We are constantly being brainwashed by commercials and the Canadian Food Guide to eat more whole grains. We’re led to believe that they’re full of vitamins and minerals and we need them for energy. This just isn’t the case though. Although it’s true that whole grains do provide a good source of B vitamins, there are much better food choices that can also give us our B’s without the nasty side effects that we get from grains. Some good places to get your B vitamins from are turkey, tuna, potatoes, bananas, tempeh, beans, lentils, chili peppers, nutritional yeast and molasses.
So what are some of these side effects I’m talking about? Grains, specifically wheat, can wreak havoc on your body from head to toe. They can make you feel tired and sluggish, cause skin problems, digestive issues, increased appetite, debilitating diseases and the list goes on. One specific side effect that I want to focus on is inflammation. Inflammation is a natural and, at times, necessary reaction in the body but when it isn’t controlled it can be very painful and problematic.
One way that grains can cause an inflammatory response is through insulin resistance. When you eat foods containing sugar the pancreas releases insulin to carry the glucose from the blood and store it in cells for energy later on. The goal in a healthy diet is to maintain a steady release of insulin throughout the day and avoid massive spikes and dips in blood sugar. Constantly consuming sugary foods that are high on the Glycemic Index will cause your body to produce too much insulin, which eventually leads to insulin resistance when your cells stop responding to it. The Glycemic Index is a scale that rates foods from low to high based on the effect they have on blood sugar.
Insulin resistance is characterized by an inability of the cells to respond to the action of insulin. This is due to a change in the surface receptors on the cell membrane. In response, the Beta cells of the pancreas to produce more insulin in an attempt to solve the problem, which further exacerbates it resulting in hyperglycemia (high blood sugar).
In cases of insulin resistance, the excess glucose gets stored as deep visceral fat. This is where the issue with inflammation comes into play. Deep abdominal fat is filled with white blood cells, much like pus cells, which secrete inflammatory proteins into the bloodstream. This increases inflammation in all areas of the body including joints, muscles, organs, etc… For anyone suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation in the joints is increased when consuming a diet rich in grains.
Another way that inflammation can be created in the body is by ingesting substances which the body recognizes as foreign. Wheat germ agglutinin and gliadin are substances that the body doesn’t recognize and will form an attack against. T lymphocytes are inflammatory cells that come into play to try and protect the body. Anytime the body has to fight something, inflammation is a consequence.
Grains can also contribute to a condition known as “leaky gut.” There are several causes for this with one of them being ingesting foods that are toxic to the body. “Leaky gut” is exactly how it sounds, the intestinal wall becomes more permeable and food is able to pass through before it has been fully digested. This sets off yet another attack as the body tries to fight the foreign debris entering the bloodstream.
All of these mechanisms result in constant inflammation as the body always feels like it is under attack. Symptoms can be felt as bloating, gas, upset stomach, cramps, pain and sometimes there are no symptoms at all so people don’t think it is affecting them but it is still going on whether they feel it or not.
I encourage everyone to try cutting wheat and all other grains from their diet for at least a couple of weeks and notice how different you feel. Even people who aren’t diagnosed with Celiac disease or who are gluten sensitive will feel better. It’s been shown through studies that everyone has the presence of inflammatory lymphocytes created in response to gluten in their blood so eliminating the source of the problem will decrease any lingering inflammation that there may be. One important thing to note, however, is that you may feel some withdrawal symptoms initially that you’ll have to tough out in the beginning.
For more information the Wheat Belly Cookbook has a lot more detail about all the effects from cutting grains out of your diet as well as some great recipes.
Book: Wheat Belly Cookbook by William Davis, MD