‘Pie hole’, colloquial for one’s mouth, is believed to have evolved in the USA in the 1980s from the British expression ‘cake hole’ (coined in the mid 20th century). Pie hole refers to a mouth, as in: Shut your pie hole or, in this case: Put less in your pie hole.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Quit Wheat Belly Aching (Pt II)

Welcome back to our discussion about why wheat is maybe, just maybe not part of an elaborate organised crime syndicate hell bent on making the world's inhabitants obese. Last week we discussed wheat history and started scrutinising some nonsensical and scientifically baseless assertions about wheat. This week in part II we'll discuss some more unsubstantiated claims made in the book 'Wheat Belly'. We'll also (briefly) put the Paleo diet through its paces.


Enough introductions, let's get stuck into the next claim:


 3) “The starch in wheat is different from that found in other carbohydrate-rich foods such as bananas, potatoes and vegetables. The amylopectin structure allows it to be very efficiently converted to raise blood sugar” (undesirably).
  • There are two kinds of starch polymers found in plant tissues (including grains, some vegetables and fruit): Amylose and amylopectin (Fig 1)
  • With few exception, the ratio of these polymers varies little: 20-25% amylose to 70-75% amylopectin
  • Factors that effect blood sugar include: Prior meals eaten, fat/protein content of a meal, and food matrix (eg: untoasted vs toasted bread). The ratio of polymers isn't the decisive factor
  • Research shows the blood glucose response after eating bread was actually lower compared to eating the same amount of white rice or potato... Gotta love science
Fig 1: Amylopectin (left) is branched and thus digested more rapidly. Amylose (right) is linear and digested slower relative to amylopectin

4) “Wheat opioids are so addictive that they cause people to be unable to control their eating, and removal of wheat from the diet causes withdrawal”.
  • First off: This is a terribly worded (and wordy) statement
  • Secondly: There is no data to support this suggestion
  • Here's a little more detail: Gluten (the storage protein in wheat) is divided into two fractions, gliadins (monomers) and glutenins (polymers)
    • It gets kinda complex, but I'll do my best to keep it short and simple: Incomplete digestion of gliadin (called gliadorphin) had opiate-like effects in rats who were infused with gliadorphin (note infused: Gliadorphin was injected directly into the blood, this is quite different to eating and digesting because...)
    • Gliadorphin cannot be absorbed by the human intestine, meaning it cannot get into the circulatory system to have any neural effect. So, unless you're a politician and your brain is in your colon... Don't sweat it 
  • Summation: There's no evidence that gliadin stimulates appetite or induces addiction-like withdrawals
Before we wrap it up (in a tasty, glutinous flour tortilla), let's talk a little about grains and Paleo. But let me preface this segment with a few disclaimers: 
  1. People have begged me to write about Paleo since I started Pie Hole... Congratulations, you win
  2. I really don't dig writing about specific fad diets like Paleo
  3. See point 2
Paleo says 'no' to:
  • Cereal grains 
  • Dairy
  • Refined sugar
  • Processed foods
  • Salt
  • Certain oils 
  • Legumes (including peanuts... but other nuts and seeds are ok... am I the only one having a wtf moment?)
  • Potatoes (which are vegetables... another wtf moment brought to you by the 'experts' at ThePaleoDiet.com)

Rather than speculate too closely about how unsustainable (and quite frankly silly) this is, let's look at some facts:
  • There is a large collection of evidence showing whole grain consumption is associated with lower BMI, lower body weight and lower risk of developing various fabulous first world conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer (1, 2, 3)
  • Legumes have many beneficial health effects including the ability to prevent and manage obesity and obesity-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes (shocker)
  • Whole grains and legumes are a great source of fiber
    • And what is something Americans (and a large number of people worldwide) don't eat enough of? You guessed it: Fiber, the stuff that helps you Fast Track Your Faeces
  • It's really (like, I mean really) difficult to get enough fiber when you cut out legumes and whole grains
    • We're talking ~1.1kg (2.4lbs) of fruit and vegetables per day to get 25g of fiber (the lower end of what's recommended)
But I'm pretty sure your average caveman didn't spend 6 hours a day 'lifting'
This is by no means a comprehensive review of the Paleo diet (because... See above point 2). We haven't even mentioned the unhealthy notion of cutting out another whole food group (dairy) in addition to the grains group. But see the links below for some additional reading.

Take home points and tips:
  • Think critically people! 
    • Where are you getting your advice? 
    • What qualifications back up their expertise? 
    • What peer reviewed studies support their recommendations?
  • Paleo:
    • Cavemen didn't live in houses with air conditioning/heating, they didn't brush their teeth, go to the doctor, lift at the gym for 6 hours a day, drive cars, use condoms, wax their chests, take multivitamins or shop at supermarkets. They also died (toothless) at age 40. Does it still 'just make sense'?

Further reading: 

I'd like to dedicate the Quit Your Wheat Belly Aching series to some friends who've been pestering, I mean encouraging me to write about this topic for quite a while (cough: Mark, Allannah and co).

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Quit Your Wheat Belly Aching

Today we're talking a food fad that's grained, I mean gained, momentum over the last few years and sadly looks like it's here to stay. There are those who take random, unsubstantiated, nonsensical health advice from a growing number of annoying and ill-qualified persons who persist in propagating preposterous fictional poppycock... But on the bright side, it gives me something to write about. Here's the anticlimactic handle: Is wheat making us fat? This two-part series will examine some claims made in the popularised book 'Wheat Belly' and the trendy 'Paleolithic Diet'.

Just as one should question the dubious dubbing on 'Glee', we should also question snap claims that any one certain food is responsible for a multifaceted issue like obesity.

Let's explore some root facts before we crop grains from our lives: Wheat is the most cultivated cereal grain worldwide and is relatively rich in micronutrients, including minerals and B vitamins. Of the wheat today:
  • 95% of wheat grown and consumed is bread wheat, which is relatively new; thought to have arisen spontaneously in Turkey about 9,000 years ago from the hybridisation between a cultured form of wheat and a related species of wild grass
  • 5% is durum wheat, typically pasta wheat
  • Small amounts of primitive wheats like spelt, einkorn and emmer are grown for specialist health foods
(L-R) Einkorn, Emmer, Spelt, Kamut
Since it's going to crop up in the minds of many readers, here's a quick note on gluten: The wheat grain has hundreds of individual proteins that are necessary for structural integrity, metabolism and storage. Gluten accounts for about 80% of wheat protein and is a major storage component. Read more about gluten.

The book 'Wheat Belly' (2011) and the recently popularised 'Paleolithic Diet' propose wheat and its consumption have adverse health effects. Claims that obesity is caused by one thing: wheat, rather than the over-consuming and sedentary lifestyle many of us are accustomed to, is simply absurd.

For the sake of brevity, we'll stick to just four of the unsubstantiated claims made in the book. 

1) "Modern wheat" contains the unnatural protein 'gliadin' "created by genetic research in the 60s and 70s". Davis (the author) explains how we are all 'susceptible' to gliadin because “gliadin binds into the opiate receptors in your brain and in most people stimulates appetite, such that we consume 440 more calories per day, 365 days per year”.

Shall we?
  • Gliadins are present in all wheat lines
    • Seeds of some ancient grains (Graziella Ra, Khorasan wheat/Kamut) contain greater amounts of gliadin than modern lines... Whaaaat?
  • Genetic engineering of wheat is certainly possible, but "GM wheat" has never been grown or marketed commercially... Anywhere
  • "Selective breeding" is arguably genetic modification... But not really. It's the same process used in livestock breeding (and domesticated dogs) and there's no evidence suggesting it impacts nutrition or health benefits
    • Annnd let's not forget our 7th grade science class: Mendel's peas... You know, that monk dude who played god with pea colour and shape. Yes, clearly the plot of selectively bred, mutant, obesity-causing wheat is a Roman-Catholic conspiracy developed in the 1800s
2) “The proliferation of wheat products parallels the increase in waist size” 
  • This statement insinuates that a correlation between two variables can be considered a true causal relationship... Not so:
    • There is a strong positive correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks. That is, as ice cream sales increase, so do the number of shark attacks. Is it reasonable to conclude ice cream consumption causes shark attacks?
  • Let's also not forget that the proliferation of wheat has a profoundly longer history than the fairly recent increase in obesity. Oh, and obesity occurs in populations that eat little wheat, like many Asian countries
Such a shame to stop when I'm on such a roll. But tune in next week for the next installment of Quit Your Wheat Belly Aching where we'll discuss the Paleo diet in more detail and two more unsubstantiated claims made in 'Wheat Belly'. It starts to get good when wheat is accused of having opioid qualities causing 'wheat withdrawals'. In the interim, fingers crossed you don't 'Amy Winehouse' yourself over a bowl of pasta. They'll try to make you go to rehab...