Skepticism and Health

Today many people are avoiding wheat. I saw one report on the internet claiming that wheat uniquely drives up blood sugar. According to this report, blood sugar would rise moderately with an oatmeal breakfast but skyrocket with a wheat breakfast.

Maybe. I have eaten cooked cracked wheat and cooked wheat berries much of my life. I seem to be very healthy, have good health, and look younger than my high school peers. I feel great after eating wheat. Now people are avoiding it.

The problem is that there is a lot of nonsense on the internet. Nothing new about that. But there are often simple ways to discover truth. Check it out!

So I ate a cup of cooked oatmeal with a cup of berries (blueberries) yesterday.

I ate cooked wheat this morning, again with a cup of berries, this time mostly blueberries but some sliced strawberries, since my blueberries have run out, and I needed a full cup to conduct the experiment.

Both breakfasts had a ¼ cup of whole milk and some stevia for sweetening. I measured my blood sugar fasting and one hour after eating both times.

My fasting blood glucose is 103. That is somewhat high, but that is characteristic of my metabolism. My blood sugar runs on the high side. My MD thinks I am silly to measure it, since 95 – 100 is considered a normal range.

(I also track blood pressure as you see from the photo that goes with this post, and from that I learned a cool breathing meditation that quickly lowers it. That’s another topic for another day.)

One hour after an oatmeal breakfast, my blood glucose is 134. That seems reasonable to me.

This morning, one hour after a breakfast of cooked whole wheat, my blood sugar is 104. Where was the horrible blood sugar spike? Where is the fat producing sugar floating around my body? Where is the problem?

I conclude that the internet is full of garbage, and particularly when it comes to health related issues. Of course, eating has always been an area of quackery and nonsense. That is because there is a clear link between what we eat and how we feel. So we do pay attention to internet rumors. But it is better to make ourselves the place where we learn, not the internet.

That is, when we pay close attention to how food makes us feel, we can generally tell within a half hour to an hour later what effect particular foods have on us. In fact, sometimes I have coached people on weight loss, and the “thirty minute” rule helps them to learn which foods makes us feel happier and healthier and more energetic.

Now looking at scientific studies is a good way to find possibilities. In a recent study in New Zealand, teens who ate 7-8 helpings of colorful vegetables and fruits showed a much better mood the next day.* But I suggest you not take that study to heart unless it shows results in your own life.

Now the study is not unusual. There is a good deal of evidence that changing our eating does change our mood. Eating at least seven helpings of fruits and vegetables a day is clearly associated with a variety of better health outcomes, including better moods.**

Now how can I check this out? My blood pressure readings or my fasting blood glucose aren’t going to say anything helpful.

A simple way is to rate my emotional well being on a 0-10 scale. Zero would be feeling the worst I have ever been, emotionally, and ten would be on top of the world, as close as I can get to mania. Sadly, that isn’t very close, so my highest highs look like mild enjoyment to others.

Now I shift my eating. One day I eat 7-8 helpings of colorful veggies and some colorful fruit, particularly the small berries like raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries. Fortunately you can buy that combo frozen in the grocery store. I will eat a lot of spinach, kale, and dark green salads. No iceberg lettuce. I will eat a sweet potato or some baked squash. I will eat some sweet peppers.

Does that have an impact on my mood? I just rate my mood the next day. My own experience is a great teacher.

Now my wife has a degree in medical technology, and she insists I don’t know anything unless I repeat my experiments a good number of times.

So that is my report. Don’t believe anything I say. Try your own eating experiments, using blood glucose measures or subjective 0-10 ratings. Share your thoughts below. Also, I’d appreciate it if you like this article, please link it or share it.

*White, BA, Horwath, CC, & Tanner, TS (2013). Many apples a day keep the blues away – Daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18, 782–798

** http://www.nber.org/papers/w18469.pdf; see also ; Blanchflower, D.G., Oswald, A.J., Stewart-Brown, S. (2012). Is Psychological Well-being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables? Social Indicators Research. DOI 10.1007/s11205-012-0173-y

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3 Comments

  1. Gabrielle December 30, 2015 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    What happens when you control for allegiance? And I think those berries could create some confounding factors. Could be a fun process to explore further….

    • Dr.J December 30, 2015 at 7:07 pm - Reply

      Gabrielle points out a fascinating aspect. Here’s my thinking: Placebo only lasts for a short period of time, so I should be able to tease that out with some patience. Nevertheless . . . the truth is difficult and evasive and attainable only as we beat it out on the anvils of our own experience.

      So now I will repeat that, with exactly the same berries both times, and exactly the same amount of cooked grains, 1 cup cooked wheat or oats. We will see. In the mean time, so far, wheat isn’t as bad as the rumors have it.

      All thanks to Gabrielle for a wonderful observation.

  2. Gabrielle December 31, 2015 at 3:46 am - Reply

    Ah, well maybe you can teach us a thing or two. I thought placebo was the patient’s belief they will be cured, but allegiance is the doctor’s belief they will do the curing. You are both patient and Doctor. You may need to do some creative blinding so the patient doesn’t know what the doctor is doing and vice versa. A blindfold is one thing… But to blind the tastebuds… You could add a large jar of jalapeños to each dish… But alas, another confounding factor.

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