Whole Grains, Half Truths: Real-life Results of the Wheat-free Diet

Health Professional

TV ads, media conversations, magazine articles, even advice from the American Heart Association and USDA (a la Food Pyramid) all agree: eat more whole grains, get more fiber.

What happens when you follow the advice to add more and more whole grains to your diet?

Look around you: Appetite expands, people gain weight and balloon around their middle, blood sugar skyrockets, inflammatory responses are ignited, pre-diabetes and diabetes eventually develop.

Remember the kid's joke: Why did the man keep hitting his head with a hammer? Because it felt so good when he stopped.

With whole grains, we've exchanged a rubber hammer for a steel hammer. It still hurts, though not as much. The conversion from white, enriched flour products to whole grains is better for us-the data are clear on this. But it still is not good for the vast majority. We have simply traded for a lesser evil.

When we indulge in plentiful whole grains, abnormal lipid (cholesterol) and lipoprotein patterns emerge: increased triglycerides and VLDL, reduced HDL, small LDL─the number one cause for heart disease in the U.S.

"Official" agencies have urged us to eat more grains, get more fiber and most Americans have complied. We now have a nationwide health disaster that will eventually lead to more people with coronary plaque, more heart disease, more heart attack, more heart procedures.

This is why I've been urging patients to go wheat-free. It has proven an extraordinarily and surprisingly effective strategy for:

  1. rapid and profound weight loss
  2. raising HDL and reducing triglycerides, VLDL, and small LDL
  3. reducing blood sugars, pre-diabetes and diabetes**

Without fail, when I first advise people to consider going wheat-free, they are incredulous. "You've got to be kidding me Everyone says to eat healthy whole grains!" Sometimes they can't decide if this is some miracle finding or whether I'm just plain crazy.

So, to give you a sample of what happens to real people when they follow this strategy, I am posting a sampling of the responses I've received over the past year from people who have eliminated wheat from their diet:

Barbara W said:

It's true! We've done it. My husband and I stopped eating all grains and sugar in February. At this point, we really don't miss them any more. It was a huge change, but it's worth the effort. I've lost over 20 pounds (10 to go) and my husband has lost 45 pounds (20 to go). On top of it, our body shapes have changed drastically. It is really amazing. I've got my waist back (and a whole wardrobe of clothes)─I'm thrilled.

I'm also very happy to be eating foods that I always loved like eggs, avocados, and meats─ without feeling guilty that they're not good for me.

With the extremely hot weather this week in our area, we thought we'd "treat" ourselves to small ice cream cones. To our surprise, it wasn't that much of a treat. Didn't even taste as good as we'd anticipated. I know I would have been much more satisfied with a snack of smoked salmon with fresh dill, capers, chopped onion and drizzled with lemon juice.

Aside from weight changes, we both feel so much better in general. We feel much more alert and move around with much greater flexibility, sleep well, never have any indigestion. We're really enjoying this. It's like feeling younger.

It's not a diet for us. This will be the way we eat from now on. Actually, we think our food has become more interesting and varied since giving up all the "white stuff." I guess we felt compelled to get a little more creative.

Eating out (or at other peoples' places) has probably been the hardest part of this adjustment. But now we're getting pretty comfortable saying what we won't eat. I'm starting to enjoy the reactions it produces.

Weight loss, increased energy, less abdominal bloating, better sleep-I've seen it many times, as well.

Dotslady said:

I was a victim of the '80s low-fat diet craze-doc told me I was obese, gave me the Standard American Diet and said to watch my fat (I'm not a big meat eater, didn't like mayo ... couldn't figure out where my fat was coming from! Maybe the fries-I will admit I liked fries). I looked to the USDA food pyramid and to increase my fiber for the constipation I was experiencing. Bread with 3 grams of fiber wasn't good enough; I turned to Kashi cereals for 11 years. My constipation turned to steattorrhea [inability to absorb or digest fats] and a celiac disease diagnosis! No gut pains! My PCP sent me to the gastroenterologist for a colonoscopy because my ferritin was 5 (20 is low range). Good thing I Googled around and asked him to do an endoscopy or I'd be a zombie by now.

My symptoms were depression & anxiety, eczema, GERD, hypothyroidism, mild dizziness, tripping, Alzheimer's-like memory problems, insomnia, heart palpitations, fibromyalgia, worsening eyesight, mild cardiomyopathy, to name a few.

After six months gluten-free, I asked my gastroenterologist about feeling full early... he said he didn't know what I was talking about! shrug

But I knew it was the gluten/starches! My satiety level has totally changed, and for the first time in my life I feel NORMAL!

Feeling satisfied with less is a prominent effect in my experience, too. You need to eat less, you're driven to snack less, less likely to give in to those evil little bedtime or middle-of-the-night impulses that make you feel ashamed and guilty.

An anonymous (female) commenter said:

My life changed when I cut not only all wheat, but all grains from my diet.

For the first time in my life, I was no longer hungry-no hunger pangs between meals; no overwhelming desire to snack. Now I eat at mealtimes without even thinking about food in between.

I've dropped 70 pounds, effortlessly, come off high blood pressure meds and control my blood sugar without medication.

I don't know whether it was just the elimination of grain, especially wheat, or whether it was a combination of grain elimination along with a number of other changes, but I do know that mere reduction of grain consumption still left me hungry. It wasn't until I eliminated it that the overwhelming reduction in appetite kicked in.

As a former wheat-addicted vegetarian, who thought she was eating healthily according to all the expert advice out there at the time, I can only shake my head at how mistaken I was.

That's impressive: 70 lbs lost!

Stan said:

It's worth it and you won't look back!

Many things will improve, not just weight reduction: you will think clearer, your reflexes will improve, your breathing rate will go down, your blood pressure will normalize. You will never or rarely have a fever or viral infections like cold or flu. You will become more resistant to cold temperature and you will rarely feel tired, ever!

Ortcloud said:

Whenever I go out to breakfast I look around and I am in shock at what people eat for breakfast. Big stack of pancakes, fruit, fruit juice syrup, just like you said. This is not breakfast, this is dessert ! It has the same sugar and nutrition as a birthday cake, would anyone think cake is ok for breakfast ? No, but that is exactly the equivalent of what they are eating. Somehow we have been duped to think this is ok. For me, I typically eat an omelet when I go out, low carb and no sugar. I don't eat wheat but invariably it comes with the meal and I try to tell the waitress no thanks, they are stunned. They try to push some other type of wheat or sugar product on me instead, finally I have to tell them I don't eat wheat and they are doubly stunned. They can't comprehend it. We have a long way to go in terms of re-education.

Yes. Don't be surprised at the incomprehension, the rolled eyes, even the anger that can sometimes result. Imagine that told you that the food you've come to rely on and love is killing you!

Anne said:

I was overweight by only about 15 lbs and I was having pitting edema in my legs and shortness of breath. My cardiologist and I were discussing the possible need of an angiogram. I was three years out from heart bypass surgery.

Before we could schedule the procedure, I tested positive for gluten sensitivity through www.enterolab.com. I eliminated not only wheat but also barley and rye and oats (very contaminated with wheat) from my diet. Within a few weeks my edema was gone, my energy was up and I was no longer short of breath. I lost about 10 lbs. The main reason I gave up gluten was to see if I could stop the progression of my peripheral neuropathy. Getting off wheat and other gluten grains has given me back my life. I have been gluten free for 4 years and feel younger than I have in many years.

There are many gluten free processed foods, but I have found I feel my best when I stick with whole foods.

Ann has a different reason (gluten enteropathy, or celiac disease) for wanting to be wheat-free. But I've seen similar improvements that go beyond just relief of the symptoms attributable to the inflammatory intestinal effects of gluten elimination.

Wccaguy said:

I have relatively successfully cut carbs and grains from my diet thus far.

Because I've got some weight to lose, I have tried to keep the carb count low and I've lost 15 pounds since then.

I have also been very surprised at the significant reduction in my appetite. I've read about the experience of others with regard to appetite reduction and couldn't really imagine that it could happen for me too. But it has.

A few weeks ago, I attended a party catered by one of my favorite Italian restaurants and got myself off track for two days. Then it took me a couple of days to get back on track because my appetite returned.

The latest thing I picked up is the good old-fashioned hard boiled egg. Two or three eggs with some spicy hot sauce for breakfast and a handful of almonds mid-morning plus a couple glasses of water and I'm good for the morning, no problem.

I find myself thinking about lunch not because I'm really hungry but out of habit.

The cool thing too now is that the more I do this, the more I'm just not tempted much to do anything but this diet.

Going wheat-free, along with a reduction in processed sugary foods like sodas, juices, cookies, and candy is the straightest, most direct path I know of to lose weight, obtain all the health benefits listed by our commenters, as well as achieve enormous improvement in cholesterol patterns.

Related posts:

Are You a Wheat-aholic?

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

Heart Disease Diet: Do You Have a "Wheat Belly"?