A Staten Island triathlete and endurance coach ventures into the ultramarathon realm where there are seemingly no limits to human endurance. In 2013, he successfully finished the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning (picture of 2013 Grand Slam finishers above; I'm second from right), becoming only the 282nd person (since its beginnings in 1986) and only the fourth New Yorker to finish four of the oldest and most prestigious 100 mile ultramarathons in the U.S. in only 10 weeks.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Wheat: Friend or Foe - A Rebuttal

The Staten Island Advance yesterday posted an article in their health section called, "Wheat: Friend or Foe?", an article by Dr. Sharen Palmer that tries to "dispel the myths" that wheat is bad for you and that whole grains do have "a proper place" in people's diets.

You can see the article here.

There are some items in this article that we really have to take a look at here...

Julie Miller Jones, Ph.D., Distinguished Scholar and Professor Emerita of St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, believes that wheat has become today’s diet scapegoat. Jones, who is an expert in the field of grain science, says, “There is no evidence that wheat is bad for you, with the caveat that you eat the right amounts as recommended, and make half of your grain servings whole grain. There is a staple grain or starchy tuber in every culture—in our culture it’s wheat. We’ve been cultivating and eating wheat for centuries, and perhaps the only bad thing about it is that for the last 50 years of eating wheat, we’ve been sitting down too much and not cultivating it ourselves. So, we’re attacking the wrong demons.”
No evidence that wheat is bad for you, huh? Just like the cigarette industry said back in the 1970s that cigarettes weren't harmful for you? Or the shoe industry "citing sources" that their overly built-up running shoes with "state of the art" cushioning is not bad for your legs?

Please. You sound like just one of those people trying to defend the establishment and their FDA and Big Agriculture sponsored food pyramid scheme. But you want evidence that wheat is bad for you, huh? OK, let's get into the details...

Growing wheat. One popular notion is that wheat has been genetically altered by humans to the degree that it is no longer good for us. However, Jones explains that the common plant foods you eat every day—lettuce, tomatoes, corn—have been modified countless times over the years through traditional cross-breeding methods, which farmers use in order to bring out the best attributes of crops. “Your grandmother and grandfather were seed savers—they saved the biggest, sweetest seeds and planted them the following year,” adds Jones.

This goes far, far beyond individual farmers just hand-picking the good seeds from the bad seeds. There's a huge experiment that has been going on for decades (and is still ongoing) about increasing wheat yields called the Broadbalk Winter Wheat Experiment. This article on Mark's Daily Apple explains in full detail why wheat genetically modified on such a large industrial level is harmful for you...

In 1843, agronomists at Rothamstead Research Station in Hertfordshire, England began what would become one of the longest-running continuous agronomic experiments in the world: the Broadbalk Winter Wheat Experiment. For the last two centuries, generations of scientists involved in the experiment have grown multiple wheat cultivars on adjacent plots of land and applied different farming techniques and fertilizers to study the effect on yield, nutritional content, and viability of the crop. They’ve rotated crops in and out, switched up fertilizers, and tracked the change in mineral content of both soil and wheat grain. It’s a stunning example of a well-designed, seemingly never ending (it continues to this day, as far as I can tell) experiment.
Between 1843 and the mid 1960s, the mineral content, including zinc, magnesium, iron, and copper, of harvested wheat grain in the experiment stayed constant. But after that point, zinc, magnesium, iron, and copper concentrations began to decrease – a shift that “coincided with the introduction of semi-dwarf, high-yielding cultivars” into the Broadbalk experiment. Another study found that the “ancient” wheats – emmer, spelt, and einkorn – had higher concentrations of selenium, an extremely important mineral, than modern wheats. Further compounding the mineral issue is the fact that phytic acid content remains unaffected in dwarf wheat. Thus, the phytate:mineral ratio is higher, which will make the already reduced levels of minerals in dwarf wheat even more unavailable to its consumers.
Increased yield leading to dilution of mineral density is one possible explanation for the reduction in wheat mineral content, but modern wheat has shorter root systems than ancient wheat, and longer roots allow greater extraction of minerals from the soil. Some people have proposed soil mineral depletion as the cause of reduced nutrient content of food, but – at least in the Broadbalk experiment – soil mineral content actually increased over time.
In other words, after years of industrial-level genetic modification, the wheat that is in production today is markedly different than the wheat of old. Such wheat is turning out to be less nutritious and more toxic for the everyday diet. Farmers hand picking good seeds from bad would never yield this type of wheat at all.

But hey, let's get back to this article by Sharen Palmer, OK?

Wheat and weight. Perhaps the most popular concern over wheat centers upon weight. Wheat-free proponents suggest that avoiding it can help you lose weight—if you eliminate wheat, you’re essentially on a low-carb diet.

According to Jones, “Studies show that low-carb diets can cause rapid weight loss in the first six months, but that people weigh more in two to three years, indicating that these diets are very hard to follow.” Any time you restrict your diet significantly by eliminating a major food group, such as wheat or dairy, calories typically drop and weight loss occurs. And so it shouldn’t be a surprise that many wheat-free dieters report—anecdotally, without published scientific findings—that they have lost weight.
OK, so what she did here is built up a "straw man" type of argument here by associating a low wheat diet to a low carb diet, then attacking all low carb diets as unsustainable. I see.

Have you ever considered fruits as a source of carbohydrates? Some vegetables? Hmmm, I think I'm getting a good share of carbohydrates there, and yes, although the amount is significantly lower than, say, a wheat diet, I'm definitely getting enough of them to live a healthy lifestyle. Plus, the carbohydrates in fruits and veggies are naturally consumed in moderation, avoiding the "sugar spike" and shock to the system that can cause complications over time like diabetes.

Let's continue, shall we?

Yet, a number of studies have found that people who eat more whole grains, including whole wheat, maintain a healthier weight. In a Tufts University study of more than 400 adults, whole grain and cereal fiber intake was strongly linked to lower BMI (body mass index), lower total percent body fat and lower abdominal fat (Journal of Nutrition, 2009.) However, if you eat too many servings of wheat or too many high-calorie products that combine wheat with fat and sugar (think donuts and chocolate chip cookies), it’s entirely possible to put on pounds.
I grew up thinking that cereals were the best for me. In my 20s, I was young enough to burn them off, but as my metabolism slowed, my weight gained considerably. Even with vigorous exercise, my weight went over 200 pounds, considered "overweight" by the BMI index that they tout. Remember, I was a triathlete, competing in Ironman races. I was NOT the typical adult who sat on his couch every day and watched TV for several hours a day.

It took a while for me to really open up my mind my diet and start accepting these "radical" beliefs that grains are actually not very good for people and that fats were in general pretty healthful. It took years for me to open up my mind because establishment people like Sharon Palmer tries to keep people like me adhering to the old dogmas of diet.

Let's continue with this article:

Wheat and disease. Wheat-free diets claim that before the cultivation of wheat humans were healthy, and that wheat is to blame for many health conditions, from diabetes to heart disease. But Jones reports, “Most chronic diseases didn’t occur in early times, because life span was only in the 30s. If anything, you could say that diets with grains have enabled a longer life. In the beginning of the 1900s, our lifespan was in the 50s and we were eating a lot of wheat. Our lifespan has continued to increase. This has to do with many factors, including diet.”
 Or you can say that other conditions improved, like health, economy, and other factors that contributed to longer lifespans as well. There's no direct evidence that our what based diet itself contributed to longer lives.

The paragraph above also talks about longer lifespans, not the QUALITY OF LIFE that goes along with the longer lifespans. There are people my age (mid 40s) that are starting to see the complications of their diets and are starting to take medication to "cure their ills". Having chronic diseases that come from our prevailing diet is really no way to go through your older years. I'm sorry, but 50 years of this wheat based diet is yielding tremendous evidence of complications in our older generation. One just has to open his or her own eyes just to see this. Dr. Palmer has got to get her head out of the sand before she can safely say that a wheat based diet is really good for you.

Lastly, let's look at this little humdinger here:

Look no further than the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), a dietary pattern with years of documented, proven health benefits, including weight loss, elimination of hypertension, and reducing the risk of heart attack, stroke, diabetes, heart failure, and certain types of cancer. The DASH diet is a nutritionally balanced diet that includes six to eight servings of grains daily, mostly in their whole grain form. (See EN’s coverage of the DASH diet in the December 2012 issue.)
Elimination of hypertension? I'm sorry, but when I read this, and look at my father, I have to laugh. My father is pure Italian. He loved his pasta and his Italian bread. His hypertension was so sky high that he needed medications to "regulate it". After seeing my transformation to the primal diet, he's actually cut down the amount of pasta and bread he's been consuming. Amidst all the visits to the doctor this year, his hypertension has ACTUALLY GONE DOWN to a healthy level and is now considering getting off the meds.

As for me, my increasing age has forced me to really address my dietary concerns in order to stay in top athletic shape. Ten years ago, when I was conforming to the "high carb, high grain" lifestyle, my athletic performance dropped and my weight gained into unhealthy levels. I've had very irritable bowels ever since childhood and have thought nothing of it because I thought that this condition was normal. Now that I've cut out the wheat, the grains, and switched to a primarily Paleo lifestyle, I've actually felt that I've REVERSED my age, my bowels feel normal for the first time in my life, gotten my athletic performance back, brought my weight down to a very optimal 177 pounds, and am now on the verge to do something quite extraordinary with my attempt at the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning this summer.

And to sum it up nicely, I feel FANTASTIC!

Sorry Dr. Palmer, but you really need to open up your eyes to see the mounting evidence against your case here. The shoe industry recently tried this approach with their overly built-up shoes, always citing some sort of "research" that their shoes were actually helping people when in fact there were a lot of runners out there with chronic injuries due to those shoes. When they changed to minimal footwear/barefoot running, their injuries miraculously went away! The shoe companies quickly had to abandon this approach amid falling profit and had to change their shoes for the better.

I am a scientist myself, as well as an endurance coach, and the rules of Scientific Method dictates that all scientists need to keep an open mind, acknowledge any new challenges to the prevailing theory, and proceed to experiment to see if the present theory holds or needs to be replaced. Simply holding on to dogma in the face of mounting challenges is not scientific and does not help humankind advance to a higher level of awareness.

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