Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health by William Davis, MD, is a book about how wheat makes you fat and dead. Before you die, wheat afflicts you with a host of ailments, ranging from rashes, diabetes, elevated bad cholesterol, creaky joints, and some jacked up pH problems. If you have something wrong with you, it’s probably because of wheat.
I have virtually no qualifications to review this book with any sort of authority, so I’ll just tell you what it was about, and what a few other folks had to say about it.
Davis argues that the wheat we consume today, “dwarf wheat,” is so different from the wild wheat consumed by our ancestors that it is fattening up most of the nation for a slow slaughter. What began as a genetically simple wild Einkorn wheat has been sufficiently hybridized to produce the high yield, short stalk wheat of today. He points most recently to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, a research program begun in Mexico in 1943, the goal of which was to increase the yield of wheat, corn, and soy.
Apparently, supercharging soil with nitrogen enriched fertilizer yielded seed heads so large that the stalks would collapse under the weight. Scientists were able to hybridize a wheat plant with a shorter, sturdier stalk that could support the weight. This new wheat makes up 99% of today’s supply, he argues, and it’s also what’s making everyone fat and dead.
What’s Wrong With Short Wheat?
Davis claims that 5% of the genetic composition of hybridized wheat is not found in either parent strain. This 5% has some new goodies that he says mess up humans, and nobody tests new strains out to see if they are suitable for human consumption. Davis says we’re finding out now, and the new stuff beats us down from head to toe.
A list of wheat crimes, according to Davis:
Wheat is Addictive
People may get withdrawals when removing wheat from diet. Wheat increases hallucinations in schizophrenics, and when you digest wheat, it releases “exorphins” that bind to opiate receptors in the brain. Yes, we’re talking about getting high on wheat. Block the exorphins from binding to the brain with the drug Naloxen, you get withdrawals. He cites a few studies to back this up, but this reviewer claims Davis cherry picks and misrepresents the findings.
Getting high on wheat sounds a bit melodramatic to me, but what do I know. I just get down on caffeine.
Wheat Makes You Fat and Gives You Man Boobs
Wheat causes blood sugar to spike, insulin is released to move it to the cells where it is stored, fatness happens. Blood sugar drops, you get hungry, eat some wheat, more fatness happens. Along the way you become resistant to insulin, so more insulin is produced by the pancreas which leads to more deposition of sugar which is stored as fat.
In a later chapter, Davis claims that diabetes can be halted and perhaps eliminated by getting rid of wheat. The pancreas, which produces insulin, is affected by glucotoxicity—the beta cells in the pancreas which produce insulin are damaged by high blood sugar, and when they are sufficiently damaged they no longer generate the needed insulin response. If enough beta cells are left, removing wheat might allow for recovery, he argues. All the studies he cites call for elimination of all carbs that increase blood sugar, however. Seems a bit unfair to only go after wheat.
Interesting fact for the gentleman: more belly fat=more estrogen production, which apparently leads to the formation of breast tissue.
Wheat screws up your PH
Davis argues that wheat increases acidity, and the body compensates by pulling from bone calcium to return equilibrium. Bone density and overall health suffer. Joint pain and arthritis ensue. Wheat strikes again.
Wheat Makes You Old
Advanced glycation end products (AGE) make you blind, creaky, demented, and ultimately, dead. AGEs accumulate more quickly when blood sugar is elevated. Diabetics with poorly controlled, frequently elevated blood sugar, show effects of age more quickly, and the same thing happens to non-diabetic wheat eaters who ramp up blood sugar on a regular basis, Davis claims.
Wheat Cuts to the Heart
The increase in blood sugar ramps up the production of small LDL particles, the TRUE measure of bad cholesterol, which ultimately leads to more arterial plaque. Wheat’s fault again.
Wheat Gives You Pimples and Everything Else That Can Go Wrong With Your Skin
Higher blood sugar leads to high insulin levels, which triggers acne. Removing gluten, in addition, may solve your skin woes. Davis provides a list of ten skin ailments that are reportedly caused by gluten and potentially cured when gluten is removed.
Richie’s Take On It
So how much of this is true? Wheat Belly is buried in studies and anecdotal evidence, and you pretty much have to take his word for a lot of it. Like I said earlier it’s melodramatic (“wheat is my crack”?), and there are several strong critiques of this book (read another one here); these definitely gives me cause for pause. There are several parts where he conflates wheat with other carbohydrates, so I think it may be more fair to say that our general obsession with wheat, corn, rice and other grains might be the real problem.
But just because this guy stacks the deck doesn’t make me toss the whole argument. We’re really embedded in a bread romance, and this is an unhealthy relationship at best. I have yet to hear a compelling argument for why we NEED wheat, and almost everyone agrees that most wheat products suck. Read the book and see how Davis gives wheat the beatdown.