Saturday, July 8, 2017

Wheat and Weight: Is There Really Such a Thing as "Wheat Belly?"

Wheat gets blamed for the modern obesity crisis, but not everybody has a problem with it, and belly fat is actually activated not just by wheat but also by potatoes and oats.

Bread, wheat, and carbohydrates in general are something the general public and even diet gurus usually understand very poorly. Modern wheat isn’t that terribly different from ancient wheat. What’s different is how much wheat we eat, how much it is refined into flour, and what we eat it with. It's not so much that carbohydrates in general or wheat in particular is toxic for everyone (wheat is toxic for about 10 percent of people), it’s a matter of not eating too much.

There really are people who need to eat gluten-free. That’s about 1 in 300 people. Nearly everyone, however, has a problem with wheat. That’s not because of gluten. It’s not even because wheat today is not like wheat of two thousand years ago (and it isn’t).

The problem is we eat too much wheat, and wheat is inflammatory. Specifically, wheat causes inflammation in belly fat. In ancient times, people didn’t get enormous amounts of wheat like we do today, and even if they had, they didn’t have a lot of belly fat to get inflamed. We can eat bread any time we like and we tend to be overweight, so we suffer ill effects from wheat. It’s a matter of too much wheat, not whether you eat any wheat at all, for most people who have problems with wheat. This is such a common issue of concern that we’ll get it out of the way before we get back to the basics.

Scientists at the University of Kuopio in Finland tested the idea that wheat, potatoes, and oats might somehow cause the changes that lead to type 2 diabetes, and rye bread might stop them. They recruited volunteers with pre-diabetes to donate samples of subcutaneous fat before and after a 12-week diet. (The fat samples were taken by needle biopsy. ) Both groups of volunteers were given prepared meals with exactly the same total calories, total carbohydrates, fat, protein, and fiber. One group got its carbohydrates from wheat, potatoes, and oats, and the other got its carbohydrates from rye (rye crackers, rye bread, and rye pasta).

At the end of the twelve weeks, the volunteers gave another fat sample and the scientists looked for changes:

  • In the group that ate wheat, potatoes, and oats, 62 genes that increased inflammation and insulin use were more active and fat cells were larger. 
  • In the group that ate rye, 71 genes that increased inflammation and insulin use were less active, and fat cells were smaller. This means that they had less surface area and tied up less insulin.

Blood sugar levels after eating equivalent amounts of carbohydrate on both diets were the same, but the rye group needed less insulin. The rye eaters also had lower levels of the enzyme hormone-sensitive lipase, which is associated with heart disease and high cholesterol. This makes wheat, oats, and potatoes foods diabetics need to avoid. But this also means rye bread helps weight loss.

Where most of us go wrong is eating a combination of wheat and potatoes nearly every meal and then eating a healthy bowl of oatmeal for breakfast to boot. Our bodies struggle with them individually, but together, they are just too much.

Photo credit: 3268zauber. Frühstückskorb mit Sesambrötchen, Mehrkornbrötchen, Roggenbrötchen, Schrippe und Krusti. Wikimedia Commons.

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