Why eating a grain-based diet will do nothing for your ‘vitality’

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The relative popularity of low-carbohydrate diets such as ‘Atkins’ has led to slimmer profits for manufacturers of grain-based foods such as bread and pasta. In an effort to stem the loss Britain’s bread, flour and grain industries have recently joined forces to launch a weight loss plan which they have named the ‘Vitality Eating System’. The core components of this regime are a diet providing a mere 1250 daily calories, coupled with an exercise programme. I have little doubt that the energy deficit induced by this plan will lead to a degree of weight reduction in the those who undertake it. However, experience shows that individuals generally find such stringent regimes quite unsustainable, which means the chances of long-term success are likely to be very slim indeed.

Bearing in mind the origins of the Vitality plan, it is perhaps no surprise is that the diet at the centre of it is based on grain-rich foods such as bread, pasta and pizza. While many in the conventional dietetic establishment seem to have an unsatiable appetite for such foods, the fact is they tend to stimulate surges in the hormone insulin which promotes the production of fat in the body and at the same time quells the body’s ability to use fat as a fuel. Influxes of insulin may also drive blood sugar levels to subnormal levels, which can manifest as a need for a savoury snack or sweet treat between meals.

Another potential symptom of low blood sugar is fatigue, and my experience is that the consumption of starchy carbs such as bread and pasta at lunch if often at the root of the lull in energy many people experience in the mid-late afternoon. Also, another reason why such foods may sap energy levels relates to undesirable reactions to specific foodstuffs known as ‘food intolerance’. While not everyone is intolerant to wheat, my experience is that it is a relatively widespread and under-recognised problem. Not uncommonly, sensitivity to wheat seems to manifest as abdominal symptoms such as bloating or irritable bowel syndrome. However, other frequent features of this imbalance are fatigue and lethargy. Because of its emphasis on wheat-based foods, I suspect some will experience anything but an increase in their ‘vitality’.

Some find it surprising that a supposedly ancient foodstuff such as wheat may initiate reactions that could underlie so fatigue and other everyday ills. However, while we have been eating wheat for thousands of years, this grain is actually a relative nutritional newcomer in our evolution of some 2 – 3 million years. Plus, relatively recent agricultural techniques have led to the development of wheat types that are quite distinct from the forms of this grain that were originally cultivated by our ancestors. These factors mean that we can lack the digestive capacity for the complete digestion of wheat, which some believe is a basic precursor of food intolerance within the body.

Alternative sources of starch in the diet include beans, lentils, rice (preferably brown) and oats. Those looking for a direct swap for wheat-based bread might like to consider varieties based on rye. Rye breads have been shown to induce less in the way of insulin secretion than wheat breads, and in practice also seem less likely to provoke problems with food intolerance. While some may encourage us to have our fill of wheat-based foods, I think their are plenty of good reasons to go against this grain.

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