Category Archives: Insulin

The Wheat Series- Part 4: Wheat and Your Mind

In the other blog posts in this series (read Part 1, 2, and 3) , we have seen how wheat can affect our blood sugar, metabolism, and immune system. In this post I wanted to discuss something that was VERY surprising to me when I first learned about it, how much gluten can affect our minds.

I was a psychology major in college (before I went back to school to become a dietitian) and my interest in psychology and health remains (I even thought about doing a PhD in health  psychology). I have seen that many patients struggling with mental illnesses (bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, etc), who also had issues with diet and weight. I would say that when I worked with the pre-gastric bypass population about 50% (or maybe even more ) of those patients struggled at some point with anxiety, depression, or other psychological disorders. I always thought that the mental issue was affecting the diet (overeating, under eating, binges, sugar cravings, etc), and never really thought that maybe the diet was contributing to the mental illness. That is until I heard Nora Gedgaudas speak at the Ancestral Health Symposium. Nora’s talk discussed how blood sugar regulation is key regulating the endocrine and nervous system, controlling our hormones, emotions and behavior. Surges in blood sugar are destabilizing because of the effect it has on insulin, leptin, and other hormones, stimulating over-arousal and exacerbating anxiety-related issues. Remember the effect that wheat has on our blood sugar due to its high content of amylopectin?

But, its not just the blood sugar surges that contribute to the mood swings, depression, anxiety, etc, its the actual gluten itself. Gluten polypeptides have been found to penetrate the blood-brain barrier. Once gluten is in the brain, it attaches to morphine receptors, the same as opiates. It has also been found that the drug naloxone (used to reverse the action of heroin and other opiates) blocks the binding of gluten to the brain’s morphine receptors. When naloxone was given to “normal” subjects (blocking the opiate effect of gluten), they consumed approximately 400 fewer calories from carbohydrate sources. Consumption of wheat can therefore lead to a mild feeling of euphoria and  when it is not consumed, people can experience withdrawal.

Nora, in her practice, has seen significant improvement in mental illnesses by using a gluten-free, Paleo diet approach in combination with therapy and biofeedback. If you are struggling with depression/anxiety or other mental issues, it may be worth a shot. For more information, there are several testimonials about anxiety, depression, and the Paleo diet on Robb Wolf’s site.

The Wheat Series- Part 2

In the last post in this series, I discussed how modern wheat is different from ancient wheat because of genetic modification due to the need for greater crop yields. Modern Triticum aestivum (wheat) is unable to survive without human intervention, fertilization and pest control.  Kind of reminds me of Jurassic Park when the scientists made the dinosaurs  in the movie all lysine dependent (trying to keep them dependent on humans to live) then the dinosaurs mutated and we all know how that story ended…ooops! The point is don’t screw with mother nature, she knows what she’s doing.

Due to genetic modification, modern wheat is about 70% carbohydrate and is lower in protein than ancient wheat (read more about ancient wheat at The carbohydrate in wheat is 75% amylopectin and 25% amylose. Amylopectin is very efficiently digested and easily turned into sugar.  The specific type of amlyopectin in wheat is amylopectin A which has been called a “super carbohydrate” as it is the most readily turned into blood sugar of all the types of amylopectin.

In this study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, participants were given a diet of 70% amylose or 70% amylopectin. Those on the amylopectin diet had higher glucose and insulin responses after a meal. Due to the high amylopectin content, white bread has a higher  glycemic response than table sugar (according to the glycemic index). So why does this matter for health?

The reason it matters is because of insulin. As I have discussed in previous posts, high blood sugar (from amylopectin and other refined carbohydrates), leads to increased insulin, which leads to increased inflammation, and then to chronic diseases (diabetes, autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and even mental illnesses- more on that in a future post). Insulin is also a storage hormone and causes food to be stored…excess food leads to excess storage (ie FAT). The only way to get rid of fat is to allow insulin levels to decrease enough in the body so the fat can actually come OUT of the cells. So, due to its high amylopectin content, wheat elevates blood sugar leading to not only excess weight, but a whole myriad of other health problems. How is this a “safe” food again?


PS When I was writing this post, I came across this article from 2011 that basically says how great the genetic modification of wheat is. Ha! Enjoy!

How to actually lower your cholesterol

As a Registered Dietitian, I have seen hundreds of patients trying to lower their cholesterol via a low fat, low cholesterol diet. Many patients come to me desperately trying to figure out why their cholesterol keeps increasing after years of avoiding fried foods, meat, bacon, eggs, and cheese. I learned in school,

that if a patient was not seeing results with a low fat, low cholesterol diet it probably meant they weren’t REALLY avoiding the foods they needed to avoid. Just a few years ago I believed that if a patient was truly eating lots of whole grains, very little fat, and avoiding red meat at all costs, they should have low cholesterol. But, after a while in this field, seeing one unsuccessful patient after another, I started to see that this was clearly not happening. How could ALL my patients be lying to me about what they were actually eating? Sure, there is a genetic component to high cholesterol and some people’s numbers are high no matter what they do, but these cases are rare. I didn’t feel that genetics was accounting for the lack of change I was seeing in my patients when they changed their diet according to my recommendations

The thing is that I was eating a “heart healthy” diet myself, exactly as I had learned in school. I knew I had a family history of high cholesterol and had to be careful with my diet.  But, even in following the traditional recommendations (and who knew them better than me?), my total cholesterol was over 200. My LDL (bad cholesterol) was borderline high. How could this be?  I ate oatmeal with fruit for breakfast, whole grain bread with fat free mayo, low fat cheese (or fat free, yuck!), and turkey for lunch, and whole wheat pasta with veggies for dinner! I used only olive oil for cooking, didn’t eat fast food, never ate anything fried, avoided eggs, and didn’t eat much red meat. Why was my cholesterol so high at only 27 years old? I had all the information and was following the recommended diet I had learned in school. Why couldn’t I lower my own cholesterol? Why were my patient’s struggling as well? Clearly there was something that was not right.

Part of the reason I became a dietitian is because I love how often the field changes, requiring a lot of research and constant learning to stay on top of all the new information. I like to try things out on myself before I make recommendations and don’t like to recommend diets if I am not seeing the results I think I should.  I couldn’t accept that the low fat diet I was following was not keeping my cholesterol under control, especially since I was following exactly what I was taught and what was fully accepted by the medical and nutrition communities.

So, I hit the internet and did some research, I desperately wanted real results for my patients and myself, and didn’t want to provide information that clearly wasn’t working. I attended a few “alternative” nutrition conferences to try to discover different ways of thinking about heart health. After a lot of research into what would actually lower my cholesterol, I changed my diet. I quit following the “recommended” heart-healthy diet and I added back many foods that I had been avoiding for years.

After 6 months on this new diet, my cholesterol went down 32 points, my LDL was down 27 points, now all within normal levels. I also convinced a coworker to try the diet with me and her total cholesterol dropped 20 points and LDL dropped 25 points after only 2 months. Her HDL also increased by over 20 points, and she was not exercising (exercise usually raises HDL)!

When I told my doctor what I had done, including the dietary changes I had made, he told me it was impossible, that it couldn’t have been my diet that changed my cholesterol. He said “You must have a different kind of metabolism from other people!” Really? Clearly, he was wrong, it was my diet. It’s not his fault, his area of expertise is not nutrition and he is just following what the rest of the medical community has accepted as dogma. When you know better, you do better.

So I wrote a program manual called “How to actually lower your cholesterol” to help people like myself who are doing everything they can, following all the recommendations as closely as possible, and still not seeing the results they want with their cholesterol levels. It outlines exactly what you need to do to get your cholesterol down fast.