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Dr. Davis has succeeded in drawing attention to the dangers of wheat and the benefits of a low-carb diet beyond what I thought possible. He builds a convincing case against this new plant that he says shouldn't even be called "wheat," and he documents most of his arguments with supportive research. I was already avoiding most grains and decided to eliminate wheat after reading Wheat Belly. I have been following a low-carb lifestyle and writing about it for over 13 years, so it wasn't a radical change for me.
I do have a major concern about both of the Wheat Belly books, however. Ten out of the 29 recipes in the original Wheat Belly call for flax, as do most of the recipes in the new cookbook. Flax meal has become a staple food for many who want to avoid wheat. It is used in gluten-free baked goods and as a flour substitute in low-carb foods. It is also used as a replacement for eggs in low-fat and vegan recipes and as a supplement to provide fiber and omega-3 fats. Many people are eating it in great quantities, thinking it is the ultimate superfood or, as one writer said to me, "The most powerful food on the planet."
A closer look shows some pretty scary stuff about flax, rancidity, for one. Flax contains very fragile oils that are easily damaged by heat, light, air, and time. It should be stored in the refrigerator and used promptly. Only fresh, ripe, freshly-ground seeds are safe to eat, so obviously, cooking with flax is not a good idea.
Flax has a lot in common with soy, once the darling of the healthfood crowd. Both soy and flax contain estrogen mimics. (An extract of soy is used as hormone replacement therapy for treating menopause symptoms.) These plants produce hormones as a way to defend themselves from predators (like us) by disrupting the endocrine system of those who eat them so they can't reproduce. Eating a lot of plant estrogens might not be such a good thing, especially for men.
Soy, a byproduct of the vegetable oil industry, has been heavily marketed as a health food since the 1990s. Flax seed comes from the kind of plant used for making linen. Neither were staple foods in any traditional society. A 1998 study from Cornell conducted by vegan advocate and author of The China Study, T. Collin Campbell, reported that the Japanese ate less than 2 teaspoons of soy protein per day. (Celibate monks, who use soy and a vegetarian diet to reduce libido, are an exception.)
In addition to soy, which is already ubiquitous in our food supply, pesticides, plastics such as Bisphenol A (BPA), and chemicals like perfluoroctanoic acid (PFOA), also contain these hormone-like chemicals and the dose is cumulative. BPA and PFOA, the so-called gender benders, have been linked to breast cancer, fertility problems, and other hormone related illnesses.
While both flax and soy contain estrogen mimics, according to Web MD, flax contains 800 times as much of these hormone-like chemicals as soy!! In fact, flax contains more plant estrogens than any other plant food.
We are already experiencing an epidemic of infertility along with our other epidemics of obesity, diabetes, autism, auto-immune diseases, explosive rage disorder, and more. You may have heard that American men have one-third the sperm counts of their grandfathers and that by 2050, for the first time in modern history, scientists are predicting that our population will start to go down. Add in all the men who are on statins to reduce cholesterol (testosterone is made out of cholesterol), and it is easy to see why the same companies that sell statins also sell Viagra and Cialis.
There is conflicting evidence about phytoestrogens (phyto means plant). Some think they may be helpful, some think they may be harmful, and most of the articles about them end by saying, "more research is necessary." But this much is clear: This is potent medicine and the dosage is very important!
How much is a dose? Even the sites that recommend flax as a supplement tell you to consult your doctor to determine how much to take. The USDA says that 3 tablespoons of flax a day is a safe level. Some of the recipes in the Wheat Belly Cookbook contain more than that in a single serving.
Below is a sample of warnings about flax from various organizations:
~from MayoClinic.com: [...]
"Taking flaxseed or flaxseed oil by mouth may cause a person with bipolar disorder to experience mania or hypomania....
Raw flaxseed or flaxseed plant may increase blood levels of cyanide, a toxic chemical....
Flaxseed may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in patients with blood pressure disorders and those taking drugs, herbs, or supplements that affect blood pressure....
Based on the available evidence, flaxseed, which contains alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), should be avoided in patients with prostate cancer or those at risk for prostate cancer....
Use flaxseed and flaxseed oil cautiously in patients with elevated triglycerides, as these agents may raise or lower triglyceride levels."
~From DietaryFoodFiber.com: [...]
"One study reports that the menstrual period may be altered in women who take flaxseed powder by mouth daily. Due to the possible estrogen-like effects of flaxseed (not flaxseed oil), it should be used cautiously in women with hormone sensitive conditions such as endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, uterine fibroids, or cancer of the breast, uterus, or ovary. Some natural medicine textbooks advise caution in patients with hypothyroidism, although little scientific information is available in this area....
Raw flaxseed or flaxseed plant may increase blood levels of cyanide, a toxic chemical (this effect has not been reported when flaxseed supplements are taken at recommended doses.)" (Are they talking about a few spoonfuls of seeds or a little capsule of oil? We don't know. JBB)
~From Livestrong.com: [...]
"A study on the Effect of Flax Seed Ingestion on the Menstrual Cycle, published in a 1993 Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that a woman's menstrual period might be altered if she consumes flaxseed products daily....
Because flaxseed has estrogen-like effects, it may result in a worsening of conditions such as uterine, ovarian and breast cancers; uterine fibroids; polycystic ovary syndrome; and endometriosis, according to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database of the National Institutes of Health. Women who have hormone-sensitive conditions should probably avoid using large amounts of flaxseed. It can also alter the effects of oral contraception."
Please do your own research and decide for yourself whether you want flax in your diet and if so, how much is too much.
I had hoped to find a replacement that worked as well as flax in these recipes before I posted this review so I could suggest an easy fix. Chia seeds are the best candidate I have found so far, but the recipes still need some tweaking. I made a good loaf of Basic Bread by substituting one-half the amount of chia for the flax, but my chia version of the Flaxseed Wraps needed a complete overhaul. (Chia seeds contain the same fragile oils found in flax, but chia also contains large amounts of natural antioxidants to keep it fresh, even after it is ground. Chia has no phytoestrgens or toxins and unlike flaxseed, chia can be kept for long periods without becoming rancid.)
The Wheat Belly Cookbook also does an excellent job of explaining why we need to ditch wheat and other high-carb foods and makes the case that modern wheat was not adequately tested for human consumption. But flax hasn't stood the test of time either. Is flax as risky as wheat? Perhaps not, but if you eat too much of it, you may just be replacing one untested food with another. Women and girls may be at risk for hormone imbalances and the guys may be trading a wheat belly for flax boobs and Viagra. Still not a pretty picture.