Call us chauvinists, but deep down, everyone in the Indian subcontinent believes that our cuisine is quite possibly (read: definitely) the best in the world. And one of the most important components of our cuisine is, you guessed it, wheat. We love our Flat Breads and Parathas and they’re an essential part of all of our meals. So imagine our horror when we learned that cardiologist William Davis published a book that claimed that our precious chappatis were responsible for many of our dietary problems, including obesity and diabetes. Therefore, the author of this article decided to undertake the noble mission of separating doodh from doodh, pani from pani and aata from jhoot to settle this debate once and for all.
According to Dr. Davis in his New York Times best selling book “Wheat Belly”, eliminating wheat can “transform our lives”. He argues that giving up wheat and returning to what he calls “real food” like fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, nuts and seeds leads to immediate substantial weight loss, especially from the abdomen, which is where the term ‘wheat belly’ comes from. His patients reported decreased blood sugar, weight loss, and overall better health, including better mood and sleep, after removing wheat from their diet.
It’s a well known fact that many foods we now eat are not the same ones that were available, say, 50 years ago. In an effort to maximize yield and shelf life, agricultural scientists used a series of techniques, including hybridization and selective breeding, to improve crops, including wheat.
What this essentially means is that we traded in a lot of the nutrients in wheat for more and longer lasting wheat, which, if we think about it, is useless to us anyway since it’s been stripped of many of its good foodstuff. It’s like emptying a can of beans so you can get more cans that don’t go bad for a longer time. So yes. You’ve basically been eating cans 3 times a day.
Now that we’ve established our can eating tendencies, let’s have a look at what we have really been consuming.
- Amylopectin A
This is better known as the ‘super starch’, since it is responsible for the super tall and super fluffy appearance and texture of bread. Look beyond that, and it’s also super bad for you. Not only is Amylopectin A digested as fast as white sugar by our body- which leads to a high level of blood sugar and ultimately, diabetes as well as obesity-, it is also responsible for triggering small LDL particles in the blood which cause heart disease.
Research suggests that the wheat we eat nowadays contains almost 10x the gluten it did half a century ago, which is severely problematic for people suffering from celiac disease, or gluten intolerance. As many as 1 out of every 100 people have celiac disease, a primary reason for the popularity of gluten free diets. Therefore, wheat is just another name for a hospital visit for nearly 1% of the world’s population.
Gliadin is a protein found in wheat that is probably the reason we love wheat so much. It targets the opiate receptors in the brain, which is why it’s so addictive. On top of that, it also stimulates appetite and imitates feelings of withdrawal and dependency. It establishes a cycle wherein you keep consuming more wheat which leads you to consume more wheat and so on. Eating wheat increases an average person’s caloric intake by 400 calories, so you can probably guess where all of that is going: your wheat belly. So the next time you say you’ve never done drugs, think again.
- The Counterargument
I’m sure by now you’re convinced wheat is the devil incarnate and have vowed to never touch a grain again. However, we don’t give up so easily. And after strenuous research, it’s safe to say, it’s not all bad. Despite our wheat eating frenzy, we’re still falling short of the minimum recommended 3 daily whole grain servings. This is largely because most of us eat refined, processed wheat instead of 100% organic whole wheat.
Processed wheat grains have the outer coverings removed to make the grain more compact, fine and longer lasting. However, those coverings are important since they give us valuable fiber and prolong digestion so that the energy isn’t converted to fat. If we eat whole wheat, the benefits of wheat far exceed its drawbacks, as it also gives us vital nutrients we’ll be missing out on. In fact, eating more whole grains has been linked to lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity and even certain cancers.
There is also no scientific evidence that says foods with wheat cause more weight gain than other foods. Weight loss on the wheat belly diet may be because it bans other foods like soda, sugary foods, potatoes, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, fruit juice etc which are definitely responsible for weight gain in favor of healthy vegetables and meat. As for how much weight loss is caused solely due to eliminating wheat, we cannot know for sure since wheat isn’t inherently fattening and whole wheat can rightfully be considered a part of any healthy diet.
While eliminating wheat can lead to weight loss, it can also lead to weight gain. It all depends on how balanced your diet is. The only thing we know for certain is that organic whole grains should be incorporated into your diet instead of fattening processed grains, because they are the cause of most of the health problems listed above. Besides, with the amount of foods wheat has wiggled its way into (ice cream, are you kidding me?), the wheat belly diet is no easy feat anyway, and you know us. We love easy things as much as we love our parathas.