Are whole grains really good for your heart? The American Heart Association would like you to believe so, as would many bread and cereal companies, ad agencies, and lobbying groups. Unfortunately, while many of us are now avoiding white bread, we’ve only exchanged it for a lesser evil. Yes, whole grains are better for us (mostly children and very active people), but they’re not great for the vast majority of Americans.
Is this “official”?
No. The USDA’s Food Pyramid recommends that American adults get at least 6 to 8 "ounce-equivalents" of grains per day; each ounce-equivalent consists of one slice of bread, one cup of ready-to-eat cereal, or a half cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta, or cooked cereal. In other words, up to six slices of whole grain bread, or six cups of Shredded Wheat cereal, or three cups of whole wheat pasta would all fit comfortably into the USDA Food Pyramid recommendations. The American Heart Association (AHA) provides similar advice, suggesting that 50 to 60 percent of daily calories come from grains, which should be mostly whole grains.
Why should I listen to “unofficial” recommendations?
According to cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, the recommendations established by the AHA are a major contributing factor to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity in the US. In his experience as Medical Director of the heart disease prevention and reversal program, Track Your Plaque, and author of the national bestseller, Wheat Belly (Rodale, 2011), high intake of whole grains will lower your good cholesterol (HDL), increase your small LDL, raise your blood sugar, increase your blood pressure, and increase belly fat. For Dr. Davis, many of these assertions gained truth through trial and error in treating over 2,000 of his own patients. In an effort to find a better solution than invasive procedures to ward of heart disease and other heart-related events, Dr. Davis asked his patients to eliminate wheat and other whole grain products. The results of this program were astounding, and many of his patients saw dramatic changes in weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. Check Dr. Davis’s success stories here.
Is wheat-free the same as gluten-free?
No, it is not. This can be very confusing to people. Wheat contains a protein called gluten, which can trigger terrible abdominal cramps, diarrhea, arthritis, and other severe health issues from an allergic response. This is called celiac disease, celiac sprue, or gluten enteropathy.
If you aren’t allergic to gluten, it’s not smart to switch to gluten-free products. Many are unhealthy foods made with corn starch, rice or other highly-processed carbohydrates. While not as bad as wheat, they are not desirable substitutes.
Are corn, rice, and potatoes any better?
Yes, they are, but not by much.
Corn, rice, and potatoes do not stimulate appetite to the same degree as wheat, nor do they seem to exert the same addictive effects as crackers, pretzels, and breads. However, they do raise blood sugar by nearly the same amount and can trigger many of the same undesirable health consequences such as increased triglycerides, low HDL, small LDL, higher blood pressure.
From a practical viewpoint, however, Dr. Davis finds that the majority ─ perhaps 90 percent ─ of the problem in diet nowadays is not rice, corn, or potatoes, but wheat. It is not uncommon for people to indulge in wheat products five times per day. It's very unusual, however, for someone to eat corn, rice, or potatoes five times per day. Just addressing the wheat issue usually leads to substantial improvements in health, even if a bit of corn, rice, or potatoes is still included.
Won't I get too little fiber in my diet if I eliminate wheat?
Not if you replace many of the lost calories with raw nuts, vegetables, fruits, and non-wheat fibers such as flaxseed and oats.
Dr. Loren Cordain, author of The Paleo Diet and a vocal advocate of grain-free diets, has in fact examined this question in detail. He determined that, if the calories of wheat and grains are replaced by raw nuts and vegetables, your fiber intake goes . . . up! It may seem counterintuitive, but pound for pound, your fiber intake can actually improve, even without wheat bran in your diet.
Are all grains bad?
No. Flaxseed, ground and used as a cereal or added to other dishes, can be a healthy food, since very little or none is metabolized to sugar. Oat bran is another great choice.
What’s the bottom line?
Try it for yourself. Eliminate all wheat products from your diet (this means cereal, bread, pasta, cake, chips, etc.) and replace them with raw nuts, healthy oils, oat bran, flax seed, yogurt, cottage cheese, and other lean proteins like fish, chicken, turkey and eggs. Give it a few weeks, and see the results for yourself. If you don’t see results – no harm done. Perhaps you are part of the small percentage that isn’t affected by wheat. In the likely event that you do see results, enjoy the feeling and know that you’re a few steps closer to a healthier heart.
Dr. William Davis. (2008, September 27). HealthCentral. Retrieved from http://www.healthcentral.com/heart-disease/c/1435/42585/wheat-free
Dr. William Davis. (2007, October 22). HealthCentral. Retrieved from http://www.healthcentral.com/heart-disease/c/1435/15126/wheataholic