Fat Fiction Fat, lies and measuring tape


How wheat made the world fat: part 2

Lemur's lunching on bread. He doesn't know better

How does the world class jockey, Ruby Walsh, keep control of his weight? Simple he says. “Bread is my nemesis”.

It’s becoming more and more common that people are realising gluten, found in wheat, barley and rye  is behind weight gain (read part 1 of this post here). But what about some hard evidence?

Turning to the clinical papers is only useful with lateral thinking. Take this study for example, one of many:

“Weight gain was inversely associated with the intake of high-fiber, whole-grain foods but positively related to the intake of refined-grain foods”.

As optimistic types regale, high fibre makes the fat “melt away!”. Or rather, white flour makes you fat. Wholegrain less so. What we don’t have is any way of comparing wheat with no wheat, although others have done their damndest, such as Denise Minger’s dissertation of China and Wheat : Wheat is the biggest marker of obesity and heart disease. Also check out  Perfect Health Diet’s Paul Jaminet’s brief look at overall obesity trends revealing Japan and Korea with their reliance on rice rather than wheat, corn or soy make for a far leaner nation.

World obesity and wheat

Good data is hard to come by but here’s a quick and dirty comparison of world wheat consumption with obesity. The graph on the left shows wheat consumption by energy, taken from Current Approaches to Diagnosis and Treatment of Celiac Disease: An Evolving Spectrum and a map of global obesity from the International Obesity Taskforce.

The grey spots are where there’s no data, and you should notice – it correlates beautifully. Except for one country – Yemen.

Look at Yemen. They have very high wheat consumption and yet low levels of obesity. What’s going on? Are they doing something right? Afraid not. Food shortages combined with a love of chewing khat – an appetite suppressant-  means that 46% of the country is suffering from malnourishment. Those levels make it one of the highest rates of malnutrition in Africa – and the world.

So the conclusion:

- Where wheat meets insufficient food supply you get chronic malnutrition.
- Where wheat meets sufficient food supply you get obesity.

Deficiencies in the fat

If you’ve followed so far, if wheat causes deficiencies causes obesity, there should be links demonstrating these deficiencies right? There are - here’s just one example. In a study of children with celiac disease (remember numbers of celiac could be anywhere from 0.4% to about 30% of the population), untreated suffers had significantly lower levels of Vitamin D.

What vitamin is “significantly lower in obese than in non-obese individuals”? Vitamin D

What are the main causes of low levels of vitamin D? * Insufficient dietary fat, or the inability to absorb dietary fat – from a wheat-damaged gastro-intestinal tract. Funny how the obesity epidemic kicked off in the 1970s when Governments around the world told us to stop eating saturated fat on the back of science that has since totally collapsed isn’t it?

And just to tie it all together  - what’s vitamin D used for? Among other things, metabolism and regulation of insulin, which drives fat storage.

I can guarantee there will be more links for those that want to find them, it’s not just about vitamin D. It’s to show how intricately connected  things are. Suffice to say obesity is linked with a number of other deficiencies, vitamins and minerals that are no doubt all connected with fat metabolism, such as iron and zinc, and magnesium.

But don’t forget we don’t know what we don’t know, before everyone thinks they can supplement their way out of trouble. I trust the recommended daily vitamin/mineral amounts about as much as I trust the previous advice to ‘avoid all saturated fats’. The chances that science has discovered all the right mineral interactions, right levels of vitamin D, choline, manganese or whatever, and exactly how to take them so you don’t disrupt and inblance another part of your diet is unlikely. But it is possible, and there’s plenty of evidence that simply taking supplements results in weight loss – more on that another day.

>> Edit 17/1.  Jess Simmons emailed to correct this, given Vitamin D deficiency is most commonly and correctly associated with not getting enough sunlight, and little of it comes from diet. GI tract issues could lead to deficiencies if diet was your primary source, although the more likely dietary connection would be cholesterol, as vitamin d requires cholesterol to synthesise, even if you have sufficient sunlight to synthesise. Thanks Jess!

Fat twins revisited

Remember the fat twins in the first part of this post? I know, it was several thousand words ago. To remind you :

Take two fat twins. Give them breakfast in the morning of bacon and eggs, except for the first twin, the one you don’t particularly like preferably, give them a crumpet as well.
At lunchtime, both are given an all you can eat buffet.
Repeat this every day for a month. Over the course of a month, who will eat more at lunchtime?

The crumpet eating twin.


The twins needed to be fat to start off with, to prove their normal diet is deficient in various nutrients.

Add a crumpet to the first twin’s diet, and he is now more deficient in nutrients than the other twin come lunchtime. He will eat more to make up for this to start with. But remember, getting fat is not about overeating – it’s about a lack of nutrients. If he is consuming excess energy, over time his metabolism will speed up to get rid of it which may over a longer term reduce the overall amounts of food he eats. But either way assuming the buffet and their dinners comprise the twin’s normal diet, body fat will not be burnt off and weight gain is inevitable in the crumpet-eating twin.

Of course, just in case someone got this confused with calories in/calories out, or a revisiting of low-carb diets, if you replaced the crumpet with a baked potato, he would eat less at the buffet and the overall weight wouldn’t change relative to the other twin.

The final word

I’ll leave you with one final mind-blowing idea, from Ted talk by Michael Pollan, author of the Carnivore’s Dilemma. If grains were conscious, how would they exploit us to ensure that they would spread across the world as fast as possible? They’d make grains essential to the diet. They might even kill us.

Bread's dead baby, bread's dead.

Lemur picture copyright Tambako

Comments (9) Trackbacks (0)
  1. Mmm, bacon and eggs–my favorite substitute for wheat.

    And I like the maps.

    I totally agree that vitamins and minerals are extremely important for good health. Yet when I was a kid back in the 80s, most doctors insisted you could get everything you needed from your diet–even though they never asked you what you ate. I’ve been off gluten and legumes for almost a year, but I still need to take a lot of minerals.

    I also agree that fat people don’t necessarily eat more than thin people. My mother has been obese most of her life, but I never observed her to overeat.

    People like my mother do have a limited tolerance for carbohydrates. So-called “good carbs” may or may not have caused the problem, but the damage having been done, or having limited tolerance from birth, they’ll jack up our blood sugar, even if we’ve been gluten-free for a long time.

    Something that you and many of your readers probably already know is that today’s wheat is not the same as it was a few decades ago, processing aside. (See this post by Dr. William Davis: http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/emmer-einkorn-and-agribusiness.html) Ancient grains like emmer and einkorn are genetically very different from wheat people eat now. Davis and a few others tried bread made of these grains and found they didn’t raise their blood sugar as much as conventional wheat (see posts from June 2010). So even if you think your problem is blood sugar/insulin, wheat is a good food to quit.

    And another thing wheat does to some people: bloating. My old blog entry on bloating has been my most popular post over the past few weeks. Too many Christmas cookies, not enough roast duck.

  2. Great posts, it is rare that a startling new idea comes out and immediately unifies multiple arguments. I think you are really on to something here, it makes total sense.

  3. Hi Lori, you’ve again raised a great point – which is, if it isn’t necessarily carbs that caused the problem, it still can be cutting out carbs that sorts the problem. In my mind, this is only thing that marries the science and real world experience. For a majority of people I believe, simple rebalancing of nutrients will reduce weight, but there is a significant proportion of people who can *only* reduce carbs to keep it off. This can only come down to how much damage has diet caused you so far?
    Great link you included, I hadn’t seen it before.

    Lori’s blog on wheat : http://relievemypain.blogspot.com/search/label/wheat

    Do post links to anything you think relevant, including your own!

  4. Dr. Davis has dozens of posts on the damaging effects of wheat–everything from bloating to brain damage to arthritis, whether a person has celiac or not. See all his posts on wheat here: http://heartscanblog.blogspot.com/search/label/Wheat

    This is *purely speculation* on my part, but I’m wondering if there is something in modern wheat that causes pancreas beta cell damage in susceptible people, leading to diabetes.

    Cookbooks might provide some clues about wheat, too. Julia Child mentioned in her autobiography that the wheat in France was different from wheat in the U.S. (this was in the late 50s, early 60s). The French flour was grainer and less fluffy than the American kind (less refined, I suppose), so she had to adjust her bread recipe. Lydia Bastianich, who grew up in Italy, said her family grew and milled their own wheat. When she immigrated to America, she was astounded by slices of bread that could rolled up into a little ball. Who knows–maybe some of this accounts for the French Paradox/Mediterranean Diet goodness.

    • Interesting ideas Lori. French baguettes taste completely different to anything you’ll find in a UK bakers too.
      The other thing that strikes me about Italian and French diets is that the rest of their foods are heavy in nutrients, so the tipping point into running below what you need is far further away.
      Compare that to the over-processed foods in the UK, and you don’t have to do much until you’re running low on virtually every essential vitamin and mineral and come juddering to a halt.

  5. Hi Mike,

    There’s more to the cereal grain-induced vitamin D deficiency story.

    While it’s undoubtedly true that the current advice to hide from the sun is a major driver, the effects of grains can be seen clearly in recent studies of migrant groups.

    For example, see:

    Nutritional rickets: deficiency of vitamin D, calcium, or both?


    “… it was proposed by Clements that the pathogenesis of rickets in the Asian community in the United Kingdom is attributable to the high-cereal, low-calcium diet, which induces mild hyperparathyroidism and elevation of 1,25(OH)2D concentrations, with a resultant reduction in vitamin D status.”

    • Interesting Peter. And considering lack of vitamin D is linked to low testosterone, it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of cereals …

  6. Pretty dodgy Alex is:
    a) vitamin d may primarily come from sunlight but it requires fat in your diet. The same fat that people have cut right out due to worldwide guidelines based on science which has since been discredited
    b) Nope they don’t, and neither does a flakey NYT article prove otherwise. Obese eat too much. But not, calorie wise * on average * more than their lean counterparts. There is a crucial difference

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