Celebrity endorsements, glossy ad campaigns (funded by food industry giants) and even government stamps of approvals of everyday food products have us following their trends like lemmings. But food revolutionaries are questioning why our governments, media and society are promoting certain foods that aren’t necessary to our diets.
As a result, there has been a seismic shift in the way many leading health experts are eating – and they are jettisoning sugar, wheat, dairy and processed foods from their meal plans. Here’s why and how doing the same can make you feel and look better.
Consuming sugar is so ingrained into our modern diet and culture that we rarely question its prevalence and adverse effects. For example, we give chocolates or candy to our loved ones as a sign of affection, but should we, knowing that refined sugar can lead to obesity, a fatty liver, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and tooth decay? Similar to abusive drugs, sugar releases a large amount of dopamine in the reward centre of the brain, which can make you addicted. Dubbed ‘sweet poison’, it can also trick our brain into thinking it’s not full, and we eat even more.
“So we can’t stop at one slice – we want two or three, and that’s where the problem is – when we create an addictive behaviour toward sugar,” says Melbourne integrative medicine practitioner Dr Shami Barathan. “Maybe 30 years ago, people would eat three to four teaspoons per day, now it’s over 40 teaspoons a day – that’s massive.” To hit her point home, she has a jar filled with 40 teaspoons of sugar to show patients. It’s also well known that sugar leaves the brain in a fog, and you end up feeling lethargic, anxious and moody, which is counterproductive.
Supermarket aisles are packed with processed foods and other items with hidden sugars, including breakfast cereals, bread, juices and so-called ‘health foods.’ Dr Barathan advises that we get into the habit of checking how much sugar there is in everything we eat, and reducing the intake of refined sugar altogether. “It’s getting over an addiction – it’s hard and it’s slow but with guidance it improves,” she says. “You need your partner or someone you cook and eat with to be on the same page as you.”
Another food to drop from your diet is wheat. “Make no mistake about it – everyone benefits by not eating wheat and closely related grains such as rye, barley, oats, and corn,” says Dr William Davis, the number-one, bestselling author of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health. He says there is a protein in wheat that connects opiate receptors to the brain similar to morphine. It doesn’t make us high but instead stimulates our appetite.
Also, components of wheat block a hormone produced by the liver in response to a full stomach. And finally, a carbohydrate unique to wheat raises blood sugar levels higher than that of white table sugar. What’s more, grains have certain compounds that block the absorption of minerals, especially iron, zinc, magnesium and calcium. They also damage cells in the stomach that produce proteins that allow vitamin B12 absorption.
“Replace [wheat and grains] with nuts, seeds, meats, coconut oil, olives, olive oil and other healthy foods,” Dr Davis says. “By doing so, not only are we able to absorb nutrients more effectively, we obtain the full range of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in truly healthy quantities.” He believes eliminating wheat can help cure common conditions such as acid reflux/heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, joint pain, migraine headaches, eczema, mood swings and fatigue.
“Wheat is added to virtually all processed foods,” Dr Davis warns. Also watch out for gluten-free products because many contain cornstarch, rice flour, tapioca starch and potato flour, ingredients with properties that raise blood sugar levels higher than those found in wheat. “In the Wheat Belly lifestyle, we therefore go further than being gluten-free: we are grain-free and avoid the gluten-free processed foods made with what I call junk carbohydrates.”