein in it called gliadin has been changed in the process. Glia-alpha-9, a new form of gliadin, didn’t exist before the 60s. It binds to the opiate receptors in the brain, stimulating appetite so you eat more. It generally increases caloric intake by 440 calories per day — and the effects of gliadin persist for days after eating wheat. Gliadin also causes sodium retention, and it’s been linked to autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. It is likely the reason we’ve seen a quadrupling of celiac disease in the last 50 years.

2. Wheat’s high glycemic index promotes fat storage.
The GI of a snickers bar is 41, but the GI of wheat bread is 72. So aside from a few B Vitamins, it’s not really a better choice. The spike in blood sugar leads to fat storage — particularly in the belly region. And this visceral fat around the organs is highly inflammatory fat. Over time, chronically elevated blood sugar levels can also lead to insulin resistance.

3. Wheat causes the formation of aging AGEs.
The high blood sugar wheat causes leads to the formation of advanced glycation end products, or AGEs. They also form when we eat sugar. AGEs contribute to wrinkles, hardened arteries, cataracts, kidney disease and arthritis.

4. Wheat consumption contributes to heart disease.
The number one cause of heart attacks and heart disease is an excess of small LDL particles in the blood and a specific carbohydrate found in wheat called amylopectin A, which triggers the formation of these small LDL particles. When you go off of wheat, the number of these particles plummets.

5. Wheat is an obesogen.
In other words, it’s an endocrine disruptor. And it’s actually the perfect obesogen, because not only does the wheat make you eat more and store more fat in your belly, but once you have that belly, it leads to a substantial rise in estrogen levels — even in men. The enzyme aromatase begins converting testosterone to estrogen, which causes men to store fat in the breast area. Male breast reduction surgery is now the 4th most performed elective surgery, and it’s totally unnecessary because this is a dietary problem. Get off wheat and the problem corrects itself.

Decide to give gluten-free a go? Try this chia seed pizza recipe.