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Some gluten-free experts assert that belly fat and cognitive decline is directly linked to whole wheat and whole grain. The assertion is that these grains dangerously increase both inflammation and blood sugar levels, which are causative factors in a host of degenerative concerns.
The main premise of Dr. David Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain, is that the high glycemic index wheat and grains carry indicates that they are as degenerative as, or even more dangerous than sugar itself. The problem with this assertion is that studies after studies show that whole wheat lowers blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of type II diabetes. (2)
Glycemic Index Lower for Whole Wheat
Instead of the incrimination of all wheat and all grains, perhaps a distinction should have been made between processed and refined wheat and grains versus whole wheat and grains. Refined wheat has a significantly higher glycemic index compared to whole wheat, and this should be considered before all wheat is condemned as having a high glycemic index.
For example, one study compared standard American foods with low glycemic foods. They used 100% stone ground or 100% whole wheat as their low glycemic index (GI) foods. Lower glycemic foods are linked to a reduction of blood sugar and inflammation, as are whole wheats. (1,2,3)
Standard GI Foods
Refined (Processed) Wheat
English muffin 76
Sandwich (white bread) 70
Low GI Foods
100% Whole Wheat
Cinnamon toast (100% stone ground) 51
French toast (100% stone ground) 51
Bean Burrito (whole wheat) 28
Quesadilla (whole wheat tortilla) 30
Whole Grains Lower Inflammation and Blood Sugar
In one study, whole grains, bran, and germ were evaluated in 938 healthy men and women. They measured homocysteine and C-reactive protein for inflammation and blood sugar control.
The results were striking! The whole wheat group saw a 17% reduction in homocysteine and a 14% reduction in C-reactive protein – which are linked to inflammation. They saw a 14% reduction in insulin, suggesting a blood sugar-lowering effect. (2)
They concluded that the whole wheat diet was not associated with inflammation. This debunks a major claim by the gluten-free experts, who link inflammation from wheat to cognitive decline and belly fat.
The study also concluded that whole grain intake was most strongly inversely associated with markers of glycemic control – suggesting that as wheat consumption went up, blood sugar levels went down. (2)
Over 161,000 women were followed in the Nurses’ Health Study (NHS) to determine preventative strategies for type II diabetes. They evaluated the intake of whole grains – bran and germ, including wheat and other grains. Once again, they found an inverse relationship. As the consumption of whole grains went up, the incidence of type II diabetes went down. They concluded that the prevention of type II diabetes could be enhanced by the increased consumption of whole grains. (3)
Could The Entire Premise Be Skewed?
A 2016 study discussed discrepancies that surround the results of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load measurements. Using these markers alone was found to be unreliable in recent studies. While some studies confirmed the theory that a high glycemic food or high glycemic load would increase blood sugars, new studies are emerging that did not support these findings. (4)
They concluded that the best way to determine the impact of a certain food on blood sugar levels is to follow 2-3 months of ingesting that food with a HBA1C test, which measures the 2-3 month average blood sugar levels. (4)