I recently posted this on my facebook page and received some great questions and comments. This is so counterintuitive to what many of us have been taught, “Eat more whole grains!” How can whole wheat bread possibly increase blood sugar more than table sugar?
This quote came from the book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, MD, a preventative cardiologist. In chapter 3, he explains this phenomenon. I recently purchased the book at Costco, but you can also find it on Amazon or pick it up at your local bookstore.
Davis explains that modern wheat (triticum aestivum) has been hybridized and genetically modified thousands of times, creating an almost unrecognizable grain when compared to ancient wheat. Modern wheat is 75% amylopectin and 25% amylose. Amylopectin is a molecule composed of several thousand glucose units. In the human body, amylopectin is quickly converted to glucose and absorbed by the bloodstream creating a rapid spike in blood sugar. Different complex carbohydrates contain different forms of amylopectin. Beans have amylopectin C, which makes the sugars less available and creates a more blood sugar stabilizing effect. Wheat on the other hand, contains amylopectin A, which has the ability to increase blood sugar even more quickly than simple carbohydrates like sucrose (table sugar). According to Davis, aside from some extra fiber, eating two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different, and often worse, than eating or drinking a sugary snack (notice the glycemic index of a snickers bar in the next paragraph).
In 1981, researchers at the University of Toronto, showed the blood sugar effects of carbohydrates, initiating the concept of the glycemic index (GI). Their original study demonstrated the glycemic index (GI) of various foods and showed that whole wheat bread affected blood sugar even more quickly, than white bread.
· White bread = 69
· Whole wheat bread = 72
· Shredded wheat cereal = 67
· Sucrose (table sugar) = 59
· Snickers bar = 41
Ultimately because of the amylopectin A, according to Davis, wheat is wheat regardless if it is highly processed or whole grain.
When our blood sugar levels increase, insulin, also known as the “fat storage hormone” causes the excess to be stored as fat. Obviously, this is important for those times of feast and famine. Except, for most of us, the famine never comes. We keep feasting on these high GI carbohydrates and any excess is stored as fat (think beer belly and muffin top) and not just any fat, visceral fat, the deep fat encircling organs. It also set us up for a glucose drop that produces cravings for more high GI foods to supply more quick sugar. The amylopectin A in wheat stimulates our appetite. When we eat wheat, we not only want more wheat, but we end up wanting more of everything else.
Some food scientists are well aware of this problem and are now trying to further genetically modify wheat to reduce the amount of amylopectin A. So, “Frankenwheat” (as it is “affectionately” called by some) is due for even more changes. Often we think in terms of “moderation in all things”, but when it comes to wheat, research is showing that complete avoidance may be the better choice!
For more information check out the book Wheat Belly and for those of you that want the biochemistry and research behind this, here is a link for an article on the
My answers to the questions posted on Facebook…
1. Michelle, in your opinion, do you think that 2T of sugar applies with 100% whole wheat bread as well? I am thinking whole wheat is still "enriched" but isn't 100% whole wheat less processed?
Yes, the sprouted whole wheat breads are less processed, but as Davis describes, wheat is wheat.
2. What about Udi's bread? Does the same thing happen?
Since Udi's bread is wheat-free/gluten-free, it is a better choice because the Amylopectin A in wheat isn't the only problem. Gluten has been linked to at least 55 health conditions (I'll have to save this for another blog topic), so there are other significant health issues associated with eating wheat and gluten. On the other hand, Udi's is still a processed food and is likely still high-glycemic, so moderation is key. Choose the Udi’s Whole Grain, Millet-Chia or Omega Flax and Fiber versions instead of their white bread. For people who have blood sugar disorders (hyper- or hypo-glycemia), autoimmune and other health conditions or excess weight, limiting all processed grains is often an important step in stabilizing blood sugar and regaining health.
Sometimes we can get in a mind set that it must be good for us if it is gluten-free, when ultimately we still need to be focusing on nutrient dense, blood-sugar stabilizing foods. (They sell gluten-free donuts and even though it could be argued that this is a better choice than a donut made with wheat/gluten, ultimately we’d be way better off not eating any donut.)
3. While white sugar has few micronutrients, bread does have other vitamins and minerals that go with the GI. Of course any fat added to bread or sugar will slow the absorption, which is often how it is eaten.
True and good point. We see this with the Snickers bar above and virtually any high-glycemic food. When we mix high and low glycemic foods, it does lower the GI and slows the absorption. But, just because a snickers bar has a lower GI doesn't mean that it is beneficial for us, should be included in our diet or is ultimately the better choice. Two tablespoons of sugar have 92 calories vs. 271 calories in a Snickers bar.
Some fruits are considered high GI yet will do a far better job of providing micro- and macro-nutrients and fiber than a slice bread. Often the vitamins and minerals in bread are first stripped out and then added back in with synthetic versions (e.g. folic acid instead of the naturally occurring folate).
4. So that means no whole wheat bread for my babies either?
Luckily there are plenty of tasty gluten-free options now for breads (Udi's, Rudy's, Food for Life, etc). Most children’s diets should include lots of vegetables, as well as fruits, nuts and seeds, legumes, quality proteins and fats and some gluten-free grains (rice, quinoa, amaranth, teff, millet, etc.). Children are very susceptible to hypoglycemia, which often expresses as moodiness, crabbiness, tantrums, crying for “no reason” or an inability to focus. It is essential to provide children with a diet that stabilizes their blood sugar. This will not only increase their present quality of life, but also prevent the future diseases associated with blood sugar disorders.
Wishing you a healthy, happy, gluten-free day!