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A while back, I interviewed Dr. William Davis, MD, author of the New York Times bestselling book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. He’s a preventive cardiologist whose surprising approach to a heart-healthy diet allows him to not only help people prevent heart disease but potentially even reverse it. One of his biggest dietary recommendations is to remove wheat from the diet.
You may be wondering… what about organic wheat? Is it any better for us than conventional wheat? After all, humans have been eating wheat for thousands of years. Isn’t the main problem the pesticides we now use in agriculture, not the actual wheat? While pesticides like glyphosate are certainly inflammatory and toxic, the wheat we now consume is very different from the wheat people consumed generations ago, including what they ate in biblical times.
The wheat we have today isn’t even genetically the same, and that’s what Dr. Davis reveals in his book. Modern agriculture has changed the wheat we consume so much that it’s almost unrecognizable by the body. The modern wheat we eat is actually harmful, and as a result, the body reacts with inflammation and disease. It is not a “heart-healthy whole grain” at all.
About Dr. William Davis
While working with patients, cardiologist William Davis realized that wheat products were raising their blood sugar worse than Snickers bars.
After recommending his patients avoid wheat to balance their blood sugar, he found they were able to lose 25 to 30 pounds over several months and experienced relief from several other health conditions, which we’ll discuss below.
How Dr. Davis Learned Wheat Was Causing Health Problems
Dr. Davis learned just how bad wheat was when he asked patients in his cardiac practice to remove it from their diet. He did this because 80% of the people who came into his office were either diabetic or pre-diabetic, which doubles or triples the risk for heart disease. Since the glycemic index of whole wheat bread is among the highest of all foods, he decided to make bread a key food to remove from their diet.
Did you know that eating two slices of whole wheat bread raises blood sugar higher than six teaspoons of sugar?
He asked his cardiac patients to remove wheat from their diet and see how it affected their blood sugar. After 3-6 months, he found that their blood sugars and HbA1c (a measure of blood sugar over the last 60 days) were much lower. Amazingly, some people with diabetes were no longer diabetic.
But that wasn’t all they reported. There are lots of other health benefits after removing wheat:
- They lost 30 pounds and 4 inches from their waist. They felt better than they had in 20 years and had more energy, less moodiness, and deeper sleep.
- They experienced complete relief from acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine headaches, hand and finger arthritis, joint pain, sinus congestion, and chronic sinus infections.
- Their asthma improved so much that they threw away their inhalers.
- Rheumatoid arthritis was so much better they were in the process of reducing medication.
- Their ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s had improved, and they no longer required medication.
- Their leg edema had disappeared.
- Their rashes were gone.
At first, Dr. Davis dismissed these improvements as just a coincidence. But the effects became so frequent and consistent that the conclusion became unavoidable: Wheat was the underlying cause of an incredible array of health problems and weight gain, and eliminating it from the diet was key to health.
It’s important to note that this was not just the result of gluten avoidance for the gluten-sensitive or those with Celiac disease. This was wheat avoidance for everybody. Gluten-sensitive or not, almost everyone who took wheat out of their diet experienced at least some measurable improvement in health, if not an outright transformation.
Dr. Davis now recommends that everyone who wants to regain control over their health and lose weight completely avoid wheat.
The Wheat-Heart Health Connection
So, how exactly is wheat consumption linked to heart health? As it turns out, wheat consumption causes heart disease. It’s not cholesterol or saturated fat that’s behind the number one killer of Americans—it’s wheat.
When we eat wheat, its unique carbohydrate, amylopectin A, triggers the formation of small, dense LDL particles more than any other common food. These LDL particles are the number one cause of heart disease in the U.S. The majority of adults now have an abundance of small LDL particles because conventional dietary advice has been to cut their fat and “eat plenty of heart-healthy whole grains.”
These excessive small LDL particles can appear on a conventional cholesterol panel as higher levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, along with low HDL cholesterol and higher triglycerides. Many doctors will prescribe statin drugs for this. An integrative cardiologist or a functional medicine doctor, on the other hand, can order a more sophisticated lipoprotein testing to drill down on the problem.
Another reason wheat is to blame is that it triggers an increase in small, dense LDL and the gliadin protein that increases appetite. This causes weight gain. Unfortunately, the weight gained usually happens in the abdomen, in the deep visceral fat that triggers inflammation, or what Dr. Davis calls a “wheat belly.” Wheat belly visceral fat is a hotbed of inflammation, sending out inflammatory signals into the bloodstream and resulting in higher blood sugar, blood pressure, and triglycerides, all adding up to an increased risk for heart disease.
When we say goodbye to wheat, the small LDL particles plummet, which allows for weight loss from the wheat belly visceral fat. Inflammation subsides, blood sugar stabilizes, and blood pressure goes down. Based on his research, the elimination of wheat is among the most powerful means of reducing the risk of heart disease.
Other Health Conditions Connected to Wheat Consumption
Over time, Dr. Davis noticed quite a few other conditions associated with wheat consumption. More conditions are linked to wheat consumption than aren’t linked. Here are just a few categories:
Some gastrointestinal problems you might experience from wheat consumption are acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Those symptoms usually include:
People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, also experience improvement and sometimes even complete relief from symptoms, including pain, diarrhea, and intestinal bleeding when they go wheat-free.
Brain and Nervous System Conditions
Wheat can affect our brain and nervous system in a variety of ways, including mood disruption, depression, behavioral outbursts in children with ADHD and autism, hallucinations in people with schizophrenia, and mania in people with bipolar disorder. Wheat can also directly damage the brain and nervous system and can cause conditions like cerebellar ataxia, the progressive loss of balance and bladder control, and peripheral neuropathy, the loss of feeling, usually in the feet and legs.
A British research group found that 50% of unexplained peripheral neuropathy can be blamed on wheat. It can also cause gluten encephalopathy, also known as dementia from wheat. Only an autopsy can diagnose this condition after death. In 2020, the journal Nutrients published a systematic review of this condition.
Joint Pain and Arthritic Conditions
Joint pain and swelling are often connected to wheat consumption. The most common form involves the wrists and fingers. Some people experience relief from back, hip, and knee pain when they eliminate wheat, especially if they also lose weight around their abdomen since this belly fat serves as a repository for inflammation. When we lose the wheat belly, the inflammation subsides.
Skin conditions also typically improve or disappear when wheat is eliminated. Common conditions like acne improve, as well as a long list (enough to fill four pages) of other skin conditions from granuloma annulare, to allergic dermatitis, to gangrene.
What You Should Know About Eating Wheat
One of the most crucial things to know about the wheat conversation is that the gliadin protein in wheat acts as an appetite stimulant. People who consume the gliadin protein in wheat consume 400 more calories per day on average. People who eliminate wheat (and therefore gliadin) consume 400 fewer calories per day, even if calories, fat grams, or portion sizes are unrestricted.
Big Food has used this to their advantage. If you put wheat flour, and thereby gliadin, into every product you can, you increase appetite, increase consumption, and increase sales. It makes sense that this is why companies put wheat flour in processed foods, including tomato soup and licorice, when they don’t need to.
The gliadin protein in wheat has this effect because the body breaks it down into a group of compounds called exorphins, or exogenous morphine-like compounds. Opiate-blocking drugs can block these effects. Yes, the appetite-stimulating effect of wheat can be completely disabled by administering the same drugs that heroin addicts take to block their “high.” Wheat acts as an opiate drug on the brain.
Studies have demonstrated that when volunteers were administered opiate-blocking drugs, their desire for cake, cupcakes, and cookies greatly decreased.
Scientific evidence confirms that as long as wheat remains a part of your diet, you will not have full control over your hunger and cravings since it causes calorie consumption to be higher, especially for carbohydrate foods. As a result, you start putting on weight, particularly around the middle. You might get a pair of “love handles” or a “muffin top,” if not a wheat belly. Unfortunately, wheat is a major cause of the obesity epidemic that is spreading worldwide. Eliminating wheat goes a long way to help you regain normal control over hunger.
Why Modern Wheat Is Harmful
Modern agriculture has changed the wheat we consume now from what our ancestors ate, like einkorn, spelt, and emmer. Einkorn is said to be the “great granddaddy” of all today’s wheat. It is genetically much simpler than our modern wheat, which farming practices have genetically altered over time. Einkorn wheat has 14 chromosomes, while modern wheat has 42.
Einkorn is also a diploid, which means it has two sets of chromosomes, similar to many other plants. Modern wheat, on the other hand, has six sets of chromosomes, making it more complex and therefore more difficult to digest. Similarly, einkorn is lower in gluten, and the type of gluten it has is much less triggering to the immune system compared to our modern wheat.
Einkorn is rich in inflammation-lowering nutrients, while modern agricultural practices have stripped wheat of much of its nutrition. There’s a reason for fortified flours on the grocery store shelves. Essentially, modern wheat retains all the negatives, like altered genetics, high levels of gluten, and low levels of nutrients, while missing out on all the positives of the genetically-recognizable, mineral-rich grains of the past.
What to Eat: Should You Go Gluten-Free?
If a person decides to eliminate wheat, they often turn to gluten-free alternatives. But is that a good idea? First, Dr. Davis believes we should return to real, unprocessed foods as often as possible. That means eating vegetables, raw nuts, meats, fish, eggs (including the yolks), cheese, avocados, and healthy oils, like extra-virgin olive and coconut. He does not believe in counting or limiting calories, especially after eliminating the potent appetite stimulant, wheat.
He also strongly urges people to avoid commercial gluten-free products while following a gluten-free diet. In place of wheat flour, these products, including gluten-free bagels and “whole grain” bread, are made using cornstarch, rice starch, tapioca starch, and potato starch. These powdered starches are among the few foods that increase blood sugar higher than whole wheat. That means these foods trigger weight gain in the abdomen (creating a “gluten-free belly”) and increase glucose, leading to insulin resistance and diabetes, cataracts, and arthritis. These are not healthy replacements for wheat.
The Bottom Line
The American public needs to be aware that agribusiness and Big Food companies know what they’re doing with wheat. They have learned how to use this Trojan horse, harboring its hidden gliadin protein that increases appetite.
Wheat is a weak opiate. When you eat wheat, you want more wheat, you want more carbohydrates.
Even worse, we’re advised by our government agencies like the USDA and Health and Human Services that whole grains are good for us and we should eat more. When we eat more “healthy whole grains,” we eat more, we gain weight, we experience all the consequences of wheat consumption and weight gain such as hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, acid reflux, and diabetes. Big Food makes out, Big Pharma makes out… we pay the price.
They have blamed the epidemic of diabetes and obesity on us. They say Americans are overweight and diabetic because we are gluttons and we’re lazy. I don’t buy it. I believe the majority of Americans are fairly health-conscious and try to get at least some exercise. I do not believe we are that different from, say, the people of 1950 or 1960. I think they’ve duped us into blaming ourselves when all along a big part of the blame should be placed on this corrupt product of genetics research, propagated by agribusiness and put to profitable use.
Check Out Other Wheat Belly Resources
If you haven’t already, check out Dr. Davis’ book, Wheat Belly. I’ve found that it is a great resource, especially for friends and relatives who have trouble grasping how “heart-healthy whole grains” could be bad. Since his first book, he has gone on to write six more books on the topic, including:
- The Wheat Belly Cookbook – If you miss baked goods, Dr. Davis provides tasty recipes for things like chocolate chip cookies and cheesecake. They are wheat-free, nearly sugar-free, low-carb, and are generally healthy enough to eat anytime with none of the adverse health consequences like weight gain or bloating.
- Wheat Belly 30-Minute (Or Less!) Cookbook – Short on time? In this cookbook, Dr. Davis provides recipes that take 30 minutes or less, start to finish. If you thought cooking wheat-free was going to be boring, think again! This cookbook includes re-created Moroccan, Indian, Chinese, Mexican, and Italian dishes, all easy-to-make and full of flavor.
- Wheat Belly Total Health: The Ultimate Grain-Free Health And Weight Loss Life Plan – This book goes beyond the wheat-free diet and helps you regain your metabolism. It’s the only book you’ll ever need to not only get off wheat but also lose weight for good and achieve vibrant health.
- Wheat Belly 10-Day Detox: Reprogram Your Body For Rapid Weight Loss And Amazing Health – Dr. Davis gives you a step-by-step program in this 10-day detox. The book gives you everything you need to successfully get off wheat and reset your body for lasting health. There are meal plans, recipes, supplement recommendations, and tips for success.
- Undoctored: Why Health Care Has Failed You And How You Can Become Smarter Than Your Doctor – Here, Dr. Davis helps you take charge of your health and crack the code to health. He includes a comprehensive program to help you cut back on prescription medications, get on a healthy diet, and start reversing common health conditions naturally.
- Super Gut: A Four-Week Plan To Reprogram Your Microbiome, Restore Health, and Lose Weight – Dr. Davis guides you in four weeks with over 40 recipes on how to eliminate bad bacteria and bring back the good guys to help balance your gut and restore your health. It’s a reprogramming of your microbiome to promote happiness, sharpness, restful sleep, and longevity… all through your super gut.
Check out Dr. Davis’ Wheat Belly Blog here and his main website, Dr. Davis Infinite Health here.
Have you read Wheat Belly? Notice any health improvements after removing grains? Share below!
Discussion (88 Comments)
I have read the book. It makes sense and I have been wheat-free for 1 week. I feel much better already and am looking forward to the weight loss aspect of being wheat-free. Bill O’Reilly talked about this book on his show and he lost 30 pounds in 3 months being wheat-free.
Number 2 is why I do it!
I want to do this – but SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO hard!!! I try.. But pizza w/ friends? Restaurants? Going out? SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO hard!
but u feel so much better you don’t care that you’re not eating what they’re leaving. And the idea Is to spend time with your friends you don’t have to eat the same thing that they are
I am allergic to wheat, and when we found out that I was, we cut it. Not only did my hives, breathing issues, and stomach pain go away… but I dropped close to 70 pounds in a year. It made a huge difference.
Been telling people this for years. Cut out all wheat products and your body will burn fat. The problem with wheat nowadays is that it is so refined that it is broken down nearly to the level of pure glucose units. So if you consume wheat along with fats the body will derive its short term energy needs from the wheat and will store the fat. This is not rocket science.
I’M DEF GOING TO GET RID OF THE WHEAT IN MY LIFE. TIME TO START EATING RIGHT AND HEALTHY
In the last 24 months I have lost 155 pounds by putting wheat, sugars, starches and most oils out of my diet.
I eat lots of fat, meat, eggs, and green leafy vegetables. I feel great.
I have recommended the book “Wheat Belly” to many of my friends. The book is changing lives.
Thanks for spreading the word on the dangers of wheat.
Hi Dan, your story is very inspiring. Can you share some details as to your new diet? Also thanks from Scotland to wellness mama and her exceptional website. 🙂 Let’s all get better without prescriptions (where possible)
I’m giving this a whirl to lose my wheat belly and recently developed asthma! Thanks Katie!
Okay, breads and pasta are obvious, but what other foods have grains in them that I might not suspect?
Lindylou, there are all kinds of things. Check out celiac.com’s list of Unsafe Foods for a host of ingredients to avoid.
Hi Ursula. I just wanted to respond to your comment that you were ” religious about a low-fat low-everything lifestyle.” One can’t be low-everything, unless one is fasting! And the low-fat thing automatically implies in increase in either protein or carbs (more likely) or both. Having done low fat for a few decades, it was a revelation to me to read Adkins first book about ten years ago and see another way of looking at food. At the time, I had belly fat for the first time in my life after having my first child and no amount of exercise or portion control was touching it. When I did the low-carb thing, that it what finally made the difference. And I have been a big fan of FAT (dietary fat, that is, not the fat on my belly which carbs help produce) ever since. I remember that Adkins even states at the end of his book that he would expect that extremely obese people who cannot get their weight to change on even a very low-carb diet go on a primarily fat-only diet! I’m not sure how you could figure out a palatable way to eat just fats, but the theory of it is interesting. And I can definitely say with confidence and experience that plenty of fat in a low-carb diet makes one lean, not corporeally fat. So, as long as you’re eating natural, good fats (extra virgin olive oil, cold pressed coconut oil, animal fats from properly raised animals, etc.) don’t be afraid of fats!! 🙂