Just Go on a Diet (Said me Never)

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Recently I saw a patient who is convinced that he lost weight because he read the Wheat Belly Diet book, and because he subsequently stopped eating wheat. While there is nothing harmful necessarily about avoiding wheat if you so choose, there is nothing truly science based that suggests anyone (with the exception of certain medical conditions) would benefit from avoiding wheat.

What this patient did not connect is that prior to avoiding wheat, he had been eating crappy food choices and was sedentary; at the same time that he decided to avoid wheat, he also started walking several miles each week and eating vegetables and fruits. His main reasoning for avoiding wheat was to lose weight and improve his blood glucose levels (he had diabetes). This man successfully improved his health, but it cannot be solely attributed to the avoidance of wheat, as he improved SO MANY other things about his lifestyle. He simply wasn’t convinced at my attempt to explain confounding factors, etc.

I don’t really care if he, or you, or anyone eats wheat. There is nothing special to wheat that can’t be found in other foods/grains. However, the takeaway here (which he refused/failed to realize) is that avoidance of a particular food or food group is not a guaranteed pathway to good health in the absence of an overall lifestyle change that includes plenty of good-quality whole foods (mainly plants) and plenty of physical activity.

Here are some additional points for debate on the same and similar topics:

  • There is an overall lack of peer-reviewed evidence supporting any rationale for avoidance of wheat as a food ingredient with regard to any condition besides food allergy, intolerance, or celiac disease.
  • Misinformation regarding nutrition is rampant in the general public and even sometimes in the medical community (i.e. MDs who decide they have a sudden interest in writing nutrition books, often without any actual nutrition education ever).
  • With or without wheat inclusion, effort should be made to consume consistent amounts of whole grains and/or whole starchy vegetables (including potatoes and corn if desired) as part of meals/snacks (in appropriate amounts) in order to promote good health and steady glycemic control
  • This man also referenced that he has [figuratively] bought stock in the Glycemic Index.  The Glycemic Index (GI), while useful in some ways, is not a clinically appropriate guideline for recommendations to improve health or overall glycemic control. We do not eat “foods” typically, as we eat “meals.”
  • Also, GI does not account for nutritional value of foods; it merely accounts for blood glucose response after ingestion of a single food item (100 g) compared with 100 g of pure glucose. Therefore, many nutrient rich foods would appear to be “less healthy” merely based on their glucose response (or lack thereof). For example, a candy bar would have a lower GI rating than a whole apple, simply based on the fact that the candy bar may contain peanuts; thus lowering the glycemic response. Fat/protein, whether healthy or not so healthy, will lower the glycemic response of carbohydrate-containing foods.
  • There is a benefit of including *small portions* of starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes in our meals. Potatoes are a potassium-rich food, and they are also a good source of fiber, vitamin B6, copper, etc. Corn contains large amounts of carotenoid antioxidants, especially lutein and zeaxanthin. Corn is also high in B vitamins and fiber. There are plenty of other starchy vegetables with plenty of additional benefits; too many to list.

Here’s the real advice here. Hold on to your britches – I’m about to smack you in the face with some reality:

  • Please stop thinking that a fad diet will magically make you healthy long-term. It won’t. I’ve been doing this (being an RDN) for a long time now, and I have followed several patients for many years watching them try and fail one diet after the next. They just couldn’t “get it” that the fad diets were the problem, not the solution.
  • If you know you won’t be able to eat that way (using whatever rules your fly-by-night diet has you on) forever, then you won’t have results forever. I just can’t wrap my brain around why people can’t understand the simplicity of that concept…
  • Please stop demonizing all starchy foods. I think it is safe to say that we all know white bread and related starches do more harm to us than good. However, some starchy foods are super healthy if you don’t gorge on them.
  • Although sometimes easier said than done, just focus on eating whole foods, mostly plants, without stuffing yourself and move around a lot more. It won’t be fast, and it won’t be magical; but your health will improve if you’re consistent and in it for the long haul.
  • Love yourself enough to feed yourself things that make you feel amazing: plants, lots of water, etc., and beautiful things will happen.

Ciao, my beautiful wheat-eating (or not) friends.

7 thoughts on “Just Go on a Diet (Said me Never)

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