By William Davis, M.D.Rodale, Inc., 292 pp., $25.99
Published August, 2011
This book should convince us all to eliminate wheat from our diet. It is an UNHEALTHY WHOLE GRAIN! Although the author is guilty of a little hyperbole here and there, the cardiologist author makes an excellent case that consumption of wheat is the main cause of obesity and diabetes in the U.S. Hyberbole aside, the author presents scientific data explaining his thesis along with case histories and other anecdotal evidence explaining how many health conditions are resolved once wheat consumption is halted.
Modern wheat is a result of hybridization that occurred starting in the 1940’s. By 1980, all world production was using the new high-yield strains. It is a “Faustian bargain” of “trading abundance for health”.1 Modern strains of wheat have a higher quantity of genes, “purposeful modifications” to “confer baking and aesthetic characteristics of flour”, resulting in more gluten proteins.2 Additionally, there are many other nongluten proteins and enzymes, which can potentially cause allergic reactions and trigger asthma and skin rashes.3 Note that since 2003, international guidelines have been developed to subject this type of gene modification to food safety testing. As the author frankly writes, our modern wheat “made its way into the human food supply with nary a question surrounding its suitability for human consumption”!4
Conventional wisdom, as taught by the American Diabetes Association, dieticians and the USDA tells us to eat whole grains and complex carbohydrates instead of “simple carbohydrates in the form of candy and soft drinks”, but whole wheat is as bad or worse, than those! Wheat has a severe effect on our blood glucose levels. This modified complex carbohydrate is mainly composed of an enzyme that is rapidly converted to glucose, which results in increasing blood sugar rapidly.5 The author tells us “whole wheat bread increases blood sugar to a higher level than sucrose”6, or “wheat products elevate blood sugar levels more than virtually any other carbohydrate, from beans to candy bars”7 as posed in an inquiring statement on the book’s back jacket “Did you know that eating two slices of whole wheat bread can increase blood sugar more than 2 tablespoons of pure sugar can?” (emphasis mine)
The traditional gauge on how the body responds to eating carbohydrates is called the ‘Glycemic Index’ (GI). It is a measure of how the blood sugar rises after eating carbs, and “few foods have as high a GI as foods made from wheat”8. This high rise in blood sugar results in rapid weight gain, (the author’s term of) ‘Wheat Belly’ and obesity. This weight gain tends to be primarily around the abdomen, resulting in visceral fat. Visceral fat cells cause an inflammatory reaction in our bodies. This inflammatory cascade leads to wide array of health problems, especially diabetes and cardiovascular disease. (It is worth noting that in Chinese Medicine, it has long been said that grains cause inflammation also.) Besides inflammation, a process called glycation also occurs.9 Glycation especially damages the cartilage in joints but also causes many health conditions associated with diabetes, or in effect, aging. There is a way to measure the level of glycation in the body. It is by a simple blood test used to measure how well the blood glucose has been controlled in the past two to three months (all diabetics should already be familiar with it): Hemoglobin A1C or HbA1C. The higher your HbA1C, the more glycation is occurring to damage your body (see ‘accelerated aging’ list in summary below) – this is then basically a way to measure of how fast you are aging.10
A summary of the consequences of inflammation and glycation resulting from the consumption of wheat:
• Accelerated aging – cataracts, wrinkles, kidney disease, dementia, arthritis, atherosclerosis11
• Diabetes – both Type 1 (especially associated with Celiac Disease) and Type 2 – insulin resistance12
• Cardiovascular disease – hypertension from excess visceral fat, ‘high cholesterol’ (hyperlipidemia), atherosclerosis13
• Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis – destruction of bone and cartilage tissue14
• Rheumatoid arthritis – aggravation of joint inflammation in this autoimmune disorder (i.e., probably not causative of onset of disease)15
• Skin diseases – acne, eczema, psoriasis, vitiligo, oral ulcers and many others16
• Gastrointestinal diseases – IBS, acid reflex17 (causative effect not proven in research, but anecdotal evidence suggests possibly curative for some)
• Asthma – exacerbation of symptoms18 (anecdotal evidence also)
• (Last but not least) Celiac Disease – an autoimmune reaction from eating gluten that causes intestinal damage and a very wide range of health conditions
Another important concept to understand is that the gluten in wheat also has an addictive effect! This occurs because gluten is broken down by the digestive process into certain amino acids that cross the blood-brain barrier. These cause the release of ‘exogenous morphine-like compounds’, called exorphins, in the brain. Because of this additive effect, consuming wheat makes us crave it more, therefore it is a appetite stimulant! Note that other grains that do not contain gluten do not have these same neurological effects of addictive behavior or appetite stimulation.
Another new concept discussed in this book that is “beginning to gain ground in the medical community” is that diabetes is a disease of ‘carbohydrate intolerance’19. Research has shown repeatedly, in both humans and animals, that sharply reducing carbohydrates “reverses insulin resistance, … and visceral fat” (emphasis mine).20 The author summarizes this by saying:
“Virtual elimination of carbohydrates, including the ‘dominant’ carbohydrate of ‘healthy’ diets, wheat, not only improves blood sugar control, but can erase the need for insulin and diabetes medications in adult (Type 2) diabetics – otherwise known as a cure”.21
Now that it is more clear why the consumption of wheat is not healthy and that consumption of it causes a ‘wheat belly’, it can be recognized that elimination of eating it is the key to weight loss and will also help a myriad of health problems. Weight loss is immediate once wheat is removed from the diet, especially when it is not replaced with other carbohydrates! But be aware to not replace wheat with other carbohydrates including gluten-free substitutes though, since they are made from various starches that are just more high glycemic index carbs.
Where to go from here?
Wheat elimination may initially seem to be burdensome, but as the author comments, and I concur, it does makes life easier in the long run22. As someone who eliminated wheat over 3 years ago for my own health challenges (I am far from being a purist – I still eat wheat very occasionally), I can attest to the ease of which one can eliminate wheat when doing so helps one feel better, and having a ‘side effect’ of losing weight even without that being a top priority, and also being given the possibility to even reverse a health problem! When focused with this agenda, it is easier to narrow down your accepted food choices to wheat-free foods, and generally speaking, eliminate the types of processed foods that we shouldn’t be consuming much of anyhow!! But yes, it is a bit of a challenge initially, I admit. But again, eliminating wheat immediately helps one eliminate many poor food choices! When one goes out to eat – all those deep-fried, breaded entrees in both American and Chinese restaurants (from chicken-fried steak to sweet-and-sour pork), all the sandwiches made of bread and cured ‘lunchmeats’ (which also shouldn’t be consumed anyhow), and all the bread options for breakfast (bagels, pastries, ‘healthy’ muffins, etc.) aren’t even choices one desires any longer. And grocery shopping actually is easier also – heading only to the aisles on the sides of the market – purchasing meats and fish, dairy and produce.
To eat healthy consuming primarily whole, unprocessed foods, whether one follows the advice here and eliminates wheat or not, one must mainly prepare and cook foods at home anyhow. One way I recommend to incorporate more vegetables into the diet is to do stir-frys using olive oil. One can use Asian-based spices like ginger, seaweeds or tamari (wheat-free soy sauce) and rice wine, and/or typical garlic, onions, peppers (spicy or bell, or both) and mushrooms as a base. The next step is to use dark, green leafy veggies such as spinach, chard, kale, mustard greens or bok choy. From there, add the vegetables and spices you like. Add green beans, snow peas, broccoli, cauliflower, etc., etc. in any combination you prefer. One can make it more Italian flavored by using oregano, rosemary and basil, for example. Adding raw seeds and nuts gives one even more options: sunflower, sesame, hemp, and flax seeds, or slivered almonds, walnuts, cashews, etc. In winter, many options for vegetable-based soups are possible also. In warmer months or climates, one can make all kinds of veggie-based salads. (Raw veggies and salad greens have the general energetic property of being cold as taught in Chinese Medicine, and are therefore generally better suited for consumption in the hot seasons, like summer.) And egg scrambles or omelets are another great way to incorporate vegetables in your diet. Additionally, keep in mind that we now have access to foods from all different cultures, even if one lives where ethnic foods are not available, every food item imaginable is now available via the internet to give one even more possibilities to eat healthy if one opens their mind to it! Of course, snacking foods without wheat still abound: healthy chips or veggies and dips, cheese and wheat-free crackers, tempeh or tofu options, etc. – just eat them in moderation. Note also that one will get plenty of fiber eating a diet rich in vegetables and nuts also.23
SUMMARY – WHAT TO EAT (as outlined by Dr. Davis)
1. Consume unlimited quantities of:
√ Vegetables (except high-carb ones like potatoes and corn)
√ Raw nuts
√ Use oils such as extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocado oil
√ Small amounts of animal proteins, preferably grass-fed (and avoid cured meats entirely)24
√ Eat dairy items such as eggs and cheese (fermentation slows glycemic response compared to unfermented dairy)
2. Consume limited quantities of:
• Dairy products as milk, cottage cheese, yogurt and butter (since these tend to increase the release of insulin)
• Soy, limited quantities and preferably fermented (since all soy is possibly genetically modified)
• Fruit, limited quantities
Dr. Davis ends his book with a few yummy-sounding recipes (including desserts) such as: Hot Coconut Flaxseed Cereal, Flaxseed Wrap, Crab Cakes, Wheat-Free Pizza (with a cauliflower-based “dough”), and Carrot Cake (uses coconut flour).
In summary, to be very clear, consistent elevated blood sugar levels caused by the consumption of any processed foods such as sodas, candy and other sugar-loaded simple carbohydrates, including complex carbohydrates like other whole grains, will also cause the list of health problems shown here to be caused by wheat due to the same result of inflammation, glycation and visceral fat. Clearly, a diet needs to consist of a very low amount of these ‘food’ items. But the main point here is that we have been convinced that eating a certain whole grain is healthy, when in fact, it is definitely NOT! Additionally, “remember that the need for ‘healthy whole grains’ is pure fiction” and “forget everything you learned about ‘healthy whole grains’”!25 These statements are both strong and succinct, yet still strange to some even given the information here – so read the book to get more of the details, and maybe you will realize that this MD knows what he is talking about, and eventually, the ADA and dieticians will too!
My original blog posting about this book
Wheat Belly: Book Excerpt
11p. 139, 145.
14p. 125, 127.
24Consumption of animal proteins also results in glycation, especially from fried and cured meats.