Avoid This Food, and Lower Your Cancer Risk This grain is a huge part of the American diet, and a health destroyer

Good news!

The fact that carbohydrates — not dietary fat — drive the modern obesity and diabetes epidemics is at least starting to take hold in the public’s mind.

But there’s a great deal of confusion out there about carbs, especially the ones in wheat.

So this month, I’ll make some vital points about the downside of wheat that don’t often get aired in public. The evidence I’m going to present to you has persuaded me that in the world of carbohydrate-intensive foods, wheat is the worst choice.

Possibly — at least for people with genetic tendencies toward autoimmune problems — even worse than sugar.

Beautiful, but exceptionally hard to digest, and likely to set off a variety of autoimmune reactions.

I’m passionate about this subject because it was eliminating wheat (and oats, corn and even rice, which share many of wheat’s downsides) from my own diet that made everything start moving from dysfunctional to ideal. That includes my weight, my digestive health, my blood sugar and my overall mood and energy level.

“This food has become so ingrained into modern life that for many people it’s become invisible.”

I’ve seen the same thing happen with dozens of people — friends and those I’ve met who were taking part in medical and self-directed low-carb programs.

If you are not ready to give it up entirely, I hope this article will at least lead you to experiment with cutting back.

So let’s take a closer look at wheat as food, and four basic points that everyone needs to know.

1. Wheat — in Fact, All Grains — Are Utterly Unnecessary

Whenever you hear the mantra to “eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” please understand that the latter is wedged into that phrase to create the illusion of virtue by association.

Vegetables, and to some extent fruits, are indeed sources of vital nutrition, particularly vitamin C.

Grains, however, provide absolutely no nutrients that you cannot get it in greater abundance and quality from other sources. Consider the chart below, which highlights nutrients in which Americans tend to be deficient.

As you can see, it reveals wheat for what it is: a carb-rich, nutrient-poor food. Each bite of grain-based food, then, displaces a bite of food that could be offering the body more of what it craves — vitamins, minerals, protein and fats that are essential for robust health.

If the values for kale and liver seem too high for safety, remember that the Daily Value represents minimum dosages to avoid deficiency disease, not the amounts required for optimal health (which tend to be far higher). Also, notice how the nutrients in kale and beef liver complement each other, which is why meat and vegetables are such a potent combination for health.

But isn’t wheat a good source of fiber? Two observations:

1. Leafy greens and other vegetables provide it in abundance.

2. Whether humans actually need high fiber intake is debatable. In the context of a high-sugar, junk food-laden diet, adding fiber might promote health, as it keeps these insulin-spiking, fat-forming foods from being fully absorbed. But if your diet is low in sugars and is nutrient-dense, making food “move along” via extra fiber may do more harm than good. I’ll discuss this in greater detail in an upcoming issue. In the meantime, I recommend Fiber Menace by Konstantin Monastyrsky.

2. Wheat Flour Is an “Acellular” Carb

The term “acellular” sounds daunting, but it simply means that grains as commonly eaten — that is, in foods like muffins and bagels, where grains have been ground into flour — are so thoroughly pulverized that they have lost even a cell structure. They are a-, meaning without, cellular, meaning cells.

This is bad because “exploded” cells present a huge, expanded surface area for attack by digestive enzymes, which quickly convert the exposed starch to sugar.

A Canadian researcher named Ian Spreadbury has persuasively argued that acellular carbs are almost certainly the primary driver of obesity and diabetes in the modern world.1

3. Modern Wheat Contains Abundant Antinutrients & Toxins

This is the most weighty anti-grain argument of all. It’s not just that grains are a poor source of nutrients, but grains in fact contain antinutrients, which are compounds that inhibit your body’s ability to absorb essential vitamins and minerals. These include:

• Lectins: These are indigestible proteins that evolved in plants to repel attacks by insects. When consumed by humans, there’s abundant evidence that lectins kick off an immune response — in other words, help keep you in a chronically inflammatory state2

• Phytates: These are compounds that bind to minerals and “escort” them out of the body via elimination. So the modest mineral content of grains is reduced even further as a portion of whatever modest mineral amounts might be in grains gets taken out by phytates!

Not to mention:

• Gluten: A type of protein found in wheat and rye, gluten appears to be a problem for more people than just the 1 percent of the population with celiac disease. A recent study suggests at least another 1 percent may have gluten sensitivity.3 Modern wheat is especially rich in amylopectin A, a “super gluten” that animal studies show causes massive blood sugar spikes and likely drives “carb addiction.”4

But the story gets even worse.

As I’ve reported, beginning in the 1960s, it became a common agricultural practice to douse wheat crops with a massive dose of glyphosate, a potent herbicide, just before harvest. This killed the stalk, making it less bulky and easier to harvest.

The downside, though, is that, of course, the edible part, the seeds, get doused right along with it. That’s why glyphosate — officially recognized by the state of California as a carcinogen — is so commonly found in grain-intensive foods.

“When I stopped eating cakes, crackers, breads and cereals, I was stunned by how remarkably quickly they lost their hold over me.”

4. Wheat Just Is Not Human Food

Some birds and rodents have spent the last 2 million years adapting to successful grain consumption.

But only for the last 10,000 years, since we invented agriculture, have humans eaten wheat and other grains in quantity — and some populations have been eating wheat for much less time than that.

Grains, including wheat, are not an ideal food for anyone. They are merely “less bad” for some than others.

But What About Intact Grains?

It’s become common in vegetarian circles to argue that while flour is bad, whole, intact grains — such as “wheatberries” — are perfectly fine to eat.

I disagree. While intact grains do break down more slowly than flours, they are still nutrient poor, calorie rich and insulin-spiking.

Best to leave them behind altogether.

Bottom Line

Grains, especially wheat, are so… ah… ingrained into modern life that for many people, they are invisible. They’ll focus on the sandwich filling and not the bread; the pizza topping and not the crust; the chocolate chips and not the cookie.

But seeing — and then avoiding — wheat and other grains is not only possible, it is far easier than you think. When I stopped eating cakes, crackers, breads and cereals, I was stunned by how remarkably quickly they lost their hold over me.

Within a month, I could stare down the bread bowl at a restaurant and not have the slightest temptation to indulge.

So if you are going to eat carbohydrate-intensive foods in any form, I highly recommend:

Keeping your consumption to under 100 grams of carbohydrate daily

Eating only cellular carbs — that is, unprocessed versions that have intact cell structures, such as potatoes or low-sugar fruit

If you do eat grains, organic rice and quinoa are the least problematic, and commercial wheat the most troublesome, with the rest arrayed between. But all will spike blood sugar, are relatively nutrient poor and will likely get in the way of your health and weight goals.

No single dietary change will move you closer to lower blood sugar, ideal weight and reduced inflammation, while promoting robust health in general, than eliminating this food group. The sooner you go against the grain, the better.


  1. Spreadbury I. Comparison with ancestral diets suggests dense acellular carbohydrates promote an inflammatory microbiota, and may be the primary dietary cause of leptin resistance and obesity. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2012
  2. Freed DL. Do dietary lectins cause disease?. BMJ. 1999
  3. Uhde M, Ajamian M, Caio G, et al. Intestinal cell damage and systemic immune activation in individuals reporting sensitivity to wheat in the absence of coeliac disease. Gut. 2016
  4. Byrnes SE, Miller JC, Denyer GS. Amylopectin starch promotes the development of insulin resistance in rats. J Nutr. 1995
  5. Available at: http://detoxproject.org/alarming-levels-of-glyphosate-contamination-found-in-popular-american-foods/. Accessed December 29, 2016

About Brad Lemley

I am a science journalist who has written for the Washington Post, Discover Magazine and dozens of other national publications. I've written or co-written 10 books, most on health and fitness. I am a passionate advocate for self-directed, nature-based health care, and believe strongly that robust health is within reach of anyone who possesses the right information.