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).


28 Responses to “Wheat Belly?”

  1. Good blog. People often talk about the Paleo approach to diet and it being rooted in voodoo. They also tend to slam it being very high in meat and low carbohydrate, which isn’t true. IMO, everyone owes it to themselves to do an elimination diet (I call it a regression diet) to find out what foods are best for them. This includes eliminating grains, legumes, and dairy for 2 months and then reintroducing them one by one(FWIW, the problem with dairy appears to be from the pasteurization process for most people and how it changes casein. Lactase isn’t an issue as raw dairy contains it.). I did this and just can’t tolerate any dairy and my grain tolerance was low at the time (Shame, I love micro brews). A lot of these issues seem to have to do with gut flora and how a diet that is low in variety typically leads to a low diversity of gut bacteria which can lead to problems as the bacteria are responsible for a lot of what makes it in to you. Dr. Miki Ben-Dor did a great presentation on gut bacteria at AHS ’13. One of the interesting things he pointed out was that most would consider the diet of the chimpanzee to be very low fat and high carb. The problem is, most of the energy on the planet is locked away in fiber that we can’t access. When you actually look at what makes it’s way in to the blood stream of a chimpanzee, 50% of it is fat produced by bacteria in the gut. Here’s the video:

    The human food project has a ton of articles on gut bacteria and it’s implications to health and fat loss. From everything I’ve read there combined with other studies and articles, the problem with grains may not be specifically with grains, but the consequences related to eating a diet with low diversity that shifts your gut ecosystem toward pathogenic bacteria that ferment sugars and other components found within wheat. At the same time, a lack of fiber reduces the ability of the gut to heal itself in 2 ways. Bacteria ferment fiber in the gut into SCFAs (Butyric acid) that cells of the gut use to heal the gut lining . Getting too little fiber not only reduces this fermentation process because there is no fiber to ferment, but the bacteria that ferment the fiber get crowded out by pathogenic bacteria because their substrate is lacking in the diet. There are also pretty strong implications for obesity and insulin resistance with this. Since I’ve implemented some dietary strategies based off this science, beer is back and it doesn’t really affect me in the least. I can also get away with eating more grain if I like, I just choose not to because I like my grains in liquid form and don’t really care to push my luck.

  2. I will definitely support the views about avoiding wheat from anyone’s diet for better heath. In fact, I have tried to explain this important point in my book-‘How to lose your wheat belly’-published on Kindle.


  3. “Just do me a favor and read the book and the article before you criticize? Thanks”

    I’m criticising the method of argument, not the findings, that won’t change from reading a book as it is a fundamental logical fallacy.

    It may be more clear with an example. if I disagree with T-Nation selling supplements, especially their myostatin debacle, does that tarnish all of their authors (in the same what a wheat board representative tarnishes all of the articles she quotes)? Of course it is silly, that is my only point

    Great points Max re correlation vs cause and effect. Some people might want to study the history of crossbreeding of grains before they start on the slippery slope of defining what is genetically modifed

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