Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
18 Jul

Is Wheat Addictive?

Within the Primal/paleo community and elsewhere, it’s often stated offhandedly that wheat is addictive. And absolutely, wheat for many people feels like something they could never give up. I hear it all the time: “I couldn’t live without bread.” “What would I do without cereal, dinner rolls, toast, {insert your favorite grain-based food item here}.” And wheat is often the main culprit in the sugar/insulin rollercoaster that drives sugar-burners’ need to eat (more wheat) every few waking hours. But is wheat addictive in a different sense – as an opiate like heroin and other drugs? Today I take a look at the research and attempt to separate fact from fiction. What do we really know about wheat as an opiate? Let’s find out…

Humans and other animals have something called an opioidergic system – an evolutionarily-preserved way for an organism to modulate behavior, addiction, and reward. When you exercise, for example, a lot of the euphoria you feel comes from endogenous (produced in-house) opioids interacting with your opiate receptors. This is the body’s way of dealing with a stressful experience (physical exertion), reducing pain, and it also has the effect of reinforcing a behavior that is positive, healthy, and in the organism’s best interest. The opioidergic system also interacts with the immune, endocrine, and central nervous systems (in other words, this is physiology, so it’s all interrelated), but we won’t get too much into that today. Now, it’s not just endogenous opioids interacting with our receptors; certain substances, like heroin and other opiate drugs, act as exogenous (produced out-of-house) opioids, thereby hijacking and “supercharging” our physiology. Cocaine, alcohol, and tobacco also interact with opioid receptors. The addictiveness of these substances is infamous, so these interactions exist shouldn’t surprise you.

However, there are other exogenous opioid peptides, also known as exorphins (exogenous morphine), found in substances that we don’t normally consider to be repositories of potentially addictive morphine-analogs. Like wheat.

Some of the most extensively studied food-based exorphins – gluten exorphins, from gluten, and gliadorphins, from gliadin – are derived from wheat. In a previous post, I raised the possibility of a wheat addiction. But are these exorphins actually problematic? Do they really interact with your opioid receptors to make you crave another “hit”? Well, an early 1979 paper (PDF) on the topic suggests that in order for them to actually function as in vivo opioid exorphins in our bodies, wheat exorphins must appear in our gastrointestinal tract after ingestion and during digestion, they have to survive degradation by intestinal enzymes into constituent amino acids, they have to be absorbed – intact – into the bloodstream, and they must pass the blood-brain barrier.

Do they satisfy those requirements? Let’s take a look.

When wheat is applied to conditions designed to simulate the human gut (complete with physiological amounts and proportions of stomach acid and digestive enzymes), exorphins are produced. This suggests that applying wheat to actual human stomachs (by eating it) should also produce wheat exorphins. Satisfied.

There’s also evidence that gluten exorphins do show up in the bloodstream after ingestion of wheat, at least in subjects with celiac disease (PDF). But let’s temper our conclusions; remember that celiac disease is usually characterized by a severely-compromised intestinal lining, and that the subjects who had exorphins in their blood tended to have the most intestinal damage. It remains to be seen if wheat has the same effect on people with healthy, intact intestinal linings. Satisfied and satisfied.

I was unable to find hard evidence of wheat opioids crossing the blood-brain barrier. There is this rat study, which found that gluten exorphins stimulate the secretion of prolactin (an excess of which can lead to loss of libido in both sexes) by interacting with opioid receptors located outside of the blood-brain barrier, but not inside it. On the other hand, Dr. Emily Deans says that exorphins “definitely end up in the body and brain of rats fed gluten orally.” She also uses low-dose naltrexone (an opiate blocker) to treat celiac patients who can’t seem to give up wheat, which would suggest that something’s getting through to interact with those receptors. Still, not completely satisfied.

We’ve all had people tell us “but I could never give up bread!” In my experience, and from talking to hundreds upon hundreds of newcomers and sharing emails with many more, this is common in folks going Primal. Your pastas, your breads, your pizzas, your pastries, your muffins, your cookies are the foods that people have trouble giving up and the foods that, once expunged from the diet, have the greatest tendency to cause “relapses” if eaten again. Part of it is cultural conditioning, I’m sure – the whole “staff of life” thing, the inundation from birth with the message that whole grains represent the pinnacle of healthy eating, the bread basket at dinner, the pancakes on Saturday morning, the birthday cake that you’re practically excommunicated for refusing – and part of it is the fact that wheat flour goes well with vegetable fat, refined sugar, and low prices, but I wouldn’t be surprised if wheat has addictive properties mediated through its unique exorphins.

We just can’t say that yet, not definitively. It may be addictive, but not to everyone. If your gut is permeable enough to allow passage of opioid peptides into your blood, I could see it causing problems. If your gut is healthy and intact, maybe it’s not such an issue. More research is clearly required. Still, until this all gets sorted out, I’d suggest people continue to avoid wheat and other gluten-containing grains (and heck, all grains for that matter). And if you’re going to mention the opioid stuff to any skeptics or interested parties, don’t sound too authoritative. Admit that while evidence for wheat’s addictiveness exists, it’s far from conclusive.

Besides, wheat’s not the only food whose proteins are degraded into opioid peptides (PDF):

Casein, a dairy protein, can also be cleaved to form exorphins. Human milk even contains a number of dairy exorphins, most notably beta-casomorphin (casein morphine). In fact, beta-casomorphin levels are highest in colostrum, the highly nutritious “first milk” that infants get from their mothers. Perhaps that’s a way to get babies hooked on the sweet, nutritious, essential breastmilk right off the bat? The old “bait and switch,” where you slip the customer the pure stuff, get them hooked on it, and subsequently sell them the stuff that’s been cut with filler? We don’t know for sure, but I would assume that the most nutritious, perfectly “designed” food for human infants contains opioid peptides for a very important reason.

Hemorphins, a class of opioid peptides, come from hemoglobin, a protein found in the red blood cells of vertebrates. If you like your steak bloody rare, you’re likely consuming hemoglobin, and your stomach is probably cleaving the hemoglobin up into hemorphins. Of course, since hemorphins already appear naturally in your cerebrospinal fluid, brain, and plasma, I wouldn’t necessarily worry about becoming addicted to blood sausage.

Other food compounds can act as exorphins, too. Flavonoids, those bioactive plant compounds with antioxidant properties, may interact with opioid receptors. Epicatechin, a flavonoid found in green tea and chocolate, can act like an exorphin, at least in mice. Its cardioprotective effects are even thought to be mediated through its opioid activity.

Interestingly, even spinach contains an exorphin which, along with a gluten exorphin variant, has actually been shown to improve the learning ability of rodents.

That doesn’t mean you should pound spinach and wheat gluten before finals week and hope for a miracle. It also doesn’t mean that you should avoid chocolate and give your baby formula instead of breastmilk because you’re worried about addiction. It simply means that the effects of food exorphins aren’t clear-cut. They aren’t necessarily “bad.”

I’m definitely anti-wheat. I think people eat way too much of it, and it appears to perpetuate its own consumption. I wish I could say definitively whether wheat is addictive as an opiate or not – but I can’t. Not yet.

What say you, folks? Were you addicted to wheat? Are you? What about any of the other foods that break down into opioid exorphins – any spinach addicts out there?

Thanks for reading.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I agree about it being a habit but also constantly in your face. I only ever cheat at work where there is a constant free supply of leftovers or birthday treats in some wheat based form just sitting next to the coffee machine. There are no wheat products at home and I rarely crave them unless I can see or smell them!

    Tracy wrote on July 18th, 2012
  2. Conclusive evidence may not exist for wheat addictions, yet I still think we should have an intervention for wheat eaters. But I almost bet that there is an addiction to corn. My son would dig pop corn out of the trash after we kicked corn out of our diet.

    kenneth wrote on July 18th, 2012
  3. My answer to birthday cake is “breathing is not optional for me, so I’ll pass on the cake, thanks!” My asthma cleared up, never to return, a few weeks after I gave wheat the heave-ho.

    These days, any grains make me feel lousy, so I do’t do them. “It doesn’t look good enough to get sick over…. really!!”

    Dairy was the hardest for me to give up from an “addictive” perspective, but worthwhile it seems…. the brain-fog on dairy is legendary for me… makes me incapable of stringing 2 thoughts together for about 5 hours… that’s way too long when you live a busy life.

    Currently ditching sugar and all starch in an effort to starve out the fungal and bacterial beasties that live on the starch and sugar in my diet…. 3 weeks down, 10 to go… I’ll be glad to enjoy carrots, potatoes, and fruit again when this is done…

    Rodney Smith wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • Might want to read Paul Jaminet’s info on his website to get his take on why eliminating starch isn’t necessary – or even beneficial – when fighting fungal infection. Personally, my fungal symptoms improved after 3 days of adding starch back to my previously VLC Paleo diet.

      Anonymoose wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • research a possible connection between yeast overgrowth and heavy metals in the body. Coconut is a natural anti-fungal that you can include if you’re not allergic :) and probiotics help control yeast

      Wen wrote on July 26th, 2012
  4. My entire family thinks I’m nuts for refusing to eat bread, grains and cake. What they don’t get is that I have a gluten sensitivity, along with one of my children, and that we both feel SO MUCH better eating grain-free.

    The proof, for me, that eating grain-free is the way to go (especially wheat) is the absence of horrible seasonal allergies. For years I struggled with constant allergies. Now? it’s a thing of the past. If that’s not proof that gluten was literally ruining the quality of my life then I don’t know what is.

    Jennifer K. wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • I used to always have swollen sinuses and would develop sinus infections fairly often before I cut out grains. It has been 1.5 years now since I’ve had swollen sinuses or an infection, so I would have to agree!

      Keith wrote on July 18th, 2012
  5. Wheat is not such a problem for me. I’m in the second week of no wheat or other grains (have had a little corn on the cob because it is so deliciously in season right now). So I’m new to the primal thing, but so far so good. I’m not 100% primal but I am definitely well on my way there. Dairy is going to be my downfall. I doubt I will ever give it up all the way. I enjoy artisan cheese way too much. I don’t have digestive issues with dairy, so it works for me.

    Nicole J. wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • I love dairy too, but what I’ve done is go for raw, grass-fed milk and cheeses. You can find raw cheese even at Costco now. Some European cheeses have always been grass-fed and raw but they were never labeled as such. That’s changing now that people are interested.

      I have cut way back though, as dairy is so carb-laden.

      Pure Hapa wrote on July 18th, 2012
  6. The definition of addiction is: 1) the habitual psychological and physiological dependence on a substance or practice beyond one’s voluntary control, 2) the condition of being abnormally dependent on some habit 3) the habit is unmanageable and 4) once you put the substance in your system you cannot predict the outcome and continued use of the substance presents negative consequences and creates harm.

    In my opinion, wheat is addictive. Comparing it to heroin is irrelevant. Sixty five percent of Americans are overweight and 33% of those are morbidly obese. I would comfortably say that that did not occur because we Americans are slamming down spinach.

    To look at only the physiological aspects of what wheat does to the body without the emotional/psychological affects is short sighted, in my opinion.

    terri haas wrote on July 18th, 2012
  7. I’m more addicted to dairy, I think. Wheat wasn’t so hard for me – besides, every time I eat wheat I sneeze – strange, huh? But, being a true daughter of Wisconsin, cheese was very hard for me. I still slip once in a while, but man, when I do my joints swell up like there’s no tomorrow and my whole body aches!

    I actually tried to feed one of my cats the gravy-based canned food because he was losing weight at such a drastic rate. Unfortunately it didn’t help and I lost him last week – turned out he had intestinal cancer. Now I don’t feed the other little guy anything with wheat or soy because he’s a little tub and needs to lose weight. I just wish I could find a cat food that didn’t have potato starch in it.

    Jude wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • Could you teach your other cat to eat butcher trimmings? Fast-breeding rodents and fish? They have dietary needs that aren’t met by canned tuna, I’m not sure what organs they need.

      Kelekona wrote on July 15th, 2013
  8. In the new book Wheat Belly, by W.Davis, MD, he cites a study done at the NIH where they put gluten through a simulated digestive process, and then isolated the resultant dominant polypeptides, which were then administered to rats. The polypeptides were found to cross the blood brain barrier in the rats. (p. 48) On p. 49 the author state that administration of naloxone blocks the binding of wheat exorphins to brain opioid receptors, but doesn’t reference it.

    Janet wrote on July 18th, 2012
  9. I had no problem giving up wheat or dairy. The problem I had was eating them in any kind of moderation. If that’s not an addiction, I don’t know what is!

    Meg wrote on July 18th, 2012
  10. Wheat addiction is not an issue for me. I was recently diagnosed with Celiac Disease. I have to cut all sources of gluten from my diet. So wheat, rye and barley and any derivatives of these are out. I do miss some things, like chili in a sourdough bread bowl. But I sure don’t miss the after effects.

    Curtis Martin wrote on July 18th, 2012
  11. I might be in the minority here, but I really didn’t have any physical problems giving up wheat. I never find myself craving a piece of bread, although I do occationally think a piece of cheesecake would be nice. For me, the hardest part was the cheapness and omnipresence of wheat, like if pizza is ordered for a business meeting or something, or if it’s part of a food I like, like a gyro or a burger. I found wheat more incedental than anything.

    I find that beer would be the food I crave more than anything. But most beers I like don’t even have wheat in them. Maybe I’m more of a barley addict?

    John wrote on July 18th, 2012
  12. My sister is a hair stylist and said they just got a gluten free line of hair products!? Why in the hell would they need to use wheat in shampoo or hair gel????

    Brandon wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • Great question. I really do not know but that will not stop me from taking a few educated guesses.

      Gluten can be found in grasses and plant endosperm. So maybe “natural botanicals” could possibly contain them? Or maybe the manufacturing plant has known gluten sources from other product lines and cross contamination could happen. Or maybe it used as an emulsifier to chemically thicken the product.

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on July 18th, 2012
  13. I didn’t find giving up the wheat/gluten as difficult as cutting back on sugar and sweets. I don’t miss pasta or bread, but my late-afternoon frozen 3 Musketeers was a much bigger temptation to resist in the early weeks. However, my daughter (5) I would say IS addicted to gluten, whether mentally or physiologically i dont know, but in spite of how ill she feels afterwards, she is virtually unable to say not to an offering of mac & cheese (thanks, Nana)…sometimes driving her to tears in having to choose.

    Whatever way the science comes out, I would vote it is dangerous stuff in one regard or another!

    Amber wrote on July 18th, 2012
  14. Speaking from my very recent experience of cutting all of the wheat from my diet, I can def. say I was addicted. About 4 days into the first week of removal, I spent 2 days experiencing withdrawal-like symptoms (body/headaches, tired, feverish, nausea, mental exhaustion etc). Am now one month in and continue to have weekly dreams about eating an entire bakery, making pizza etc. My subconscious mind may still be processing the wheat elimination, but my body is finally free of the cycles of craving. Feels great!

    Paleo in PA wrote on July 18th, 2012
  15. Feed your felines their version of Primal which is simply raw meat including the bone. My cats eat nothing but wild rabbit pieces, chicken thighs, beef heart and the occasional chomp on grass. Took a while to get them off the “cat food” not sure if it was the sugar or grains in there that they were addicted to but three years on, all in tiptop health (and no massive dumps in litter tray any more!) Sorry for going off topic a bit.

    Tracy wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • Important safety tip: Don’t try to construct your own feline diet without doing some major research. Felines have some pretty specific dietary requirements and you’re apt to end up causing serious problems if an inadequate diet is fed long-term. It can (should?) be done, but not off-the-cuff. Research it.

      Chris wrote on July 19th, 2012
  16. I found out recently that my 15 years of autimune conditions like chornic fatigue and Fibromyalgia were caused by gluten sensitivity. I suffered terrble withdraw symptoms after removing gluten. I don’t just mean cravings; I experianced horrible anxiety and the kind of withdraw you get stopping an anit depresent. I would get full body tremors during the night too. It was a horrbile experiance that lasted a month. My wonderful doctor who told me about the Primal Blueprint Fitness eBook, told me that this can happen in some people that respon to the addictive side of gluten. How long it can last varies. It is a serious and real side affect of wheat!

    Michele wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • Michele, I went through a very similar experience – but in my case it was 15 years of slowly increasing brain fog, fatigue, and depression. Eventually I was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis, which is also an auto-immune disease. After about a year of suffering further I read that some people with I.C. experience relief by going gluten free – so I eliminated all gluten from my diet. The withdrawals were hell and the severe depression/suicidal tendencies triggered from going gluten free lasted about two months. Suddenly, it was like the clouds parted and I could think and function again! However, I didn’t start feeling super awesome until my Mom introduced me to Primal living ~6 months ago and I cut out all the other junk from my diet. :) As far as wheat being addictive, I would eat a whole loaf of bread in one sitting before going gluten free, or a whole pan of cinnamon rolls – I just couldn’t stop.

      Laura B. wrote on July 18th, 2012
      • Laura,
        I’m sorry you had to go through so much as well. It is nice to meet someone else who had a hard time with gluten withdraw. People I know who are celiac’s looked at me like I was crazy. I’m glad that you have also found relief with the paleo diet! It is a miracle to be sure!

        MIchele wrote on July 18th, 2012
      • I am so fascinated to hear that some of your side effects were depression and suicidal tendencies! During the first month I was off wheat and fully Primal I went through similar troubles and chalked it up to personal stress since I felt so much better otherwise. The idea that coming off wheat products could conceivably make a person suicidal terrifies me—all the more because I experienced it too. Anyone else get suddenly and randomly depressed/suicidal like that?

        Rhonda the Red wrote on July 20th, 2012
        • I’ve played with primal. Since my hunger mechanisms are still not quite working right, it was very easy to say “I’d rather not eat” even with a plate right in front of me. I finally had to give up for a while. I am wondering if it’s because primal doesn’t work for me, or if I’m failing because I hate fruit.

          The hunger malfunction is a carryover from when I was 18 and trying to survive on nothing but candy. I finally got sick and unwilling to eat from that, dropped all of my babyfat, too. The tradeoff is that I’m just starting to regain the ability to eat tastes of fine desserts… 15 years later.

          Kelekona wrote on July 15th, 2013
  17. Let me clarify: You are not saying it is physiologically addictive, more evidence is needed.

    However, I’ll say that it is absolutely psychologically addictive – without a doubt. Just like some people are addicted to alcohol, drugs, sugar, sex, etc. Products made with wheat are absolutely psychologically addictive.

    Lou Storiale wrote on July 18th, 2012
  18. I also hear, all the time, “I could never give up bread/pasta/pizza.”

    I don’t believe that wheat is actually addictive. I was able to give it up when I went LCHF/primal, and while I did miss it, I did not go through the DTs with my diet change. I’ve been wheat free for 1.5 years.

    I just think that there is no real substitute for wheat. Wheat is omnipresent. Wheat products are the vehicles for our most delicious foods. In my humble opinion, goat cheese is not as tasty eaten alone as it is when consumed on a piece of fresh baguette. And crackers! Crackers! God, how I miss them. Butter also tastes best on crusty bread. Pizza is not possible (or, at least, it is not that good, and not really “pizza”) without a wheat crust. What is bolognese or alfredo sauce without the rigatoni or fettucini? (And please don’t tell me that squash ribbons are an apt substitute, they may be tasty, but they are no substitute.)

    This is not an endorsement of wheat. I don’t eat it. I don’t crave it. I don’t dream about it. I try to find other vehicles for my favorite foods, or I enjoy them alone.

    I miss wheat.

    Kate M. wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • @Kate M..

      Refreshingly honest response. I know myself to be addicted to wheat..but I don’t go near it…EXCEPT through the wonder of Internet, where I sadly still gaze at various baking get a vicarious “fix”. Fortunately, this seems to alleviate the need to seek out the “real” thing.

      Donna wrote on July 18th, 2012
  19. I don’t believe wheat itself to be addictive. Take a spoon to a bag of flour and see how far you make it.

    I don’t believe sugar itself to be addictive. Take a spoon to a bag of sugar and see how far you make it.

    I don’t believe salt itself to be addictive. Take a spoon to a bag of salt and see how far you make it.

    I don’t believe oil itself to be addictive. Take a spoon to a bottle of oil and see how far you make it.

    But combine all four – mix flour, sugar and salt into a dough and deep fry it – and now you have a recipe for addiction. It’s all in how you dress things up. I find primal foods to taste a lot better than most SAD foods and I’d overeat grilled steak topped with guacamole and fresh pico de gallo far more than I will disgusting, greasy potato chips, but that doesn’t mean I’m addicted to steak. Oatmeal is a great example. Oatmeal’s pretty gross – it resembles vomit with the consistency of mucous – but there’s something oddly comforting about a bowl. I’m guessing it brings back childhood memories and past associations. It’s all a mental game.

    ChocoTaco369 wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • You make a great point. With drugs, like meth for example, the effort is always to get it more and more pure and strong. Food scientists work hard at industrial food companies to develop the “cravability”–which means crunch, color, salt… all the stuff together. Great point, well made.

      Joy Beer wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • Interesting, when I crave salt, I usually find a vehicle. Even drinking soy sauce, a dissolved ramen packet without the ramen, or a soup made from an instant cheese packet sounds better than just trying to down one of those salt rinses my mother kept trying to foist on me for mouth sores and sore throat… Though I eventually didn’t mind pressing a moist fingerful of salt directly into a sore.

      Kelekona wrote on July 15th, 2013
  20. “East Asians cannot live without rice.”

    I was thinking last night about the Asians and their rice… and thought: Maybe it’s EPIgenetics! I had decided to plan my food-life around steak and… you know… “safe” starch … a cup of rice a night with steak. (Alas, I don’t eat veg. I hatehatehate veg, and have all my life! {sigh} Makes going primal really really hard!!) But you know, all these folks who shout about: “Asians and their rice,” and “it’s been too short a time for a people to change their genes…”

    So, I was wondering: what if you factor in epigenetics? Since Asians have been eating rice and more rice for many generations, why wouldn’t their … what? … last 6-8,000 years of a high-rice diet have had an effect not to genetically diverge their “human” genome from the non-rice-eating folks, but to make those (rice-eaters, whose genomes are) most affected by the *epigenetics* of rice-eating more successful in their ecological niche and thus allow them to out-breed those whose epigenetics do not respond as well to those years of rice-eating?

    Just a random curiosity. And, having looked up the carb count of that one cup of rice… I’m going to fall on my metaphorical sword and give up rice. (Woe is me.)

    Elenor wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • From my days of gestational diabetes, I recall that 1/3 cup of rice equated to 1 carb serving, or about 15 g of digestible carbs.

      Funny, but when I went LCHF/primal, the thing that I wanted to eat was plain white rice with melted butter and salt. It is not an epigenetic issue for me 😉

      Kate M. wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • I grow up eating rice. It doesn’t seem to bother me at all.. I moved to the States and started eating bread and pasta.. I can say I naturally dislike bread and pasta. The first year I was here, I can barely finish one bread roll.. They were just so rough on my throat.. no offense.. lol

      But after a few years, bread, begal and pasta started growing on me. Then I started having worse and worse allergy.

      anyway, long story short, I was eating rice back home…. rice didn’t bother me.. in fact i think Thai food is one of the most paleo friendly hands down.

      Gift Clumsywarrior wrote on July 18th, 2012
  21. I made a pizza with wholewheat flour for my daughter the other day (I are slowly working towards a more Paleo lifestyle with my kids at the moment moving away from processed and sugar filled foods) and the smell of it baking in the oven was overwhelmingly good. I was getting major cravings and almost caved in!

    Diane Smith wrote on July 18th, 2012
  22. Wheat-based products apparently override a “satisfaction” shut off valve in my system. I’ve gone cold turkey on sugar, alcohol, cigarettes (in my youth), without too much trouble, but set a loaf of warm, fresh SF sourdough in front of me and it is history if I have one bite. If I have a wheat based product, I want more high glycemic foods after that for several days. It is like a chemical addiction. Crackers, donuts, cereals, breakfast breads etc. Oddly, I don’t actually like cake so that’s easy to pass up. I have to avert my eyes when going past a donut shop however.

    So yes, wheat for me is addictive, especially when paired with butter and/or sugar. Not just at the time, but continuing for a few days. Dairy is manageable for me, and doesn’t cause problems, so I have some once in awhile.

    Julie wrote on July 18th, 2012
  23. I believe the zonulin response to gluten happens in every gut, not just in us celiac types… and that it messes not only with the tight-cell junctions in the small intestine, but also those keeping the blood-brain barrier intact. I was assuming that would be why so many celiac and GS folks present with ataxia, migraines, and other neuro problems, whether or not they have ‘classic’ symptoms. (I didn’t, till I did, but other issues resolved…)

    I’m voting addictive. I even had withdrawal symptoms like runny nose. But no cravings, ever … maybe I would if I ate other grains. I have had dreams about corn after visiting Mexico! But wheat literally tried to kill me. Nothing would tempt me ever again. It might be nice to do occasional butter or cheese, but gluten seems to have knocked casein out of my diet, too.

    Does help with refusing cake :)

    Our cats eat Honest Kitchen plus a very inexpensive supermarket cat food with amazingly few ingredients… just mackerel or sardines, fish gelatin, and vitamin E.

    Also, let’s not say ‘cheat’! That thinking is a symptom of the SAD diet, imo… As Yoda might say, there is no cheat. There is only eat.

    Sara in Brooklyn wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • I agree with you! I tested negative to gluten tests, but cutting out just gluten made me feel better. Going pure Paleo made me feel even better.

      MIchele wrote on July 18th, 2012
  24. When I gave up wheat in October, 2010, I went through withdrawals. I was cranky, irritable, teary, fuzzy-headed and depressed for at least two weeks. I have not had any wheat products (knowingly) since. This would certainly seem to indicate an addiction of sorts. I miss bread (a lot). I miss the taste and texture of products made with wheat. I wonder if I will go my entire life without wheat or if I will eventually cave (no pun intended). I take it day by day.

    KarenJ wrote on July 18th, 2012
  25. I can’t say that I was ever addicted to wheat, but then again I don’t get addicted to anything. (I stupidly tested this when young, trust me.)

    How are people still having trouble with the “no grain” discussion? After one explanation to people about how wheat gives me heartburn they never comment again. And this is in several countries with many different cultures, people don’t really care if you have a legitimate reason and aren’t a jerk about their bread eating.

    Jason wrote on July 18th, 2012
  26. 3 bits:
    1) Thanks for your on-going work. Always interesting.

    2) You never mention croissants when listing the baked goods that pull so hard at us. You need to mention croissants! :-)

    3) I was surprised when I found I didn’t have any difficulty walking away from grains since I hear how it’s so hard for many people. Cheese, however, that’s another matter. Loooove cheese. Must fight cheese!

    Jean Rajotte wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • I too, have a problem with croissants. I love them so! They are the only wheat product I crave anymore, but only the really really good ones, super flaky and toasty with tons of real butter, which are only made at two bakeries in town. Oh, I miss you, my little darlings!

      Cheese also has its claws in my back. I try to limit myself to raw milk cheeses, or well-aged cheeses, but then I found a recipe for ricotta pancakes, and that led to cottage cheese snacking, which led to pouring sour cream over everything… I love living in Wisconsin!

      Which brings me to locally brewed, small-batch beer….oh, I must stop. Just writing this is bringing up cravings – coconut oil on a spoon, you’re my only hope!

      Erok wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • If you have serveral days of free time you could try to make croissants using a gluten free flour. All those turns and letting the dough rest. Which makes me wonder, gluten adds to the structure and therefore the texture of whatever baked good. So if a gluten free flour is used will the dough be dough-like? Ya know, get rubbery and inelastic when worked? Any gluten free bakers out there that can answer this?

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on July 18th, 2012
  27. Used to feel bad about turning down all the birthday cakes, breads, grains, etc. but observing my own family has shown that it is positively the best thing to do! Many are fooled by Big Pharma’s psuedo-health system and and take multiple meds, some are pre-diabetic, some have heart related problems,some are obese and grossly inflammed! My younger daughter and husband are getting it and have gone “Paleo”. She has lost weight and feels much better! It’s for your own benefit!

    jim cannon wrote on July 18th, 2012
  28. Mark, I really want to tell you how much I appreciate what you have done for and continue to do as a leader in the Paleo community. I started reading The Primal Blueprint mid January of this year. The pretense of the diet (?) made perfect sense to me and I stopped eating all starches and sugars/processed foods right then. I’ve lost 65 lbs and have been working out every week.

    This is all remarkable because I was an artisan baker when I read the book. I have been baking French breads, rye sourdough and all kinds of delicious naturally fermented breads for family and friends/neighbors. Today they are all wondering where the fresh bread is, lol.

    I stopped cold turkey and it took a few days to get used to the idea of no breads/toxins. You bet I was addicted.

    In my opinion Mark, you have taken the lead in terms of authority in all things Paleo. I like your writing style. I like the way you have continued to produce books of high quality and take the high ground on some of the dicey paleo issues. You are a regular guy with something to say, and you say it in a way that will attract new comers to the low carb lifestyle, what ever you call it.

    Thanks for all you do Mark.

    Eric wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • Eric, your story mirrors mine. People still want my breads even after over a year. And I still miss them too. But I know better and my body certainly knows better. And…thanks Mark !

      Sitara wrote on July 18th, 2012
  29. I’d say for me, wheat is addicting. I was the guy (still would be) that couldn’t STOP dipping the French Bread in the olive oil. As I ate, I’d tell myself, “just one more, or THIS is the last piece” of course I kept eating. I would suspect it’s the same for others. I even followed the WAPF advice and ate the “real” bread for a couple of years thinking it was even MORE healthy. I’m actually glad I’m a gluten sensitive. It keeps me on track. I HATE the side affects. Now I can make myself almost feel queezy thinking about breads and pastas. Plants and animals for me thank you very much! BTW, Marc, I felt this post was very well balance and thoughtful.

    craig almaguer wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • Ditto that. I would mow down a whole baguette with a bowl of chowder.

      Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on July 18th, 2012
  30. I find grease to be more addictive than wheat. If I eat some wheat with my breakfast I will be fine and not think about eating until my next meal comes up but when I eat a greasy breakfast I become preoccupied with food for the rest of the day. Different strokes for different folks.

    Jim Hensen wrote on July 18th, 2012
  31. There are a lot of misinformed comments being rattled off on here today about the “nutritional” value of wheat products and how a little wheat isn’t a bad thing. I am actually really surprised about a lot of these comments – usually the comments section is pretty good. I think a lot of people need to read this blog post on Tim Ferriss’ site from Robb Wolf…

    Sully wrote on July 18th, 2012
  32. I’m addicted to sweet potatoes! Gotta have one about once or twice a week. But that’s usually after a workout. My body craves those carbs….SOoo, not the same thing, really. But the way I enjoy a good baked sweet potato soaked in butter is 100x’s more satisfying then any bread I used to eat. EVER. Yeah, I used to love pizza, but it was the sauce, cheese, and oils that made it so good. Not the bland crust.

    Ashley wrote on July 18th, 2012
  33. Oh, and another great post, Mark! Thank you.

    Ashley wrote on July 18th, 2012
  34. My oldest (5 years old) was completely addicted to wheat products. It started as he moved to solid foods and would refuse anything except crackers. When I asked his pediatrition about it, worried that he was not eating enough nutrient-dense foods, she just said to make sure they were whole grain crackers.

    Fast forward three years and he was having tantrums for another slice of bread, every two hours like clockwork. He would get downright violent if I refused him and tried to get him to eat a carrot or some berries instead. Still, I tried to follow CW and give him more whole grains and completely cut out white flours.

    When we finally went gluten-free, and then grain free, for weeks I’d find him hiding and eating stale shredded wheat cereal that he’d stashed in his room and in his toy boxes.

    It was probably a good month before he stopped crying for wheat, red faced and rolling on the floor, sometime assailing me with tiny fists of fury. If that’s not addiction, I don’t know what is.

    yoolieboolie wrote on July 18th, 2012
    • This story really struck a chord with me. How DARE the medical/CW community out there cause such suffering to a child with their ignorance. AAARRRGGHH!!

      Robyn wrote on July 18th, 2012
  35. I mill my whole wheat grain. Commercial flour and bread is the worst thing in the world. You can go to and read all about it! It really is wholesome.

    Anita wrote on July 18th, 2012
  36. Back in the day I would say it would have been hard to give up wheat. But it’s pretty simple once I discovered good alternatives.

    I usually try to focus on giving substitutions for what one can eat instead like organic potatoes, quinoa, buckwheat, and gluten-free grains like brown rice when talking about giving up gluten.

    Or of course, just focusing on fat, protein, and/or fiber rich foods in a more paleo style.

    Derek wrote on July 18th, 2012
  37. This question isn’t related to the post – but more to the choosing a fasting method post.Has anybody thought of the correlation between Mark’s idea of eating when hunger ensues naturally (WHEN) and total protein intake. It seems that if one actually starts to listen to their body and their hunger cues, they won’t eat as often or as much (especially if you are in tune with your full signal – and eat when satisfied). For someone who is very active and who tries to eat WHEN, is it not possible for them to run the risk of not getting enough protein in the diet? Even Mark says he eats 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight in order to keep his lean body mass. I see this being fairly difficult if you are trying to eat WHEN with a decent amount of lean body mass. Any thoughts or is it something to not really worry about?

    John wrote on July 18th, 2012
  38. Timely subject. There is something about grain products in general. I find I don’t particually like them or products made with them, but yet when I start eating them I can’t stop and that is knowing how sick they make me feel. I went 4 month completely grain free and had one meal with wheat and now I am struggling to get it and other grains back out of my daily consumption. I used IF the first time to help wean myself off grain, so maybe time to give it another go…

    Lynnette wrote on July 18th, 2012
  39. In order to get to my current primal existence, giving up wheat was certainly difficult. It is compelling that people have side effects to coming down off of wheat similar to any other addictive substance such as drugs. However, I feel like once my body became a fat burning beast (fat adapted) I no longer crave wheat at all, which is the mark of a true primalist in my opinion. Along with that, I can “relapse” (which is not a good term) on something like carb back loading (for quick muscle gains) and not miss grains/sugar once I go off of the loading phase. Since I am not an expert in addiction, I do not know how this compares to alcohol or drug addiction. Also these are purely just how I feel, rather than physiological function. Once again, thanks Mark, you seem to always shed light on topics we all have an inkling are true but don’t know for sure.

    Vince wrote on July 18th, 2012
  40. Can I get a copy of that Coconut Coconut cake recipe?

    I’m a newbie to primal eating although not to the concept. Working my way there…

    Joy wrote on July 18th, 2012

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