Why are Americans so fat? Dr. William Davis, a preventive cardiologist, set out to find the answer to this question after his personal frustration with his big belly in spite of following a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
Davis has authored the best-selling book Wheat Belly. He builds a compelling case for wheat being a major culprit in the modern epidemic of obesity. He also covers how wheat contributes to a variety of other common health problems, including how wheat affects the brain.
Worse Than Sugar?
The first fact about wheat that should jolt you is that two slices of whole wheat bread raise blood sugar more than eating a candy bar! Whole wheat has a glycemic index score of 72 and white sugar has a lower score of 59.
Davis found in his practice that when patients eliminated wheat, their blood sugar levels and weight went down, while their energy, sleep, mental clarity, mood, concentration, and mood improved!
How did bread, the staff of life, get to be so bad for us?
Your Brain on Wheat
Modern wheat bears no resemblance to the wild wheat that was originally cultivated thousands of years ago. It has been hybridized and cross bred to increase yields with zero consideration as to whether these new strains of wheat are fit to eat!
Gluten, a protein in wheat that makes dough stretchy, is usually pointed out as the reason wheat is problematic, and for many people it is. But there are over 1,000 other proteins in wheat that can trigger negative reactions as well.
Here are the biggest brain-related problems with wheat:
- Wheat is additive. Over 30% of Davis’s patients went through some level of withdrawal when they quit, similar to quitting smoking. Symptoms included feeling irritable, brain fog, extreme fatigue, depression, and extreme cravings. When gluten is digested, polypeptides are created that cross the blood-brain barrier and bind to morphine receptors in the brain just like opiates do.
- Wheat worsens schizophrenia, autism, and ADHD.
- Wheat is a known appetite stimulant. That’s why restaurants serve bread before dinner, not to be nice — they want you to order more food! A person who eats wheat on average will consume 440 more calories per day than someone who avoids it. That many calories can really add up fast!
- The weight gained from eating wheat tends to settle in the belly. This kind of fat, visceral fat, is particularly unhealthy. It doesn’t just sit there, these fat cells are little inflammation factories that increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, dementia, cancer, and arthritis. Guys take note: belly fat increases estrogen production, something you definitely want to avoid.
- Cerebellar ataxia is a form of dementia that affects the balance and coordination. The cause is unknown and there is no medically accepted cure. According to Davis, up to 50% of those with this disease have abnormal blood markers for gluten and usually this condition can be halted by removing gluten from the diet.
- One Mayo Clinic study found that celiac disease and dementia can go hand-in-hand and that dementia in these cases was fatal in 69% of cases.
David claims that by eliminating wheat, excess weight often falls off his overweight patients. While that hasn’t been my experience, I’ve found that a major benefit of going wheat-free is that I no longer have unreasonable hunger or cravings. This alone can put you in the driver’s seat about what you choose to eat and help you maintain a normal weight.
Wheat Belly, the Book
If you are curious about whether wheat is something you should exclude from your diet, by all means read Wheat Belly. But here’s a *Spoiler Alert*– you’ll never look at your morning bagel the same way again!
I have mixed feelings about the recipe section of this book. I understand that Davis is trying to help people wean themselves off wheat with recipes for wheat-free muffins, carrot cake, pizza, and the like, but was disappointed to see these recipes use the artificial sweetener Splenda. Some recipes give the option of using Truvia, one of my least favorite brands of stevia since it contains erythritol, a questionable sweetener.
But don’t read this book for the recipes. Read it to once and for all dispel the myth that wheat, even whole wheat, is an essential part of a healthy diet.
Davis’s style is irreverent and in your face. Some of his statements are laugh-out-loud funny while others are cringe-worthy. But he is never boring.
If you want a serious treatise loaded with scientific jargon, this isn’t it (although there are 16 pages of scientific reference at the end of the book). Check out my review of my favorite science-laden nutrition book — Perfect Health Diet — instead.