Cut out the wheat and lose weight: Why your daily bread could be making you fat

Sian Boyle
wheat 300x225 Cut out the wheat and lose weight: Why your daily bread could be making you fat

Kernels of wheat (Getty Images)

New year, new you and a new round of that eternal struggle – lose weight. It’s often the resolution that tops everyone’s lists but weight loss eludes many of us, the perpetual pushing of that boulder up the mountain.

For decades we’d been told that carbohydrates are the enemy but now a new school of thought within nutrition is gaining ground, stating that we need carbohydrates as much as we need vegetables, but there is one culprit among them that may be doing some real damage: wheat.

Hidden wheat intolerance is a major factor in resistant weight loss. Helen Bond consultant nutritionist at Royal Preston Hospital says that “45 per cent of people in the UK suffer from food intolerance and wheat intolerance is quite prevalent”.

Many people don’t realise they’re wheat intolerant because most symptoms such as cramps and diarrhoea don’t appear for up to 48 hours after eating it. If you’re wheat intolerant, your immune system produces an IgG antibody reaction when you eat it, and the more IgG antibodies you produce, the more likely you are to suffer from symptoms that just don’t seem to shift, including excess weight.

A study by the York Test measured the IgG antibody levels of 5,000 people in a range over 113 foods and then eliminated the foods they were intolerant to. The group of overweight people tested lost on average 9.09 per cent of their original weight and saw BMI reduced on average from 23.7 to 21.5.

Another study conducted this year by the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine tested 120 people and those who eliminated IgG-producing foods from their diet saw reductions in body mass index, waist and hip circumferences, and lost an average of one to two pounds per week.

When I dropped wheat from my diet last year I lost 10lbs in a week and although that may seem the fabled stuff of those weekly magazines, whose neon pink headlines scream similar testimonies to you from their shelves, it’s true. That’s because while it is possible to only lose a maximum of about two pounds of fat in a week, it is possible to drop much more in water retention which is caused by food intolerance.

Patrick Holford author of Hidden Food Allergies says “if you eat a food you are intolerant to, it can cause bloating and an ‘inflammation’ not conducive to weight loss”. But if it’s all food intolerance which make you bloat and store weight, why are nutritionists picking on wheat?

Unlike other intolerance triggers such as milk, eggs or nuts, wheat products like bread and pasta are often highly processed and refined, which means they have a less complex molecular structure, resulting in the food getting broken down quicker and absorbed into your bloodstream quicker. This results in a ‘hit’ to your bloodstream, a spike in your insulin levels and the excess glucose being stored as fat. The following ‘crash’ in your blood sugar levels creates sharp hunger pangs and cravings which could lead to overeating. Helen admits that while some wheat products contain health benefits, “certainly eliminating refined wheat products would help with losing weight because you’ll feel fuller for longer”.

All my favourite foods are wheat-based. I’ve never had a sweet tooth and I can turn down a battered cod and chips or a greasy fry up without a second thought. Pasta, pizza and bread however are my downfall. Many people slaver over a big slab of chocolate but nothing gets me going like a good old sandwich. Giving up wheat was antithetical to my being but then I discovered that my ‘addiction’ to it might be an indication that I’m actually wheat intolerant.

Patrick says: “studies in Autistic children, who are often wheat intolerant, show that opioid-like or ‘feel good’ chemicals are generated from eating wheat”. This is because the protein unique to wheat, gliadin, is rare in that it gets broken down to polypeptides (small proteins) that have the ability to cross into the brain and bind to morphine receptors, causing a ‘euphoria’ type reaction in the brain. This may be part of the reason wheat products increase appetite and cause addiction-like behaviours in susceptible people. Ironically, if wheat is the one thing you can’t do without, it may be the one thing you should do without.

What makes it especially difficult to lose weight is that wheat is actually all around us. Yes, we know wheat is present in all things bakery, from ciabattas to chapatis, pretzels to pan au chocolat, bagel to biscuit. But what about soy sauce, hot chocolate, ice cream, ketchup, soup, chocolate or gravy? In fact, if you pick up anything packaged or boxed it probably does contain wheat, in the form of its pseudonyms ‘modified food starch’, ‘hydrolyzed plant protein’, ‘dextrin’ or indeed many artificial flavours, colourings and preservatives.

All is not lost, however. Find out if you’re wheat intolerant by eliminating it for four to six weeks before re-introducing it, and then swap wheat for its healthier carbohydrate counterparts such as quinoa, rice, barley, rye, corn or millet. Patrick says “to switch from wheat to something less allergenic is relatively easy to do, such as swapping your wheat-based breakfast cereal for porridge and your bread for oat-cakes.”

Give up wheat and get that boulder up the mountain. Your New Year’s weight loss may be easier than you think.

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  • Happy in Texas

    Thank you for sharing your story.

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