As you would know if you’re familiar with GI Gen, I’ve been a fan of the wheat free and sugar free style of eating for some time, and Sweet Poison.
Sceptics might suggest I’m too easily persuaded by these ‘fad’ nutritional ideologies, but it just rings so true with my own personal experience. If it didn’t feel good I probably wouldn’t do it, regardless of how persuasive I found their arguments.
Although I’ve toyed with both things over the last few years, a month ago after a particularly unwelcome carb-binge, I decided to go cold turkey, and so far it’s been a great experience.
Reasons for going wheat free
My main objectives for being wheat free are:
- To avoid blood sugar spikes
- To avoid the carb cravings that hit with low blood sugar
- To avoid non-nutrient dense calorie consumption
- Because wheat makes me feel bloated and sluggish
The above list also applies to my reasons for going sugar free although sugar in the form of table sugar (the combined fructose and sucrose blend most commonly added to food) is, somewhat surprisingly, lower on the Glycaemic Index, the international database that lists the Glycaemic Impact (GI) of food and therefore doesn’t have the same impact on my blood sugar as wheat.
In brief, the GI is the scientifically-derived method for determining the relative impact of carbohydrate intake on your blood sugar. The GI number is the rating given to food based on this impact. No carbs = no GI. The higher the GI the higher the blood sugar spike when you eat that food.
Low GI food is lower in carbohydrate. When you eat it your blood sugar doesn’t spike as high, and therefore the blood sugar ‘crash’ isn’t as noticeable when it happens. Energy feels more sustained. It’s commonly accepted that low-GI eating is the best way to control (and avoid) type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.
A full-blown diabetic will experience a low that quickly becomes life-threatening. They’ll get shaky, distressed, vague, and eventually violent before becoming unconscious. The insulin-resistant person, like me, will get shaky, vague, weak and upset/irritable, but I’ve yet to throw punches or (thankfully) lose consciousness.
Combining wheat and sugar
A combination of wheat and sugar in the form of a donut for example or a croissant with jam, is the worst possible choice for an insulin resistant person. I remember bursting into tears in the street in Paris a few years ago only an hour after sampling the delights at a renowned patisserie because my blood sugar dropped like a stone and I was in a panic needing to get access to some food.
So if I start to feel hypoglycaemic and need something to work faster than cheese or nuts for example (which are my usual go-to options when I feel a low coming on but know I have the time and space to head it off before it becomes critical), the ‘better choice’ for me perhaps strangely is a chocolate bar instead of a sandwich.
If presented with a range of only carb-based choices for a meal and I know it might be hours before the next one, my best option, to give my blood sugar a fighting chance, is to go for something with lots of fat and protein – a ham and cheese croissant for example rather than a salad sandwich.
Science is clear now that eating wheat in combination with fat actually lowers its glycaemic rating. You can trick your body into not recognising the carbohydrate as clearly and therefore not automatically triggering the blood sugar response, just the same as a parent might try to hide veggies inside other foods to persuade a fussy child to eat them. Interesting hey?
Although the salad in that hypothetical sandwich contains nutrients, the benefit is cancelled out when I end up having to make desperate choices during full flight hypoglycaemia.
And obviously then my overall calorie consumption ends up being much higher than it should be, and I can guarantee that if that ‘desperate choice’ is something high-carb/high GI, that’s exactly what I’m going to want again 2 hours later when that blood sugar high wears off. And so the rollercoaster ride continues.
So when travelling or otherwise well out of routine my main objective has to be to eat for blood sugar first and overall nutrition second, calorie consumption third and I suppose eating for enjoyment should underpin the whole thing!
When I’m at home and have total control over what I eat, overall nutrition can bump back up to the first priority. And there’s nothing restrictive or depressing about this.
Have you heard people say that’s it always the unhealthiest food that tastes best? I disagree.
Sure we’re biologically programmed to enjoy fat, salt and sugar in large quantities when we can get them but by cutting out sugar and wheat I’ve retrained my taste buds now so that they really sing in response to simple flavours like herbs, nuts and seeds.
Wheat Free Diet: Benefits of no wheat
Unsurprisingly the list of reasons for going wheat free and sugar free correlates with my experience of the benefits so far.
No more blood sugar rollercoaster
I can almost completely stay off the blood sugar rollercoaster. When I get hungry now it’s a steadily growing sensation not a sudden attack. I can also stay hungry if needed for a while without having to be nervous that it’s about to get serious.
As David Gillespie explains so well in Sweet Poison, our bodies are incredibly sophisticated machines that when working as they should have a perfectly balanced equation of hormones that are released to ensure we can continue to operate when low on fuel.
Keep calories under control
It’s easier to keep calorie consumption under control. I really notice that when eating this way it’s harder to overeat. I can have high calorie days of course, because fat IS high in calories – a handful of nuts can easily be 300 calories for example – but in the following days I just naturally want to eat less without feeling like I have to restrict myself. My body automatically readjusts somehow. Perhaps it’s the hunger hormones that readjust? I don’t know but it works!
Think about food less
I feel better – lighter and more energetic and less enslaved generally to food.
I’m leaner! It only takes a few days of eating this way for my stomach to flatten out a bit and it feels like my body just recalibrates or something to a healthier baseline state.
Going wheat free: In conclusion
So, this post has attempted to lay out both why and how I’ve gone wheat free. I’m currently in Europe at the start of a long trip, where I know that my eating is going to be challenged by both lack of access to the type of food I prefer to eat at home, and by temptation towards all sorts of local culinary delights.
Because of the GI ratings I mentioned above, if temptation is getting the better of me the lesser evil is actually sugar, WHEN I can get it without it being accompanied by wheat – icecream or chocolate for example rather than cake. Mmmm cake 😉
I’m going to follow up on this post shortly with another outlining more of the practical ways in which I’ve modified my eating. Largely in response to friends asking ‘what on earth do you eat if you’re not eating wheat??’ The short answer is – plenty. Stay tuned!
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