The Wheat-free FAQ

Health Professional

The wheat-free concept I've articulated has proven enormously effective at:

  • Reducing blood sugar─often converting pre-diabetics and even diabetics into non-pre-diabetics or non-diabetics.
  • Weight loss─20, 30, 50 lbs is not uncommon.
  • Reducing cholesterol─Yes, though it is counterintuitive. LDL cholesterol will drop precipitously if it is the small type particle, a very common pattern today.
  • Reducing triglycerides and increasing HDL
  • Increasing energy

Admittedly, advocating this concept is like swimming upstream: I'm fighting a powerful current of advice advocating more and more "healthy whole grains."

I estimate that this strategy works for around 70% of people - not everybody - but a substantial proportion of people, particularly if you struggle with weight, blood sugar, high triglycerides, etc.

My advice to anybody contemplating this concept: Give it a 4-week experimental trial. If nothing improves─you don't feel better, you don't shed weight like crazy, etc.─then perhaps this is not for you. But if you do, why then you might have stumbled on a useful strategy for your type.

But for anybody with some lingering doubts about this unusual concept, here are some frequently-asked questions that arise:

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 to gluten. This is called celiac disease, celiac sprue, or gluten enteropathy.

However, much of the undesirable effects in people without gluten sensitivity have little or nothing to do with gluten specifically. In fact, it's not known precisely what component of wheat is responsible for all its non-celiac adverse effects. But it also means that gluten-free products should not be sought in people without gluten sensitivity. Many gluten-free products, while they lack gluten, are often unhealthy foods made with cornstarch, rice or other highly-processed carbohydrates. While not as bad as wheat, they are not desirable substitutes. So I tell my patients to avoid gluten-free alternatives and don't confuse gluten-free products with healthy foods.

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 nearly the same amount and can thereby trigger many of the same undesirable health consequences like increased triglycerides, low HDL, small LDL, higher blood pressure.

From a practical viewpoint, however, I find that the majority─perhaps 90%─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.

Why eliminate wheat? Can't I just cut back?

Though it's an imperfect analogy, I often draw a parallel between wheat and alcohol.

Imagine I advise my next door neighbor who drinks two liters of vodka per day that he should cut back to two glasses a day. It's better for him, but can he do it? Probably not.

Of course, wheat and wheat addiction isn't as dramatic as alcoholism, but a similar phenomenon applies to many (though not all) people: There is a clear addictive potential to wheat products that prevents many people from giving it up. In fact, I've witnessed many people lose substantial weight by eliminating wheat, only to regain it just by indulging in a small quantity of some wheat-based product that opens the floodgates of unrestrained impulse.

I don't think that stopping wheat is possible. I tried it and felt tired and foggy for days. Why is that?

Many people are surprised to learn that there is an actual withdrawal syndrome from wheat. Stop wheat products abruptly, and many people (I estimate about 50-70% of people) experience a distinct withdrawal effect: fatigue, mental cloudiness, crabbiness. It usually lasts 2 to 5 days, occasionally longer.

Why? I believe it stems from the body's conversion from a sugar-based metabolism (wheat is pure sugar to the body with a little added fiber and nutrients) to a fat-burning metabolism. The process takes a few days to "kick in." Interesting, I learned from some readers of my blog that wheat has also been shown to have opiate-like effects in animal models, though I am uncertain whether this is a phenomenon that applies to humans.

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's counter-intuitive, but pound for pound, fiber intake will actually be fine or better despite the lack of wheat bran in the diet.

I find that the best non-wheat fibers to add for additional fiber for maintaining bowel regularity or reducing LDL cholesterol and blood pressure are ground flaxseed and oat bran. Neither exerts the ill-effects of wheat.

Related posts:

The Wheat-free Life: Breakfast

The Wheat-free Life: Lunch and Dinner

Are You a Wheat-aholic?

Foods Worse than Table Sugar? You Don't Want to Know