The relative popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, such as the Atkins diet, 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 joined forces to launch a weight-loss plan which they have named the Vitality Eating System. The core components are a diet providing a mere 1,250 daily calories, coupled with an exercise programme. The energy deficit induced by this plan will lead to a degree of weight reduction, though people tend to find such stringent regimes quite unsustainable. Thus the chances of long-term success are likely to be very thin indeed.
Bearing in mind the origins of the Vitality plan, it is no surprise that it is based on grain-rich foods, such as bread, pasta and pizza. Such foods stimulate surges in the hormone insulin, which promotes the production of fat 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 snack. Another potential symptom is fatigue, and my experience is that the consumption of starchy carbs at lunch is often at the root of the lull in energy many people experience in the mid- to late afternoon. Another reason such foods may sap energy levels relates to food intolerance. While not everyone is intolerant to wheat, my experience is that it is a widespread and under-recognised problem. This sensitivity seems to manifest as bloating or irritable bowel syndrome, as well as lethargy. Because of the plan's emphasis on wheat-based foods, some will experience anything but an increase in their 'vitality'.
Some find it surprising that wheat may initiate reactions that could underlie fatigue and other everyday ills. However, while we have been eating it for thousands of years, this grain is actually a relative nutritional newcomer in our evolution of some 2m to 3m years. Plus, relatively recent agricultural techniques have led to the development of wheat types that are distinct from the forms of this grain that were 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 precursor of food intolerance within the body.
Alternative sources of starch include beans, lentils, rice and oats. 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 encourage us to have our fill of wheat-based foods, there are plenty of good reasons to go against this grain.