Is it SAFE to be grain-free?

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Listen to critics of the Wheat Belly lifestyle and you’d think that, by banishing all things wheat and grains from your life, you will be excommunicated from your church, tossed out of your club, ostracized by friends and family, and suffer dire health consequences like heart disease and colon cancer. After all, they say that you are eliminating an entire food group and will be crippled by lack of fiber and nutrients. Worse, our focus on increasing our intake of fats and oils will get you a heart attack, three stents, or bypass surgery and you’ll be obliged to take Lipitor and Repatha for a lifetime.

First of all, I challenge the notion that we are eliminating a food group. Recall that wheat and grains were added relatively recently (speaking anthropologically), around 12,000 years ago as einkorn wheat in the Fertile Crescent, millet in sub-Saharan Africa, rice from the swamps of Asia, and maize in Central America. I’ve previously discussed what happened to human health in each of those locales upon the consumption of these seeds of grasses: explosive tooth decay, a doubling of arthritis, iron deficiency, and other health effects. It means that we did NOT consume any seed of a grass plant for the preceding 3.5 million years. In other words, we have consumed wheat and grains for about 0.3% of our time on this planet and flourished. Just as we paid the price of acquiring zoonoses like tuberculosis and influenza upon the domestication of herbivorous ruminants, so we acquired a host of health problems with the incorporation of the seeds of grasses. Grains never belonged in the human diet in the first place—it was a mistake. If humans proliferated successfully for the first 99.7% of our time on earth without consuming grains, why would we need such a thing? There is no such need programmed into the human genetic code.

Will you become deficient in B vitamins with wheat/grain elimination, as many dietitians suggest? You would if you replaced wheat/grains with soft drinks and candy, as they often assume. But if you tabulate the intake of folate, riboflavin, vitamin B12, niacin, thiamine, etc. when you replace wheat/grains with avocados, salmon, eggs, spinach, legumes—i.e., real, whole foods, there is NO deficiency of B vitamins or any other vitamin. Typically, intake of these nutrients goes up with wheat/grain elimination. Increased control over appetite combined with the heightened taste perception of being wheat/grain-free also naturally causes you to gravitate back to real foods and away from synthetic processed foods.

And because you are eliminating the phytates of wheat and grains that bind minerals in your intestinal tract, making them unavailable for absorption, the levels of iron, zinc, calcium, and magnesium go up with wheat/grain elimination. This is why, for instance, even severe forms of iron deficiency anemia that previously required oral and injectable iron supplementation, even periodic blood transfusions, goes away within two weeks of banishing all grain phytates.

Will you become deficient in fiber with wheat/grain elimination? Alright, here is one area in which you could indeed fall short. Let’s first dismiss the notion that cellulose fiber is somehow crucial to health, including gastrointestinal health; it is not. Prebiotic fibers are absolutely necessary, however, fibers that you are incapable of digesting, but bacteria can that, in turn, convert prebiotic fibers to a wide range of metabolites with beneficial effects on human health. The average American eating a garbage-filled diet of processed foods that includes grains obtains around 5-8 grams of prebiotic fibers per day. Eliminate the arabinoxylan and amylose prebiotic fibers found in wheat/grains and prebiotic fiber intake is cut in half—this is indeed not good. For this reason we include sources of prebiotic fibers in the Wheat Belly and Undoctored lifestyles and aim not just to maintain the average prebiotic fiber intake, but achieve the ideal intake of 20 grams per day. We do so by mimicking the behavior of primitive humans who dig in the dirt for roots and tubers with intakes of prebiotic fibers of up to 130 grams per day, populations that have NO colon cancer, NO hemorrhoids, NO diverticular disease, NO type 2 diabetes, NO heart disease, NO stomach ulcers, NO inflammatory bowel disease, and obesity is rare.

Lastly, dietary fat intake has nothing to do with heart disease risk. The science never showed that it did. (Observational data did indeed suggest an association between dietary fat intake and cardiovascular risk, but observational data are disproven 80% of the time, as they do not represent real clinical studies.) Yes, cholesterol values, total and LDL, go up with fat intake, but cholesterol is not a cause for heart disease; the lipoproteins in the bloodstream, for which cholesterol was meant to be a crude marker, one so imprecise as to be nearly useless, their composition, size, number, surface conformation, duration of persistence in the blood, etc. are what determine whether you will have heart disease in your future. Quantify and characterize lipoproteins—widely available, accessible, inexpensive—and you will quickly see that fats have positive effects on lipoprotein patterns, while consumption of grans and sugars is disastrous with provocation of small LDL particles, increased VLDL particles, a drop in HDL particles and a shift towards less protective small HDL particles, and exaggerated postprandial (after-meal) lipoproteins, not to mention rises in blood sugar, insulin resistance, and inflammation.

So the question “Is it safe to be grain-free?” is a lot like asking “Is it safe to quit smoking cigarettes?” It is not only safe, but puts you on the path to magnificent health and slenderness.


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