For years, the American Heart Association has urged us to eat more healthy whole grains. The bottom of the USDA food pyramid urges us to eat 6-11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta. The origin of this advice is unclear and there is an abundance of evidence of the dangers of a diet high in grains. Although some starchy vegetables and whole grains in your diet are acceptable, eating large quantities will sabotage your weight loss goals. In truth, the healthfulness of starchy vegetables and grains varies significantly. They can be lumped into one of three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly
Colorful, Starchy Vegetables
Grains and grain-like vegetables
Whole grain breads
Most people will be fine eating 2 servings off the good list daily or 1 serving of the bad list while the ugly should be avoided completely. The good list consists mostly of colorful starchy vegetables. These foods contain abundant nutrients and will not trigger your blood sugar to rise significantly or your pancreas to release insulin. The vibrant colors of Raw Beets, Pumpkin, Sweet Potatoes, Squash, Turnips and Yams are a giveaway that they are packed with nutrition. The high nutritional value of these foods makes them the most nutrient dense of all the foods listed. Although they may contain similar amounts of calories to the other foods, the greater nutritional value makes them more satisfying and better choices overall. If your goal is only to maintain your weight, you can eat unlimited portions from the good list but should still limit your intake from the bad list and avoid the Ugly altogether.
The Bad list contains mostly grains as well as white potatoes which are technically root vegetables (also called tubers) but nutritionally behave much more like grains. Despite all of the health benefits of “healthy whole grains” that the USDA and American Heart Association report, there is little evidence to support these claims and a good deal of evidence that demonstrates the harmful effects of these foods. While you don’t have to completely avoid these foods, it is important to recognize their harmful effects on your metabolism and their ability to slow your weight loss if eaten in large amounts.
Although the presence of Corn Starch, Potato Starch and White Rice on the ugly list will not surprise most people, the inclusion of Wheat is often received with an audible gasp. There is perhaps no food considered more American than Wheat. “Amber waves of grain” are sung about in America the Beautiful, perhaps one of the most loved patriotic songs second only to our national anthem. Wheat is grown on more land area than any other commercial crop and is considered one of the most important staple foods in our diet. It is written about in the bible and plays an important role in the ceremonies of most of the currently practiced religions.
Wheat is more heavily traded than all other crops combined and this commercialization has driven extensive genetic manipulation over the last 30 years in order to improve our ability to grow it efficiently. Today’s genetically modified wheat contains properties that make it particularly dangerous to your health. Gluten, the main protein in wheat can be broken down into a compound called gliadin that acts as a powerful appetite stimulant. Gliadin can be further broken down into extremely addictive compounds called exorphins that trigger the same centers of your brain as opiate drugs like morphine and heroin.
The Gliadin that is found in wheat today is much different than the same compound from wheat produced in 1960 as a result of the genetic hybridization. There have been many studies that demonstrate that people who eat wheat gliadin will ingest, on average, 400 calories per day more food than those who don’t taken in any of this compound.
When wheat is digested by your body, it can release compounds known as “exorphins” that trigger the same centers in your body that are stimulated by morphine, heroin and endorphins – your body’s natural pain relievers. These compounds are not produced by the digestion of other grains. Wheat’s effect on your brain can be demonstrated by using the drug Naloxone which reverses the effects of opiates on the brain. In several experiments, subjects who were given Naloxone prior to a wheat based meal ate 30% fewer calories than those who did not receive the drug. Not surprisingly, there is interest in using this medication for weight loss purposes. When people stop eating wheat, there is usually a 3-4 day period of withdrawal characterized by headaches, short attention span and depression.
Although sprouted wheat bread (aka Ezekiel bread) is a better alternative to whole wheat, it still contains loads of gluten and has the same addictive and appetite stimulant effects. Many gluten free products also contain corn starch, tapioca starch and potato starch that are only slightly less fattening than wheat flour. These products should be avoided.
Eliminating wheat from your diet is a far more demanding change than limiting starchy vegetables and other grains. It requires a commitment of at least two weeks before the true effects of this station can be observed. If you begin to experience headaches and other withdrawal symptoms, resist the temptation to relieve them by going back to wheat – this is not a sign of your body’s need for wheat – it’s withdrawal and is only temporary. Those people with the most severe withdrawal symptoms usually obtain the most significant benefit from a wheat free diet. After you complete your two weeks of wheat free living, you’ll likely notice that your food cravings have decreased and it’s very likely that you’ve lost a few pounds as well.
Cutting down on your starchy vegetables and grains and eliminating wheat will further your need to eat lots of vegetables, fruit, beans, legumes , nuts, seeds and lean animal proteins to satisfy your appetite. Focus on these foods and within a few weeks, your desire for wheat products will be a distant memory.