It is time to face the elephant in the room. Yes, today we are going to discuss wheat. I feel like it is a topic that there is a lot of confusion around. On one hand, it is obvious that we are a wheat-loving (or obsessed?) society. But then you get the anti-grain dieters, who obviously include wheat in the No-No list, and the growing wheat sensitivity movement that tells us we will all be better off not eating any wheat.
As usual, of course I fall somewhere in the middle. I eat wheat (I am writing this with a big bag of whole wheat flour sitting on the table by me—purely coincidence!) but I do try to be mindful of how much. Let’s take a minute to look at our wheat-situation.
First off, none of my pro-wheat statements apply to those with diagnosed Celiac disease. Celiac sufferers need to avoid all wheat, and other gluten-containing grains, to save the health of their digestive tract. That being said, if you THINK you may be suffering from Celiac disease, go to a doctor and discuss it BEFORE putting yourself on a wheat-free diet! There are other complications that could be involved in Celiac disease, so if you remove gluten without a proper diagnosis, you may end up suffering from something else without knowing the reason why.
That being said, the first thing I want to establish about wheat is that it does have a lot to offer in our diets. Now of course I am referring to whole wheat, which provides plenty of nutrients along with its nourishment. The primary benefit is the fiber that is provided, which for those who don’t eat a lot of fresh produce, may end up being a major source of fiber! Whole wheat also provides a NATURAL source (as in, not chemically added back in as they do to “enrich” some white flours) of vitamin B1, B2, B3, E, folic acid, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and iron. It can also help reduce inflammation when part of a balanced diet.
So what’s the problem? Why are people so anti-wheat? Well, I believe our problem is we eat SO MUCH wheat without stopping to consider the balance in our diets. The USDA recommends a total of 6 ounces of grains a day for women, and 7-8 ounces for men. One ounce is about a slice of bread, or 1/2 cup of rice or pasta (cooked). Let’s look at a potentially “normal” day for the average American (looking at just wheat, since that is our topic, though the 6-8 ounce recommendations are for all grains in a day):
- Breakfast: Bagel (regular full-size bagel is about 4 ounces)
- Lunch: Sandwich (2 slices of bread= 2 ounces)
- Snack: Handful of crackers (5 crackers= 1 ounce)
- Supper: Spaghetti and garlic bread (1 cup of pasta= 2 ounces, 2 slices of garlic bread= 2 ounces)
Well guess what, that fairly conservative (for some people, at least) estimate is already at 11 ounces! If you replace the bagel with a bowl of cereal (1 cup worth) you may get down to 8 ounces, but still that is if you are eating within these servings, which I would bet many are not.
So what is my recommendation? Moderation, of course! I would recommend trying to keep wheat to one meal and 1 snack at most, or small amounts at of 2 meals (like, a sandwich at lunch and a small serving of pasta at dinner). Remember, we are just talking wheat here. Have oatmeal, or eggs or yogurt, for breakfast, some wheat for lunch, and rice or quinoa for supper.
Remember, you don’t have to do extremes. The anti-wheat movement has decided that we should just all drop wheat because of the effects of eating too much of it, and I find that reasoning flawed. Wheat has a lot to offer, but if we eat too much of anything, there are going to be consequences.
Also, and this is IMPORTANT: If you do cut wheat, or at least cut down on eat, you can be healthy, but only if you replace it with better options! People who replace processed wheat with processed rice or quinoa or other grains or pseudo-grains (quinoa is actually a seed) products will probably end up seeing the same consequences as eating too much wheat (unless they are truly gluten sensitive). If you are going to eat, say, pasta, I would much rather see you eat a whole wheat, no unnecessary added ingredients (preferably organic) pasta than a bleached, processed rice or potato flour pasta with junk ingredients added to it to make it palatable. It is one thing for a Celiac sufferer who wants to feel like the rest of society to choose such an option (though hopefully still rarely), and another for someone to think they are being “healthier” by not choosing wheat, and picking something processed and stripped of nutrients.
Just remember, whole always wins out over processed. Check the ingredients list. Look for whole grain-based products, that don’t contain cheap vegetable oils or emulsifiers like mono or diglycerides.
Moderation and mindfulness will get you so far in making the changes you know you need, and want, to make. Try to quiet the “noise” of the extreme groups, and mindfully make the right decisions for YOU. I am always here to help!