What’s Your Wheat Problem?

The staff of life has become the root of all evil. Why have we demonized this humble grain?

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Emilio Ereza

Americans love food demons, and our newest one is wheat. The top-selling diet book of the moment is Wheat Belly, in which a Wisconsin-based cardiologist blames the humble grain for everything from dandruff to dementia. The author, Dr. William Davis, advises to never let the stuff cross your mouth; the inclusion of healthy whole grains at the top of the USDA’s food pyramid is “among the biggest health blunders ever made in the history of nutritional advice,” he writes. He also compares wheat to Muammar Gaddafi and heroin. Wheat Belly and its requisite upsell Wheat Belly Cookbook have sold some 300,000 copies.

(MORE: Double Standard: Women Must Work Harder to Lose Weight)

Americans have been down on carbs since the Atkins diet craze over a decade ago. More recently, there’s been a rise in animosity toward gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Some people with a severe wheat allergy or celiac disease are genuinely gluten-intolerant, but there have been questions as to whether the spike in sales of gluten-free food is more a fad than a reflection of a genuine health concern.

Granted, wheat shows up in all sorts of places it shouldn’t, through additives such as malt, modified food starch and dextrin. But as with almost every other kind of food category, there is good wheat and bad wheat. A slice of 100% whole wheat or other whole-grain bread contains necessary fiber, B vitamins and protein. On the other hand, a pretzel is mostly refined flour and salt with little nutritional value. We don’t all need a gluten intolerance to understand this.

(MORE: What You Need to Know About Sugar)

According to Davis’ patients, following the wheat-belly diet has helped them lose weight, cure Type 2 diabetes and feel better overall. Great! However, eliminating any huge category of food from one’s diet, whether it’s sugar, meat or alcohol, will usually get similar results. But it’s not a sustainable way of eating, and most people gain back the weight. Successful diets follow the same old advice: Eat less overall and move more. That hasn’t changed.

Davis writes, “You don’t have to wait for a large-scale clinical trial to know whether this is relevant to your health situation.” That does not boost confidence in Davis’ science; it just reassures us that we shouldn’t wait for science to buy the cookbook. Not that you need anything more than common sense to guide what you put into your mouth. As Michael Pollan wrote in Food Rules, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Wheat is a plant, and that book was a best seller too.

96 comments
JessicaRoberts
JessicaRoberts

It amazes me how people are falling for this Wheat Belly thing.  They seem to totally equate drastic weight loss with "health".  Well, chemotherapy also causes drastic weight loss, but I don't know if I'd go that route. I found an article and posted on the Wheat Belly Cult FB page.  As expected, I got bashed by the cult members, and DD himself.  This guy is really milking these people dry.   Sad..

https://www.facebook.com/OfficialWheatBelly/posts/277747402423697

iamkickingback
iamkickingback

I made up for the caloric deficit with meats, hard cheeses fruits and vegetables, follow the book pretty much spot on. I one year I have not only lost 50lbs but returned to normal blood sugar (was pre-diabetic) got off BP meds, increased good cholesterol and halved bad cholesterol lowered my AC1 marker, Halved my triglycerides… and prior was popping antacids every other day. Within 48 hours of December 5th, 2012, after reading the book in one day and eliminating all wheat from my life, Iv/e not had one…not one case of indigestion or heart burn since. I eat lots of spicy, pickled pepper foods and salsa, red meats, fish, chicken, hard cheeses, coconut products, olive oils, avocado oils, nuts, almost no grains etc… My diet would be considered hazardous by USDA standards and all that is happened to me is I have completely turned everything that was going wrong to everything is now going right. This is not some fad, for me it has been a life altering experience, My doctor even had a hard time believing that it could be just wheat. So, he even tested my blood again after just eliminating wheat, insisting that I make up the caloric intake, exercise the same, not more not less, consume alcohol the same, not more or less etc. .6 months later blood work was so good he had it drawn again just to verify I was not taking statins or other meds, this came back even better then the first. I will never eat wheat again.

in_CurableTimes
in_CurableTimes

Unfortunately, modern wheat...I repeat, modern wheat, has so radically been altered due financially profitable reasons, that it has become a truly harmful substance that has been causing a myriad of health problems in the human population, as well as it being sewn and harvested by massive factory farming systems further reducing areas where pollinator species like the honey bee can forage and cross pollinate valuable and truly nutritious foods like  fruits and vegetables. We must beat our swords into ploughshares. Many things have now become wolves in sheep's clothing. Please use your common sense and compassion. We must resurrect old strains of wheat quickly and reserve areas for pollinators. Slow down our greed. Modern wheat makes people want to eat more, and more. Can you not see how all 'this' is related? We have become viscious. Let us return to ancient wisdom and fit it into our modern lives. By crowding out the least among us, only death and destruction will remain. 

KellBrigan
KellBrigan

Where is your EVIDENCE that someone who follows the "Eat less overall and move more" will PERMANENTLY change their setpoint? Everything I've seen shows 99+% of people return to the weight they started at, EVEN IF THEY MAINTAIN THE LIFESTYLE CHANGES. Where's your DATA???

MarkHolland
MarkHolland

People always feel better when they eliminate a food from their diet. It doesn't matter if it's wheat, red meat, fish, oranges, sugar, butter, peanuts or whatever. The fact is that it is the belief in the the act and not the act that matters. This is what we used to call superstition and what science is designed to overcome. Underneath our expectations, prejudices and beliefs, outside of "us" there really is a world that can be tested with intelligently designed experiments. But science is not emotionally appealing. It is iconoclastic and cares not for human values. So people reject it and turn back towards the darkness of subjectivity. That is what this is all about.

chaoticus
chaoticus

Good review, but Geez... these replies are making me hungry for some donuts... maybe a large plate of spaghetti!

phoolprooph
phoolprooph

The proof of wheat's harm to my body is how I feel after abstaining, almost 100% for over a month now. Since our gut has more brain cells than our brain according to research, I finally understand my mood swings over the years. Cutting way back on sugar helped balance my mental 'chemical imbalance', but I clung to my toast/scone/muffin habit like a junkie. Baking is a form of escape/therapy for me. Detox was painful; I thought I had viral meningitis. Headache, lethargy, sinus drainage and body pain were unfamiliar companions for two weeks. Giving up wheat means rethinking daily meals; fortunately I am no longer craving food since wheat isn't increasing my appetite. I rarely eat meat or cheese, plain yogurt is my primary dairy source because I like it and it agrees with me. Beans and rice, avocados, nuts, seeds, and eggs serve my protein needs. Find out for yourself.

bluedragon
bluedragon

Is this girl(author) by any chance a pastry chef?

snidelywhiplash
snidelywhiplash

So...cut bread, pasta, etc. out of your diet - the source of most people's high carbohydrate intake and the overabundance of calories consumed - and you'll actually lose weight?  

Gee, who'da thunk it?

ThomasPawlowski
ThomasPawlowski

I think this author seems to ignore that what we are eating is a hybrid of wheat different then what people were eating a hundred years ago. 

rae
rae

The problem isn't wheat itself...it is the way it is treated, bleached and striped of all natural vitamins...so stuff has to be added back in.

Try wheat grain and grind it yourself and make bread, A world of different...that is the  real staff of live.

incogconcepts
incogconcepts

Is this gal on the payroll of General Mills or ADM???  Those of us with Celiac Disease (CD) or gluten intolerance (GI) can attest to Dr Davis' ability to put the whole picture together. Inflammation is the primary symptom of CD   and GI. This leads to ALL KINDS of other significant health consequences. The GOVT was wrong in Viet Nam, WMD's in Iraq, and GOVT is wrong on grains in our diet.

RichardLeBourdais
RichardLeBourdais

Please view Sugar: The Bitter Truth by a UC Professor on YouTube posted by UCtelevision -- you may change your mind on the topic of Food Choices vs Quantity

JamieCatherine
JamieCatherine

I read an article recently, promoting the idea of the "n of 1" diet.  The essence of the author's argument is that each and every human being is unique, therefore, diets based on studies with huge sample sizes (large n), are flawed by design.  Everyone reacts slightly differently to every type of food, so while one person may experience amazing health benefits after eliminating wheat from their diet, another person may see no change, or even negative effects.  So, instead of paying attention to the latest studies on what to eat, pay attention to your own body.  What foods make you feel strong, energized, comfortable?  Eat those, whatever they are (in moderation, of course).  What foods make you feel weak, tired, bloated, or irritable?  Avoid those, no matter what the studies say.  A diet ("diet" here meaning what you eat, not how much you restrict what you eat) that works for your body and exercise will leave you both healthier and happier.

SarainBrooklyn
SarainBrooklyn

The whole idea that any professional (doctor, chef, nutritionist) ought to be able to authorize who can and cannot give up any food is slightly irritating.  Wheat makes a lot of people sick - as is now know, *not* just those with celiac disease.  Not everybody.  But plenty of people who used to be able tolerate gluten do lose that tolerance, so it appears to be conditional and contingent.  

This sentence is a perfect example of my absolutely least favorite (and I might add, the most idiotic) argument against anyone giving up wheat  "A slice of 100% whole wheat or other whole-grain bread contains necessary fiber, B vitamins and protein."  Wheat's actually a pretty lousy source of B vitamins... which is why flour gets fortififed with B vitamins.  A person could instead eat a *good* source of B vitamins instead, no?  And, of course, there are plenty of other sources of "necessary" fiber and protein as well.  Better ones, even - the protein in wheat is doesn't supply the full complement of essential amino acids.

Why are folks so wound up that people are discovering they feel better without this particular food?  (Lots of people avoid mangoes, or oysters, or brazil nuts, and no one gives them a hard time.)  Well, processed foods are huge money (Marion Nestle recently wrote about the extent to which nutritionists are Big Food hacks...).  Adding flour stretches more expensive (better) foodstuffs further.  Chefs who were trained in flour-y kitchen would have to learn new skills... just like those of us who've somehow lost the ability to eat wheat over the years.  

CassieBond
CassieBond

This sounds like it's written by somebody who 1) Didn't read Dr Davis's book at all well  

and 2/ Has a serious wheat addiction.  I haven't eaten this "important food group" for 3 years and many other doctors have been off all grains for years now and they all have never been better.   What a lot of bosh she writes!

Ken_SF
Ken_SF

The premise behind the wheat belly diet is that we, as humans, never evolved to eat grains so it isn't, as the author says, an important food group but instead a food group foreign to humans vis-a-vis our evolution.  Human agriculture is only about 10,000 years old.  I've been on the wheat belly diet for about 3 years and now weigh the same as when I graduated college, lost 3 inches in my waist, don't have to watch how much I eat like I used to.  My blood chemistries (cholesterol, triglicerides etc) went from good to perfect.   One of the important scientific principals behind the diet is this:  different foods cause different reactions when processed by the body.  High glycemic foods, like wheat (wheat, even whole wheat, has a higher glycemic index than table sugar), cause a spike in blood sugar.  When this happens, our liver (and other organs) work hard to convert the extra sugar in our blood to fat.  Proteins and fats don't cause the same spike in blood sugar caused by high glycemic foods and as a consequence don't cause the same weight gain or unhealthy effects to blood chemistry given the same number of calories. The idea is that one calorie in is one calorie in, regardless of the type of calorie is flawed; your body simply processes different types of calories (fats, proteins and carbs) differently.

sbuckley
sbuckley

I really wish people who have looked at the research would be the ones to write these articles.  SOME people cannot handle wheat, other people can. We have to stop making these sweeping statements about the diet components that are right for everyone.  I am a dietitian who works with people with food sensitivities and wheat is one of the top offenders.  Please don't making sweeping statements about diets, especially if you don't have the scientific background to do so.  Interview someone who works in the field.

MartyWilson
MartyWilson

Well, I stopped getting hives, anaphalaxic shock, sleep apnea, horrific pain in my arms, brain fog and I lost weight when I gave up wheat. You can say it's 'all in my head' and that I am just going with the latest fad - but my body says something else. Your analysis of our situation (Americans down on carbs since Atkins...) is a poor overview of what has happened. Science has advanced and with the internet and various groups of people adopting foods that are more species appropriate (i.e. humans have been around a lot longer than grain fields have been cultivated)... more people have gotten the good news that there is an easy fix to their chronic health-problems. Go no-grain (with the possible exception of modest amounts of rice); use other great foods for your occasional baked-good treat and live to tell the story about how much better you feel!

gmpcmiller64
gmpcmiller64

I lost 55 lbs following WB and am at an ideal weight of 174 lbs as a 6 ft male.   This lifestyle is easily sustainable and the weight has stayed off effortlessly for over a year now.   I had been dieting for 20+ years and the weight always came back quickly.  This time not an ounce.   This is the real deal.

cnokennedy
cnokennedy

Yes, wow. First of all, wheat was never "at the top of the food pyramid." It's at the bottom and 6 - 11 servings of whole grains are advised. And if you truly think that we need "nothing more than common sense to guide what you put in your mouth" then you not only have NO business writing about food, nutrition, science, or health — you are being reckless and only promulgate the very uninformed and dangerous advice that's been inflicted on us for decades. Try doing some research before you write.

Nancy-andTimMarsh
Nancy-andTimMarsh

Wow.  It would be helpful to read the book before writing a review.  I thought this was a book review, not just your own commentary on what you think it is about.  We can tell you didn't read it!!! Being a chef and writer doesn't make you an old school nutritionist, or a new school one, just a chef.  I realize that if you get rid of wheat you will be forced back to school to learn to cook with healthier ingredients such as almond and coconut flour and why would you want to do that when flour is so easy to cook with.  This book is a best seller for a reason.  It is the truth, and just because you don't like it doesn't mean it isn't true.  Dr Davis does not believe in just "gluten free" and never advises anyone buy boxed "gluten free" foods.  Why isn't wheat free sustainable?  Because we HAVE to eat commercially prepared bread and pasta?  There is nothing at all in wheat that can't be had from other actual nutritious food.  Please give the book to someone to read and review who actually likes to read and will read it.

VeronicaMwrites
VeronicaMwrites

Dr. Davis is a cardiologist with proof that the gm wheat of today contains opiates and fillers.  It's linked to all kinds of health problems.

BrentSchrader
BrentSchrader

Making a blanket statement like, "most people gain back the weight" without any actual evidence or link to research is pretty disappointing.  Like many have already said, this is a pretty incomplete and inept synopsis.

Meagenz
Meagenz

Oh, dear me. You didn't read the book, did you? Wheat is not just 'a plant' these days. It's been changed enough now to be detrimental to humans. Or maybe you could take time to look at other videos on Youtube by other smart people who have come to their own realisations about wheat. You also would do well to read Gary Taubes' books. It's not calories in, calories out. People, especially in your field, really need to get up to date about diet. Not sustainable? Huh? Ask those who have been doing it for years and are in the best health they've every been. 

"Eat less and move more." ? Again, ask those who have eliminated wheat. Without any trouble whatsoever, they do eat less. You would know why if you read the book.

And, "good wheat and bad wheat"? Good old wholegrain, eh? You didn't read the book, did you? They don't grow good wheat any more - at least in, what is it? 90% or more of countries? I get my fibre, Vit B and protein from non-processed, regular old food like meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, nuts ... - and more nutrients than can be gained from 'healthy' wholegrains. 

And, for goodness sake, who needs to wait around for any clinical trial? It's easy enough to not eat wheat and then get your blood panel done. It's certainly not just about the weight losses. That's kind of a side effect of becoming healthy. People are not lazy sloths; they're prisoners of the insane food pyramid. Good grief. A bit of research wouldn't hurt.

Oh, and Dr Davis is definitely not a proponent of gluten-free foods. 

NicoleH
NicoleH

I completely disagree with your assessment of the book and the wheat debate. There is no nutrient in wheat that can't be obtained from healthier foods.  Not only do we not need wheat, but it causes inflammation and a host of ill effects for much of the population.  I do not test positive for celiac disease, but have realized I am gluten sensitive. When I eat wheat, my knees hurt like I have arthritis. In fact, I was told that was the problem. However, when I eliminated wheat, the knee pain went away completely. I am now a competitive weight lifter with no joint problems whatsoever.

Hungrygirl
Hungrygirl

@MarkHolland I consider myself my own intelligently designed experiment.  Right now I am trying Wheat Belly as an experiment, and so far with great success in managing chronic problems including IBS, acid reflux, seborrhea, joint pain, and have also experienced encouraging weight loss.  It isn't that Wheat Belly can't or won't be tested by science, but official scientific testing requires funding and institutional support to be accepted by the powers-that-be, so for now it is being market tested instead.  Is it the end all be all for everyone?  Probably not.  But after many years of trying every piece of weight loss advice that's ever been muttered, I feel like this has great potential for myself and people like me.  If the whole world's obesity problem could be solved by the simple calories-in-calories-out standard equation, then the world would not have an obesity problem, which is something that anyone who has never actually had a problem managing their weight could never fully understand.  The constant gnawing hunger, the fatigue, the gag reflex at foods that are supposed to be good for us - all symptoms frequently experienced by the chronically obese, and all of these conditions came from somewhere. I am a life-long vegetarian, making the elimination of wheat exponentially more difficult for myself than for a meat eater. I am a PhD student and an atheist.  I have no affiliation whatsoever with anyone who stands to profit from wheat or its elimination, and no particular superstitions about one lifestyle or another.  Since cutting it out of my diet a week ago, I have lost almost five pounds.  I am eating around 1300 calories a day without even trying (to clarify, I am not deliberately restricting my caloric intake but I have been journaling just to see how much I am actually taking in).  I have gone from being cripplingly hungry within an hour after each meal to easily going four to six hours between meals without thinking about it.  I can walk as soon as I stand up no matter how long I have been sitting, which hasn't happened in two years.  I can do squats and lunges without knee pain, which I have not been able to do since my early twenties (I am in my 30s). When I started the diet I wasn't "sold."  I hadn't convinced myself that it would work.  I had convinced myself that it was worth a shot, just like I did with every other "diet" I have ever tried and quit.  Experiments do not always have to be conducted within the hallowed walls of the ivory towers to be legitimate.  My experiment is ongoing, and only in the early phases, but I hypothesize that it will be a wild success.  

dazed12
dazed12

Likely after one you will get a severe craving for the other....

chaoticus
chaoticus

@rae I agree... however, I saw Davis on Dr. Oz last night.  He hardly mentioned GMO's, and stated categorically that the problem is WHEAT, not so much it's modification.  In his opinion, wheat, even 100% natural, whole grain is poison.... and other grains aren't much better.


I've been eating wheat, and rye, and oats all my life, and I think it's poppycock.

jakemann9
jakemann9

@JamieCatherine so you're saying I should eat sugar? It makes me feel strong, energized, and comfortable for short bursts but does that make it good for me or something I should eat? I've been on the paleo diet now since the beginning of 2013 (eating only nuts, fruits, and vegetables, particularly deep green colored, leafy ones) and have only noticed a substantial rise in my stamina, energy levels, alertness, and overall feeling of well-being. No one needs wheat in their diet. Yes, it may be hard to cut out wheat products entirely due to the large amount of unnecessary false truths about the grain and how its literally in every prepackaged food in America. I'm not saying your wrong about everyone having different reactions to different foods but wheat causes more harm than good. I would suggest substituting other grains in for wheat for a month and see if your overall health and well-being doesn't improve. My recommendations would be brown rice or quinoa. If you don't feel any difference then do as you will with ingesting wheat, but as for my diet, I will NEVER eat it again.   

bergerqueen
bergerqueen

@SarainBrooklyn Why does this sentence irritate you? It seems like a reasonable sentence. It doesn't damn the eating of wheat for those who can tolerate it but it does discuss what is going on for many people. There are more food allergies today than there were in the past. It's not in people's imagination. My husband can't eat wheat. It makes him sick. He would like nothing better than to eat real pasta and drink beer but he can't. To be sure, there are people who like to try out fad diets but for those who have to stick to those diets, it's serious business and it's often isolating. 

JillianBrady
JillianBrady

@CassieBond  Good Lord, you sound incredibly weird, paranoid and defensive.  This is how people sound when they are in cult.  You sound like you suffer from a serious wheat deprivation.  

JillianBrady
JillianBrady

@sbuckley But in turn, The Wheat Belly Followers also need to stop making sweeping generalizations that wheat, even good quality sources of wheat, is bad for everyone.  It's The Wheat Belly diet which is making these sweeping generalizations.

incogconcepts
incogconcepts

@sbuckley   ahhhh, just because you don't have (or aware of) symptoms, does not mean it is good for you or that symptoms will appear over time. My mom is 89, finally got her to try GF/WF and she has been in best shape in 20 years. This may seem anecdotal, but it is happening every day with celebs, athletes ect.   This is not a fad or trend, it is reality and it works.


JamieCatherine
JamieCatherine

@cnokennedy Well what else do we need besides common sense?  Eating is intuitive, ingrained in who we are as living beings.  We are born knowing how much we need to eat and when; babies cry when they're hungry and stop nursing when they're full.  This all occurs in a primal part of our brain, an area we share with any other organism with a brain.  As we grow older, the more recent parts of our brain, evolutionarily speaking, start to interfere with this intuition.  We start thinking about food, and are influenced by society, whether through the prevalence of fast food restaurants or the ubiquity of diets.  When we develop health problems, it is due to an unbalanced relationship with food, which is due to the interference from society and the cognitive parts of our brain.  This is not common sense.  Diets restricting or eliminating certain food groups, taking unnecessary supplements all fall into the realm of conscious thought.  Common sense is eating intuitively: eating when you're hungry, stopping when you're full, eating a variety of foods to ensure your body is getting the nutrients it needs.  This is common sense, and it truly is all we need to eat well.

AprilBerry
AprilBerry

@Nancy-andTimMarsh Thank you for clearly, and directly, stating the obvious: a book review that is not based, at all, on the content of the book. I think I tried this in middle school and failed miserably. :)


JamieAnn77
JamieAnn77

And.. you wouldn't likely gain the weight back unless you went BACK to wheat.   We give it up for good -- Not a short-term thing.  It's truly bad stuff.  You don't go back to it.  You don't have any desire to.  :)

dazed12
dazed12

might...but might but make you crave more carbs...

OT
OT

People even refer to themselves as "clean" regarding not eating wheat for lengths of time now, as if they were a recovering cocaine addict or something.  This craze is hideous!  Pseudo science is driving me nuts.

incogconcepts
incogconcepts

@JamieCatherine@cnokennedyWOW .........eating is intuitive...realm of conscious thought....primal part of our brain???? You must live in Co or CA  where that green stuff is legal. Or lets just blame it on society, so we can call it a permanent disability and collect SS payments for life?!!  An if  " This is common sense, and it truly is all we need to eat well"  were true, there would not be ANY food related problem!!!

Eating to survive is intuitive. When someone is given A CHOICE of what to put in their mouth, IT IS NOT INTUITIVE. As far as COMMON SENSE,  is that why obesity is at all time high in this country??? And many of those are already on food stamps and/or other govt subsidy????   Make some sense out of that!!!  Common sense to one person is insanity to another.


JAD1971
JAD1971

@JillianBrady @Nancy-andTimMarsh Jillian - the "we" is "Nancy-and-Tim".  You seem dedicated to adding hyper-reactive replies to pretty benign posts.  Do you work for the wheat lobby?  Are you the author's sister?  Did coconut flour destroy your family?  

chaoticus
chaoticus

@KellBrigan @chaoticus @snidelywhiplash I understand... I've broken 3 ribs and a collarbone falling off my bike... but all my body parts are still securely attached.  Besides, it's such a rush right up until the moment of impact.

chaoticus
chaoticus

@dazed12 That's really quite alright dazed...  I don't worry about craving carbs, or chocolate, or pancakes and syrup.