Wheat Belly is a thought provoking, and maybe a life-changing, book. I know the former is true and will be able to tell more about the latter as time passes. What I do know is that grains, primarily corn and wheat, seem to be at the collective roots of nutritional evil. What I also know is that something has drastically changed in my lifetime. As a child I ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches every day and did not know one child allergic to peanuts, and knew no one with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Now I know many parents who fear peanuts on a plane or an outbreak of gastric distress after a pasta meal. Something has clearly gone wrong in the last 20 years and denying it is foolish. I find myself further on the fringe of nutrition as I search for help for clients and parents looking for nutritional guidance. I also find myself embracing a Paleo concept I once found foolish, as it seems to encompass what I increasingly believe to be true.
To properly frame a book like Wheat Belly will take some time. In author Dr. William Davis’ own words, “declaring wheat to be a malicious food is like declaring that Ronald Reagan was a communist” but as Davis goes on to state “I will make a case that the world’s most popular grain is also the world’s most destructive dietary ingredient”.
On page six Davis says “the sad truth is that the proliferation of wheat products in the American diets parallels the expansion of our waists.” Worse yet, Davis describes wheat as having addictive properties, “wheat is addictive and to some people addictive to the point of obsession”. (p44). All I could think of was why I could eat an entire pizza or consume an entire bag of cookies. Davis goes on to describe some people’s wheat “addiction” and subsequent withdrawal symptoms.
“”I’ve personally witnessed hundreds of people report extreme fatigue, mental fog, irritability… in the first several days to weeks after eliminating wheat. Complete relief is achieved by eating a bagel or a cupcake …. It’s a vicious circle; Abstain from a substance and a distinctly unpleasant experience ensues; resume it, the unpleasantness ceases- that sounds a lot like addiction and withdrawal to me.” In addition to the addictive properties there is at least a casual link between wheat and both schizophrenia and autism (p 47). Pretty amazing for a much advertised health food.
Davis describes wheat as an appetite stimulant. “it (wheat) makes you want more- more cookies, cupcakes, pretzels, candy soft drinks…” Davis also ties in the increase in wheat consumption to a rapid increase in obesity in the 80’s. “The cornerstone of the nutritional guidance the last twenty years? Eat more grain! This a by-product of the low fat idea. Reduce fat and, fill in the gap with easily attainable carbs. The whole low-fat, more grain message also proved enormously profitable for the processed food industry. It triggered an explosion of processed food products, most requiring just a few pennies worth of basic materials. “ (p 59)
Davis also makes a distinction that I am not sure is true. Davis describes the “wheat belly” or abdominal fat as being an outgrowth of visceral fat. In Davis’s opinion visceral fat is the result of “months to years of repeated cycles of high blood sugar and high blood insulin, followed by insulin driven fat deposition”. ( p60-61) In addition Davis notes the not so casual relationship of abdominal girth ( the wheat belly) and mortality.
The key seems to be that wheat actually increases blood sugar faster than table sugar based on glycemic index. Another key point that Davis makes that should not be overlooked is that the only foods that increase blood sugar faster than wheat are those same foods used to make all the gluten free alternatives ( p 63). The biggest thing I think what I learned as a reader was that we need to avoid wheat, not eat gluten free. Gluten free is in no-way synonymous with healthy but, avoiding wheat may be.
The flip side to Davis’s argument comes from Lourdes Castro at idea.com.
“Since gluten exists primarily in wheat and refined wheat is found in most low-nutrient processed food, eliminating gluten removes a lot of potential junk food from the diet. This dietary improvement–not the lack of gluten–is what makes athletes or anyone else feel and perform better.”
Either way, Wheat Belly is great food for thought, no pun intended. ( I almost said no bun intended but thought that would be cheap humor).