Wheat Belly?


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).

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28 Responses to “Wheat Belly?”

  1. mboyle1959 Says:

    Thanks Max. I’ve read a lot of nutrition in the last year. I kind of think of it like the legal system. In a criminal court we need to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Not sure we are there yet with grains. In a civil case it is simply a preponderance of the evidence? I think we might be there?

    For the best in Boston area sports and personal training go to http://www.bodybyboyle.com. For the best in performance enhancement information go to http://www.strengthcoach.com MBSC was recently named one of America’s Top Gyms By Men’s Health Magazine and was voted Boston’s best personal trainers for 2011.

    Please note our new address and phone number. 29 Draper St. , Woburn 01801 Take Montvale Ave toward Woburn. 2nd left after Washington is Nashua. Nashua becomes Draper. Last building on the right. 781-938-1330

  2. mboyle1959 Says:

    I think I doubt that our wheat is not genetically modified. Anyone know?

    For the best in Boston area sports and personal training go to http://www.bodybyboyle.com. For the best in performance enhancement information go to http://www.strengthcoach.com MBSC was recently named one of America’s Top Gyms By Men’s Health Magazine and was voted Boston’s best personal trainers for 2011.

    Please note our new address and phone number. 29 Draper St. , Woburn 01801 Take Montvale Ave toward Woburn. 2nd left after Washington is Nashua. Nashua becomes Draper. Last building on the right. 781-938-1330

  3. “North American flour or flour products are not GMO”

    How so? GMO is anything genetically modified. flour/wheat/grains are significantly modified from their original state. I believe Dr. Davis went into depth on this.

  4. We can argue until the cows come home about whether or not wheat and grains are bad for someone, I just do the best I can to avoid GMO and grains fit this category. The critique does mention that many other things are GMO, but it is all relative. We could argue that all food is terrible because soil quality for instance has gotten progressively worse, so therefore no vegetables for me as well. you have to weigh the pros and cons. For third world countries grains are cheap, essential and probably needed to survive. But not ideal. If we are talkign in terms of an ideal diet, grains provide nothing unique to it, and while you can cherry pick the data to fit your preconceived notion, there is little doubt that many people have issues with consuming grains that go well beyond physical symptoms. I’ll reread the article (haven’t read it in a while) and find some holes in it and report back. Should have some time this weekend 🙂

  5. Max Prokopy Says:

    Mike, I should add that I really respect the fact that you read and post about these issues. I think it’s important that we think critically about what’s happening and not resort to snap generalizations. You are a busy man and to take the time to read up is impressive.

    Even if we disagree on a few particulars, I hope we all agree that things need to change and it’s the “everyday” people on the front lines that will do it. Society has dug itself a hole here and it takes a collective effort to make a better future.

  6. Max Prokopy Says:

    There are many phenomena that parallel the obesity epidemic, including the popularity of gluten-free dieting. I suppose I could find enough science and pop culture references to write a book about the perils of gluten-free diet fads. After all, many foods contain lectins, phytates, and opiate agonists.

    To turn something clearly multi-factorial like obesity into a blame game on a single nutrient is really off base. Is wheat a marker for processed foods? Sure. Does it give specific problems to a certain % of the population? Sure. Does it add “empty calories”? Maybe. But I could list >20 foods that fit that same criteria, and that’s not even touching on the cultural factors involved in obesity.

    BTW — don’t use wheat and corn synonymously when talking about food politics/economics. \North American flour or flour products are not GMO, whereas GMO corn and soy are everywhere.

  7. mboyle1959 Says:

    Just do me a favor and read the book and the article before you criticize? Thanks

    For the best in Boston area sports and personal training go to http://www.bodybyboyle.com. For the best in performance enhancement information go to http://www.strengthcoach.com MBSC was recently named one of America’s Top Gyms By Men’s Health Magazine and was voted Boston’s best personal trainers for 2011.

    Please note our new address and phone number. 29 Draper St. , Woburn 01801 Take Montvale Ave toward Woburn. 2nd left after Washington is Nashua. Nashua becomes Draper. Last building on the right. 781-938-1330

  8. “David- not sure where you are going with this one? Have you read End of Overeating? How about the Food Tobacco article I mentioned?”

    No haven’t read it yet, but as stated a straight ad hominem response (especially against someone who isn’t presenting their own data) is a poor response. Wouldn’t matter what the topic was. See ‘Poisoning the Well’ – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poisoning_the_well – vested interests should be a red flag for in creased vigilence, not instant dismissal.

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