If there is one thing we all have in common that would be to have a quality life, stay healthy, and look good. Nutrition makes an essential part of all these three important aspirations. Unfortunately, the jury on what makes you happy, what makes you healthy, and what makes you look good is still on.
Still, some diet programs, even at the first glance make more sense than others and therefore increase the chance of achieving the beneficial results you are striving for. Having the honor of being the most Google-ed term of 2013 and being followed by 3 million American citizens alone, the paleo diet definitely joins this selected company.
Of course, just like any other dietary program paleo also imposes some restrictions on what you can eat and what you cannot. Recently, we examined how white rice fits into this story. Now, we are going to take a look at another popular grain staple.
So, can you eat wheat on a paleo, and if so, how to approach it?
Paleo Diet In A Nutshell
Of course, in order to see how wheat fits into the whole paleo diet story, we will first need to closely examine what the paleo diet is all about in the first place.
Essentially, the paleo diet is a dietary plan based around the ingredients our ancestors have consumed during the Paleolithic era which spanned from 2.5 million to 10.000 years ago. During that time the human body evolved to the foods that could be hunted down or gathered in nature (e.g. fish, veggies, nuts, and seed, etc.).
In comparison, the time when our ancestors settled down during the agricultural revolution (approximately 10.000 years ago) and started producing food (e.g. dairy products, grains, etc.) up until now seems awfully short. So, our bodies and our digestive systems are still wired to be fueled by the foods that are easily accessible in nature, right?
Well, scientific facts seem to be on-board. Numerous independent studies conducted about this dietary program across the globe all came down to the same conclusions – paleo diet promotes weight loss, helps in regulation of blood pressure, cuts down the cholesterol, helps in regulation of blood sugar, and improves the body metabolism.
The picture below illustrates what we are probably interested in the most – weight loss results that were registered in four different studies:
What Is Considered Paleo And What Is Not?
That brings us to the crux of this topic – what exactly were ancestors eating when they foraged the lands as hunter-gatherers and what foods entered their nutrition when they finally settled down? The answer is far simpler than you think but you may not like the results.
- Lean meat, grass-fed animals, wild game
- Fish, especially the breeds rich in omega-3 acid
- Nuts and seeds
- Oils you get from nuts and seeds
- Grains such as oats and barley
- Dairy products
- Legumes such as peanuts, peas, and beans
- Salt and refined sugar
- Highly processed food in general
As we can see, the paleo diet brings a lot of healthy ingredients to the table. We have to give a special shout-out to omega-3-rich fish like salmon that should be consumed far more frequently whether you want to follow this program or not.
However, this nutrition program also effectively eliminates all domesticated plants and foods that became the staple of human nutrition with the rise of the agricultural revolution. We are primarily referring to grains, potatoes, and all types of bread.
What Is Wheat And Does It Offer Some Benefits?
Now that we have a pretty good idea about this dietary program let us go back to the question we asked in the introduction – can you eat wheat on a paleo or not?
To answer let us first break down the wheat and see what it’s all about.
Wheat is a type of food that is widely used for its seed – a cereal grain that is widely used as a food. Wheat is one of the first domesticated plants and the planned growth started as early as 9600 BCE in the region of Fertile Crescent.
That shouldn’t be that big of a surprise since, as far as grains go, wheat ranks pretty high taking when it comes to the nutritional content. So, let’s see what can be found in these small grains.
As we can see, wheat packs quite a lot of nutrients and especially excels in beneficial dietary fiber, protein, and iron. Compared to the white rice we have covered in one of the previous articles that contain only carbohydrates and pretty much nothing else, wheat sounds like a true power bomb.
Wheat Health Benefits
Unsurprisingly, this potent mix of nutrients provides some notable health benefits. Here are the most notable mentions:
- Powerful combination of vitamins and minerals – Containing high levels of selenium, copper, manganese, phosphorus, and folate, whole wheat represents a powerful mix of healthy nutrients.
- Whole wheat promotes gut health – Some studies indicate that some components of wheat bran may function as probiotics thus promoting gut health.
- Prevention of colon cancer – Other recent studies indicate that the consumption of whole grains, whole wheat included can reduce the risk of colon cancer which is simply great.
Wheat is also associated with the prevention of type 2 diabetes, reduction of chronic inflammation, prevention of breast cancer, prevention of childhood asthma, etc.
Of course, much like any other popular food, wheat features some negative health implications that need to be taken into consideration for this discussion.
- Wheat can be difficult to digest
- Wheat can have a negative effect on blood glucose levels
- Eating too much wheat can lead to the development of coeliac disease
Paleo Stance On Grains And Wheat
So, we had enough time to assess wheat on its own merits, and we have to admit we were pleasantly surprised. Unfortunately, grains are not considered to be paleo-friendly and whole wheat is no exception.
Such a stance is not a result of stubbornness or some misguided sense of loyalty to our Paleolithic ancestors. Followers of the paleo diet have a pretty strong argumentation of these domesticated plants.
- Whole grains are low in nutrients – In comparison to vegetables, seafood, meat, and fruit, all grains, including whole grains simply pack too few beneficial nutrients to be considered healthy. You can get all of the ingredients you need from other more nutrient-dense foods.
- Grains contain phytates – If you are unfamiliar with the term, phytates are small binding molecules that prevent our intestines from absorbing minerals that can be found in whole grains.
- Modern wheat is processed food – In a huge number of cases, modern industrial milling is stripping down the wheat of all the beneficial nutrients that can be found in the bran. Also, industrial farming is no stranger to the use of chemicals and genetic modifications.
- Whole grains are rich in lectins – Lectins are the molecules that tend to bind to the intestinal lining, making it very hard for our bodies to decide what needs to be absorbed and what needs to go out.
Unfortunately, all the things we have covered above can be applied to whole wheat as well. Taking into account the drawbacks that are specific to this plant species on top of that we get the mix that raises some serious concerns.
Of course, going all out and calling the whole wheat unhealthy or even dangerous would be far-fetched. This food is very appreciated in the nutritionists’ circles and for a good reason too – when it comes to the grains, whole wheat is probably one of the best things you can eat.
The point the followers of the paleo diet are trying to make is that even with all these benefits in mind, whole wheat represents a lower quality food in comparison to paleo staples like meat, seafood, veggies, and fruit. Consuming these empty, unproductive calories when you have a better, more nutrient-dense alternative doesn’t make too much sense.
So, let us finally answer the question – can you eat wheat on a paleo? If we are going to speak strictly – no. Paleo diet strongly discourages the consumption of any kind of grains and whole what is no exception. Are you going to lose something by throwing in small portions of wheat in your meals from time to time? Not really. Paleo diet offers suggestions not imposing laws. If you are in for this type of treat, feel free to mix up your regimen, and indulge yourself from time to time.
But, don’t go overboard.
We are finally at the end – hope you have found this short article informative. So, let us quickly wrap things up. Paleo diet is a dietary regimen that encourages people to go back to the eating habits of our Paleolithic ancestors. The food that was hunted and gathered in that time featured far better quality than anything that entered our household after the agricultural revolution. Therefore, all types of grains are excluded from the diet – they simply pack too few nutrients to make to the table.
Are you going to severely damage your health or undermine dietary efforts if you throw in small servings of whole wheat from time to time? Not really. As a matter of fact, as far as whole grains go, wheat is not that bad of an option.