Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Way Back to Health, by William Davis, MD
The proposition of “Wheat Belly” is quite basic: “the health problems of Americans, from fatigue to arthritis to gastrointestinal disease to obesity, originate with the innocent-looking bran muffin or cinnamon raisin bagel you down with your coffee every morning.” The dietary guidelines espoused by the AHA touting the benefits of reduced fat are a universal failure, and over the last few decades we have witnessed ballooning weight, compromised health, and an epidemic of diabetes that continues to spiral out of control. The cure is exceedingly simple – on the surface. Give up wheat. Dr Davis believes that “for the most bang for your buck, eliminating wheat is the easiest and most effective step you can take to safeguard your health and trim your waistline.
Today’s “heart healthy whole grains” bear little resemblance to the wheat used by your grandmother. “Wheat strains have been hybridized, crossbred, and introgressed to make the wheat plant resistant to environmental conditions, such as drought, or pathogens, such as fungi.” But the main impetus between these genetic modifications is increased yield per acre. The attendant benefit of reduced cost for this raw material ensures that grocery shelves are stocked to overflowing with cheap “heart healthy” foods.
In looking at the purported benefits of this abundance, we must always ask: at what cost? No animal or human testing was ever conducted on the new genetic strains of wheat. The assumption seemed to be that because the new product essentially remained “wheat,” there would be no health consequences. Quite the contrary. Dr Davis states that when you compare modern strains of wheat with centuries-old varieties, they “express a higher quantity of genes for gluten proteins that are associated with celiac disease.”
Standing in line at the local bagel bakery, considering the mouth-watering pastries and confectionary delights, you witness a man or woman whose girth almost equals their height, and whose belly laps nearly to the knees. “Part One: Wheat: The Unhealthy Whole Grain” describes the origin of this phenomenon and gives a detailed deconstruction of wheat, exploring the “complex biochemically unique compounds that vary widely according to genetic code.”
Throughout the book, Davis tosses out interesting tidbits of information that drive you to read further. Among these is his assertion that “whole wheat bread increases blood sugar to a higher level than sucrose. Aside from some extra fiber, eating two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different, and often worse, than drinking a can of sugar-sweetened soda or eating a sugary candy bar.” Compare the glycemic index of whole wheat bread  with a Mars bar – nougat, chocolate, sugar, caramel and all  – or a Snickers bar at 41. Is either one the more “healthy” choice?
Consider the many consequences of one primary side effect of wheat – Davis says that blood sugar levels are elevated by wheat products beyond more than virtually any other carbohydrate, with critical implications for weight gain. Increased blood glucose leads to a higher insulin level and greater deposits of fat. The glucose surge and drop typically found in those that consume high levels of carbs “creates a two-hour roller coaster ride of satiety and hunger that repeats itself throughout the day.” Failure to achieve satiation and satisfaction result in an ongoing pattern of grazing upon food products that perpetuate an unhealthy downward spiral.
There is little wonder that wheat has addictive properties that border on obsession. In “Part Two: Wheat and its Head-to-Toe Destruction of Health,” you will find the detailed support needed to justify radical amputation from wheat. Find out why wheat is actually an appetite stimulant. There is a reason you can’t “eat just one” of your favorite guilty pleasure. Davis describes how “exorphins from gluten have the potential to generate euphoria, addictive behavior, and appetite stimulation.” So, drop the wheat and lose the weight.
Of particular interest is the discussion of wheat and intestinal health. The connection that we hear about the most often is celiac disease, ‘the disruption of small intestinal health by wheat gluten.’ It is the gliadin protein of wheat gluten that is responsible for creating intestine permeability, which leads to a host of undesirable effects. Davis states that “one of the most bothersome aspects of the conditions associated with celiac disease is that intestinal symptoms of celiac may not be expressed.” In the absence of intestinal expression he has coined the term “immune-mediated gluten intolerance” to label some of the conditions associated with celiac disease. Some of these are: dermatitis herpetiformis, liver disease, autoimmune disease, insulin-dependent diabetes, neurological impairment and nutritional deficiencies.
Additional chapters explore the relationship of wheat to insulin resistance, the effect of wheat consumption on pH balance, and how wheat contributes to the aging process [cataracts, wrinkles, and the dowager’s humps].
The bottom line in all of this discussion is that eating wheat could conceivably be compared to an extreme sport such as ice climbing or bungee jumping – Davis believes that “it is the only common food that carries its own long-term mortality rate,” and should perhaps carry a Surgeon General’s Warning!
Where do you go from here? “Part Three: Say Goodbye to Wheat” answers the question of ‘how to.’ As nutritional therapists, one of our goals is to direct our clients towards eating food this is not only healthy, but contains an abundant variety of delicious choices. Embarking on the journey we, and our clients, must remember that “healthy whole grains” is an oxymoron. Davis reminds us in this section of how to replace lost wheat calories with real food. “If the gap left by wheat is filled with vegetables, nuts, meats, avocados, olives, cheese, i.e real food, then not only won’t you develop a dietary deficiency, you will enjoy better health, more energy, better sleep, weight loss, and reversal of all the abnormal phenomena we’ve discussed.”
Need some help with recipes? How about ‘classic cheesecake with wheatless crust? In addition, Davis provides some great lists of the obvious and not-so-obvious foods and products [lipstick] that may contain wheat. While this may be of more concern to the gluten intolerant client, it is enlightening to others as well.
“Wheat Belly” is a well-written book that should be on your shelf, and displayed prominently in your practice to stimulate conversation and change. See all Dr Davis’ blog at www.wheatbellyblog.com or link to his Facebook page for further information.
Reviewed by Norm Brekke, NTP, CMT. Norm is a nutritional therapist and massage therapist in Minneapolis, MN. Find him at https://www.facebook.com/healthytouchmassageuptown