Counterpost: Your gluten-free, wheat-free, paleo, whatever diet is horrible

In the interest of balance — like a balanced meal, maybe — I’ll point you to this Q&A with a guy — who happens to be a  religion professor at James Madison University– who thinks all our fad diets are pretty stupid:

Food rituals, food taboos, dietary demons, dietary myths, magic diets, guilt, sin: why do we apply so much religious language to food?

Virtually ever religious tradition has had food taboos and sacred diets. I think part of the reason is that food is something that we have direct control over. It crosses the boundary in a very personal way: we take something outside of our body and put it into our body. Eating is very personal, and it’s easy to invest those kinds of things with religious and ritual significance.

With diets today, there seems to be a lot of fear involved, too.

It’s terrifying to live in a place where the causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s, autism, or ADHD, or the causes of weight gain, are mysterious. So what we do is come up with certain causes for the things that we fear.

If we’re trying to avoid things that we fear, why would we invent a world full of toxins that don’t really exist? Again, it’s about control. After all, if there are things that we’re scared of, then at least we know what to avoid. If there is a sacred diet, and if there are foods that are really taboo, yeah, it’s scary, but it’s also empowering, because we can readily identify culinary good and evil, and then we have a path that we can follow that’s salvific.

That gives you a taste of how a religion professor is approaching this topic. He specifically calls our the book Wheat Belly, which we’ve referenced often.

Given how well cutting wheat out has worked for us, I can only say, well, that: It worked for us. It may not work for everyone, but we encourage people who are curious to give it a try and see. And we think it comes down to common sense, the Michael Pollan “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

But there is one point I think is worth some thought:

What works for another culture might not work for our own culture. People ask me, what’s the harm? Why not just go gluten free? And the answer is that going gluten free has all sorts of effects. It affects your relationship with your friends and family. It affects your relationship with your own past and foods that you love. While there might be some culture in which celebratory foods don’t typically contain gluten, that’s not our culture.

For me, unless I have an extraordinary reason, I do try to err on the side of being a good guest or good host rather than a militant eater. Food’s great, and so is good health. But family and friendships are better.

Posted by Steve

Wheat: Amber waves of death

During our Yatra, we are re-posting some of our top posts from the past 16 or so months. We’ll also try to get new posts up from India, Internet access-willing.


A while back, Steve and I gave up wheat. We didn’t do this because we were particularly unhappy with our diets. We were curious, after reading a review of Dr. William Davis’s book, Wheat Belly. I’d been mostly raw for a few years, and Steve had moved that way as well. But both of us still ate wheat. I sprouted it, and had the occasional bread/crackers/cereal. Steve still ate bread every day—of the healthy, whole grain organic variety. Steve wanted to go cold turkey, and, in solidarity, I did, too.

The results were, for lack of a better word, freaky. Keep in mind we both had a daily practice. Still, the fat slid off like a pat of butter on a hot pan. Steve lost ten pounds almost immediately—within two weeks. Both of us continue to thin down. We have closets full of clothes that—and I’m very serious here—no longer stay on us. I’d like to stress at this point that it’s fat we lost. We’re both in our 40s, and we lost fat.

Now, fast forward a bit. I volunteered to teach a new (for me) writing course last quarter. As I said in a previous post, it’s a course in research methods, an introduction to university-level research paper writing. Since I’ve been working as a freelance writer, tinkering with poetry, and teaching beginning writers, it had been a while since I’d done any academic research. About 15 years, actually. And, what with the internet and all, things had changed.

Since I, in fact, knew nothing about research, I decided brashly to, essentially, take my own course. I

did all the assignments, and (mostly) met all the deadlines, and wrote a research paper along with my students.

I could tell you tales of walking into my own class, bitching about the workload, and the dark moments when I thought about faking my own death, but that’s not my point. The topic of our research, chosen from an approved list, was “food,” centered around Michael Pollan’s wonderful book, In Defense of Food (read it!). Each student chose a specific food problem to deal with, and since I’d been seeing such freaky things happen in my own house, I chose wheat.

I’ve read Davis’s book now, and part of my job as a researcher was to not only read his book, but check his research, find additional research, and propose a solution to the problem. But because so many of you expressed an interest when we first wrote about our wheatectomy, I thought I’d report back my findings. Davis is totally correct, and his book is (mostly) solidly researched. Here’s part of what I discovered:

  • While humans have been eating wheat for thousands of years, they’ve only been eating a handful of varieties. These are now called “heritage” grains, and all are related, genetically, to the same strains of wheat we ate thousands of years ago. You can find them at seed banks still, and eat them even if you are “gluten intolerant.” My favorite bank is here.
  • The problems began in 1950, when the first human-caused wheat hybrids emerged from the first large-scale grain lab, sponsored by the U.S. Government, in Mexico. From this single farm (which is still there, actually), literally thousands of man-made hybrid wheat varieties have emerged and continue to emerge. Humans eat them all.
  • Because these grains are hybrids—that is, one plant pollinating another—they are not tested or regulated for potential health impact. (This is different from actually tinkering with the gene–your GMO–and is viewed as somehow safer or more natural, even though it amounts to the same thing.)
  • Since 1950, cases of gluten intolerance and celiac disease (a wheat allergy so severe, well-fed patients actually suffer from malnutrition) have steadily risen—tripling in the last ten years. The disease is slow to emerge, and people may suffer for years without knowing.
  • As it happens, these varieties of wheat have fundamentally changed the way we metabolize them. Studies (which I have now painstakingly read, thank you very much) are just starting to link these varieties to everything from heart disease to diabetes, and beyond. I’ve seen studies that link modern wheat to less grey matter in children’s brains, skin diseases, hypertension, and lower I.Q.s.
  • Because of this, modern wheat actually causes accumulation of visceral fat, no matter how much exercise you get. This includes fat you can’t see, such as around the heart. (Could this be Guruji’s “bad fat”?)
  • It doesn’t matter if it’s so-called “whole grain.” There’s actually no such thing, only white flour that’s had the bran and germ added back into it (the FDA allows manufacturers–or “bakers”–to call this “whole grain,” rather than what it actually is–reconstituted grain). Real whole grain—wheat that’s been milled using a special grinder—goes rancid fast. Real whole grain bread starts to go stale in a single day. If it needs a package, says Michael Pollan, it’s processed.

So, you’re asking, what does this have to do with sirsasana? Losing wheat—even the small amount I was eating—has made me stronger in, again, freaky ways. During my workshop with Nancy Gilgoff, she tossed off this little gem about urdva sirsasana (lifting the head off the ground just slightly): “Don’t even try it until you can hold a regular headstand for 100 breaths.” So, this morning, I thought, hey, why not. I’ll give it a shot. Now, it’s not really all that important if I managed it. It’s more shocking to me that I’d even think about it. Was it the lack of wheat? Maybe. I can say this—losing wheat has been one step that got me to a place where more became possible. Give it a shot.

Posted by Bobbie

It ain’t the gluten that’ll get you, it’s the wheat

A couple of weeks back, we highlighted a recent study on gluten, which followed — and potentially debunked — the main one that found gluten sensitivity could be a widespread issue.

That study got a lot of coverage, because the initial research is pretty central to the boom in gluten-free products.

But, as we also noted, our aversion to wheat has nothing to do with gluten. We still find that the problems that Dr. William Davis found with wheat ring true to us — or maybe I should say, our gut reaction is still that there’s something amiss with today’s wheat.

Davis, the author of Wheat Belly, not surprisingly had a few things to say about this latest study. Here’s the crux of his response:

Likewise, wheat is far more than just the gluten protein. Among the most important of the tens of thousands of other components in wheat:


In other words, wheat and related grains are still quite terrible for health, with or without gluten. Viewing wheat as nothing more than a vehicle for gluten is hazardous. Conducting a small study in which purified gluten is administered but elicits abdominal distress no different than whey or placebo possibly tells us that this group of 37 people do not have a specific intolerance to gluten–period. It does not exonerate wheat, any more than any apparent reduction in adverse health effects of smoking filtered, low-tar cigarettes exonerates smoking.


Yes: Some people have problems with gluten. But EVERYBODY has problems with wheat. The healthcare system, nutritionists, dietitians, physicians, and the media need to get deglutenized: get rid of the notion that the only problem with modern wheat is gluten. It ain’t so.

Deglutenize yourself. Sing it to the tune of:

Posted by Steve



So, maybe the whole gluten thing is a bit overstated

In the interest of fairness and balance, we’ll pass on news that the scientist behind one of the main studies arguing for the existence of gluten intolerance now has done a follow-up study that calls into question his earlier findings.

Such follow-up studies are pretty standard, at least among serious-minded scientists. (It’s the rest of us who take one study and blow it out of proportion.)

There’s a good bit of coverage of this today. This Forbes piece seems a pretty solid one:

In 2011, Peter Gibson, a professor of gastroenterology at Monash University and director of the GI Unit at The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia, published a study that found gluten, a protein found in grains like wheat, rye, and barley, to cause gastrointestinal distress in patients without celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder unequivocally triggered by gluten. Double-blinded, randomized, and placebo-controlled, the experiment was one of the strongest pieces of evidence to date that non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), more commonly known as gluten intolerance, is a genuine condition.


37 subjects took part, all with self-reported gluten sensitivity who were confirmed to not have celiac’s disease. They were first fed a diet low in FODMAPs for two weeks, then were given one of three diets for a week with either 16 grams per day of added gluten (high-gluten), 2 grams of gluten and 14 grams of whey protein isolate (low-gluten), or 16 grams of whey protein isolate (placebo). Each subject shuffled through every single diet so that they could serve as their own controls, and none ever knew what specific diet he or she was eating. After the main experiment, a second was conducted to ensure that the whey protein placebo was suitable. In this one, 22 of the original subjects shuffled through three different diets — 16 grams of added gluten, 16 grams of added whey protein isolate, or the baseline diet — for three days each.

Analyzing the data, Gibson found that each treatment diet, whether it included gluten or not, prompted subjects to report a worsening of gastrointestinal symptoms to similar degrees. Reported pain, bloating, nausea, and gas all increased over the baseline low-FODMAP diet. Even in the second experiment,when the placebo diet was identical to the baseline diet, subjects reported a worsening of symptoms!


“In contrast to our first study… we could find absolutely no specific response to gluten.”

The Forbes piece notes, rightly, that gluten-free products have become a multi-billion dollar industry, and that the whole market seems to be driven more by consumers and smart marketers than any actual, you know, science.

We’d disagree with that, a bit. And we can only attest to what we’ve found by experimenting, if you will, on ourselves. Wheat products do seem to produce the symptoms that William Davis, the author of “Wheat Belly,” describes (and which we cover pretty extensively at the link to the right about the Yogi Diet.)

We feel better avoiding hybridized wheat, which is what you get in the U.S. And we feel a lot better passing on processed foods.

But results may vary, which I think is one conclusion we can draw from this study. So follow what works for you — not some silly fad.

Posted by Steve

Yogi diet: Should you be avoiding gluten, or are you being diet-washed?

We’ve talked enough about our avoidance of wheat — something different from a pure gluten-free diet. (Well, effectively the same, only the reason is different.)

This weekend, the New York Times delved into the big question: Should we be avoiding gluten? From one of the answers:

How was this gluten-free diet fad created? In the same way the low-carb fad was cooked up (celebrity endorsements, for one thing). Fads can run concurrently, but none of them seem to “have legs.” By their very nature they die. This fad too shall pass. Remember the Scarsdale and Atkins diets, or the vibrating belts? (Of course, if you have celiac disease, you should stick to a gluten-free diet.)

All we know is that staying mostly raw and staying away from wheat — Alas, poor bread, I knew him, Bobbie — works for us. But we’re fortunate to be able to think long and hard about our diet, to play around, to see what works.

Posted by Steve

Yogi Diet: This is Your Brain on Wheat

Well, maybe not. Via
Well, maybe not. Via

We’ve written before on this site about diet. Quite a lot about it, actually—including eating raw, giving up wheat, eating mostly raw, continuing to give up wheat, etc. We’ve also talked about the stages of a yogi diet.

I’ve got a friend who’s just started Ashtanga. He said to me, “I don’t like beer anymore.” Long pause. “I can’t believe I just said that.”

Now, understand, we’re not nutritionists. We’re not doctors. And we’re not purists. It’s been a long, slow process. Steve lagged a few years behind me in big, weird, transformative diet changes…mostly because he took longer to fully commit to yoga. Funny how that works.

But, I have taught a research course on food, and done the research legwork on the evils of wheat. Note: Not “gluten.” Wheat. My conclusion at the end of that course was that we have really taken a wrong turn as a species by modernizing wheat and pushing “whole grain” as a healthy choice. (Just so you know, no whole grain wheat anything is actually whole grain—it’s white flour with the rest of the grain added after processing.)

We travel about in the world touting this philosophy, and everywhere we go we meet with the same extremely high level of disbelief. Denial. It’s almost like people go deaf. It just seems so counter intuitive and wrong. And impossible to fix without massive diet changes.

So a new book written by neurologist and nutritionist, Dr. David Perlmutter, caught my eye, appropriately titled Grain Brain. It’s specifically about the effect of the commonly-held belief that a whole grain, low fat diet is good for you. This review in the Psychology Today blog “The Optimalist” includes a very interesting interview with the author by Michael Lugavere. In that interview, Perlmutter says this:

So-called “complex carbs” may actually represent a more significant threat to health than simple sugar in that they may not only raise blood sugar, but keep it elevated for a more prolonged period of time. Foods can be evaluated by their glycemic index which measures not only how high blood sugar will be elevated by the consumption of a particular food, but also takes into account how long it will have this effect. So the higher the glycemic index, the more damaging are the effects of elevated blood sugar. Whole grain bread for example has a dramatically higher glycemic index when compared to pure table sugar.

Now, we’ve followed a trajectory of authors who have said this, starting with Michael Pollan (years ago), to Dr. William Davis in his book Wheat Belly. Pollan has been writing about the effects of a processed diet for years now, and has included what he considers a kind of fat phobia that most of us were raised with: Pollan has called this one of the biggest lies in dietary science, that all fat is bad.

Davis wrote about the history of modern wheat, and the debilitating effects on the entire system that are all caused by eating wheat—whole grain or not.

In his book, Dr. Perlmutter connects this set of related issues—low fat and whole grain, carbs and sugar—and focuses specifically on the effects on the brain and nervous system, with the cardiovascular system coming along for the ride.

This is because there is a strong link between high glycemic foods and cholesterol levels and dementia. But it’s not what you think: Elderly study subjects with higher LDL cholesterol levels “may have as much as a 70% risk reduction for dementia.”

See? You’re already fading. You already find this hard to believe.

This represents a kind of vindication of the diet changes that have slowly evolved in our house. We still don’t eat wheat—we now both get side effects from it. But we will eat eggs. Sometimes, we’ll even eat meat. We use a lot of coconut oil and olive oil. It’s odd the way sugar in all forms dropped away. We stopped not just eating fruit. We actually don’t like it. It’s made me wonder how those mind-body connections get formed, and what blunts or stunts them. And how it is that Ashtanga has made them so strong. We’re a walking poster couple for this diet. Still don’t believe? Or maybe that it’s just paranoia or a fad? Says Perlmutter:

In writing Grain Brain, I reviewed more than 250 peer-reviewed references, many of which specifically address this issue and are discussed in great detail. Gluten free isn’t new or a fad. It’s the diet that humans have consumed for more than 99.9% of our existence on this planet. I would direct your readers to recent publication by my friend and colleague Dr. Alessio Fasano from Harvard. I welcome the hysteria as it is directing attention to an absolutely fundamental issue in our modern nutrition.

Posted by Bobbie

Everything you didn’t want to know about wheat, and were afraid to ask

We’ve covered the problems with wheat before — and how, at least in our experience, cutting it out has made some pretty obvious and dramatic changes to how we feel (and, depending how you care about these things, look).

The guy behind our understanding of wheat’s evils, Dr. William Davis, was on CBS’s “The Morning” earlier this year, and a reaction piece to it from late last week does a solid job of summing up all of wheat’s problems: how it has been hybridized out of all recognition, what it does to our systems, etc.

Here’s a link, and a few key bits:

The majority of wheat is processed into 60% extraction, bleached white flour. 60% extraction–the standard for most wheat products means that 40% of the original wheat grain is removed. So not only do we have an unhealthier, modified, and hybridized strain of wheat, we also remove and further degrade its nutritional value by processing it. Unfortunately, the 40% that gets removed includes the bran and the germ of the wheat grain–its most nutrient-rich parts. In the process of making 60% extraction flour, over half of the vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, iron, and fiber are lost. Any processed foods with wheat are akin to poison for the body since they cause more health risks than benefits. The body does not recognize processed wheat as food. Nutrient absorption from processed wheat products is thus consequential with almost no nutritional value.

Some experts claim if you select 100% whole wheat products, the bran and the germ of the wheat will remain in your meals, and the health benefits will be impressive. This is again a falsity promoted by the wheat industry since even 100% whole wheat products are based on modern wheat strains created by irradiation of wheat seeds and embryos with chemicals, gamma rays, and high-dose X-rays to induce mutations. Whether you consume 10% or 100% of wheat is irrelevant since you’re still consuming a health damaging grain that will not benefit, advance or even maintain your health in any way.


A powerful little chemical in wheat known as ‘wheat germ agglutinin’ (WGA) which is largely responsible for many of wheat’s pervasive, and difficult to diagnose, ill effects. Researchers are now discovering that WGA in modern wheat is very different from ancient strains. Not only does WGA throw a monkey wrench into our assumptions about the primary causes of wheat intolerance, but due to the fact that WGA is found in highest concentrations in “whole wheat,” including its supposedly superior sprouted form, it also pulls the rug out from under one of the health food industry’s favorite poster children.

Each grain of wheat contains about one microgram of Wheat Germ Agglutinin (WGA). Even in small quantities, WGA can have profoundly adverse effects. It may be pro-inflammatory, immunotoxic, cardiotoxic … and neurotoxic.

Thus the push to use heritage grains, aka “ancient strains.” Although I’ll admit I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that heritage grains have been compromised, too.

And keep in mind, this isn’t a GMO issue, ala all the Monsanto backlash of late.

So much for that hamburger bun on Memorial Day, huh?

Posted by Steve