Thursday, June 11, 2015

Eating without grains

Recently a friend had me watch a talk by William Davis, a cardiologist who wrote a book called Wheat Belly. If you have an hour, here are his thoughts on wheat.

If you don't have an hour, here is the gist. Humans originally consumed grains in general and wheat in particular to avoid starvation. They saw aurochs (predecessors to the modern cow) around them eating grasses, and lacking other food sources at the time, also tried eating grasses. They found that the only part of the grass that was digestible was the seeds, and they cultivated these grasses into the various grains we know today.

A few problems. First, the first humans to eat grasses did not have the evolutionary adaptations that the aurochs and the cow have: special teeth, special multiple stomachs including one grinding stomach, special digestive enzymes. We still don't have those adaptations, and we probably wouldn't acquire them for hundreds of thousands or millions of years. Grasses have only been on the human menu for about 10,000 years, and our genotype doesn't change very quickly.

Second, the seed of the grass is the one part that, from an evolutionary perspective, wants NOT to be digested. It has defensive proteins and enzymes intended to discourage (read "poison") any animal trying to eat it. Gluten allergies are human reactions to one of these poisons.

Third, what has been changed in recent decades. This is largely the work of Norman Borlaug, undertaken to improve crop yield. Borlaug received a Nobel prize for his work in creating a dwarf form of wheat with a vastly increased yield. Farmers can no longer prosper growing the earlier tall wheat and so now all the wheat you eat in any form is Borlaug's dwarf wheat. This is true on a global scale, not just here in the United States.

The problem is that this wheat has proven to be mismatched even more poorly to human nutritional needs, and that's why so many people are gluten intolerant, a condition that did not previously exist. It is looking likely that the modern epidemics of obesity and diabetes are also tied to dwarf wheat. Many have been mystified that these epidemics have spread outside the U.S. and this explains why that would happen.

Gliadin, one of the proteins in wheat, is an opiate that stimulates appetite, contributing to obesity. This video by Joe Rignola goes into more detail of the damage that gliadin does to a person's intestines. This damage is not confined to the intestines. T cells (the part of the immune system that attack one's own body, responsible for inflammation) respond to gliadin by attacking both it and something that belongs in your gut called transglutaminase. It turns out that transglutaminase is produced throughout the entire body and all areas come under attack as the T cells attempt to respond to the original gliadin injury. And so now you have a problem of broad spectrum inflammation.

As if this all weren't enough, it turns out that wheat raises blood glucose substantially. Two slices of whole wheat bread raise blood glucose higher than six teaspoons of ordinary sugar. In the hour-long video, Davis goes on to enumerate more components of wheat that cause additional health problems. Elsewhere, he identifies health issues with all other grains as well. So the thing one wants to do is to adopt a grain-free diet. Here are a few resources that may be helpful if you are considering this.
The important thing is to identify foods that you can be certain are grain-free, for example meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and nuts. Recall that grains did not enter the human diet until the very recent evolutionary past. Grains are not, as might be believed, necessary for good health. They are in fact detrimental to it.