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Loving God more. Loving others more. Living obediently in Christ.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A review of "Wheat Belly"

I have read a few books which presented broad and convincing studies to support the efficacy of treating disease and obesity by eating "vegan" (free from animal and dairy, concentrated in whole and plant-based foods.)  So, why not broaden my understanding of some apparent dietary solutions to disease which come from a different slant (non-vegan)?  As I sat down at my dining room table with a couple pieces of my homemade, organic, whole wheat toast, I attempted to read a borrowed book - Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD.  It wasn't long, maybe half of the first chapter, before I thumbed to the back of the book to see what this author recommended for the daily diet.  The list began with  unlimited consumption of vegetables.  This pleased me.  After that (again without limit) raw nuts and seeds.  Again, pleased.  Next on the list - oils, meat, eggs, cheese, unsweetened condiments, flax seed and high-fat plant foods such as avocado, olive, coconut and cocoa.  He recommends to limit fruits and legumes; and he says to eliminate all wheat, dried fruits and sweetened foods/beverages.  My reaction to the author's recommendations for unlimited oils, meats, eggs and cheese is negative.  My mind is fairly well made regarding the plant-based diet, especially since it has brought restored health with my own digestive problems.  I started my journey with a gluten free diet (gained weight) but was able to consume all grains (including wheat) once I went plant-based (and then lost 30 lbs).  God and plant-based nutrition has also physically restored my husband who was sickened by cancer, radiation, chemo and surgery.  We aren't silent about this new way of eating. 

I made the  decision to keep notes with an open mind as I continued to read Wheat Belly.  I admit that there are many  lines drawn in the sand between experts in the diet world. The search to find someone who is 100% accurate could be endless.

No longer the "original" grain
The author's first line of defense about his diet plan is that wheat is no longer the same grain it was 50 years ago.  It has been hybridized and developed to the point that it is very different, genetically, from the original wheat grown around the world.  (I wish Davis' would have offered a more technical explanation of how wheat has changed from its ancestral variety.)  Wheat is in the  grass family; and it can, by nature, cross pollinate with other grasses.  Apparently, the wheat that is now globally grown has been manipulated by scientists to produce high yields and short stalks.  Heritage varieties of wheat had fourteen chromosomes whereas the current hybrid wheat has twenty-eight.  Also, what is grown today would not be able to sustain itself in the wild without the assistance of a farmer.  I'm pretty sure that most of my garden plants would not survive on their own in the wild, either.  Is the plant's dependence on the farmer cause to be concerned about the product?  Maybe.

AM concerned about the genetic modification of our food.  However, from the information that I have found, wheat is not yet marketed as a genetically modified food.  There are battles going on to keep GMO wheat off the market.  Transgenic wheat experimentation is ongoing - in an attempt to make wheat more "nutritious", disease resistant, pest resistant and have a lower glycemic index.  But it appears that GMO wheat is not in our food supply right now.  I read on.

Wheat addict
The next topic concerning wheat in Davis' book is its addictive property and   wheat's link to exacerbating mental or attention disorders.  Wheat contains polypeptides (coin named "exorphins") which bind to the brain's morphine receptors and provide a sort of "food high".  These polypeptides are also thought to be responsible for aggravating schizophrenic symptoms and ADHD.  The drug, naloxone, can be used to interrupt the binding of wheat's exorphins to the brain - proving that wheat is addictive.  I find it interesting that Dr. Neal Barnard has experimented with 
people who have food addictions in the same way.  The four foods that Barnard has found with the same addictive effect on the brain are chocolate, cheese, meat and sugar.  So it seems that Davis recommends people should replace their addiction to wheat with unlimited quantities of the equally addictive foods - meat, cheese and chocolate.  I can't help but wonder if the author just doesn't realize that these foods are also addictive.  Sadly, Davis is promoting a diet that will lead to plaque in the arteries and the organ diseases that follow from reduced blood supply. 

Davis sites wheat as the common contributing factor to many symptoms, diseases and conditions: night cravings, stimulated appetite, obesity and visceral fat, elevated blood glucose levels, gynecomastia (man "boobs"), and Celiac.  There are other foods and food additives that can accomplish the same symptoms.  Eating a slice of bread from the grocery store can contain enough hidden MSG, high fructose corn syrup and GMO soy products to trigger a number of the symptoms Davis mentions in his book.  With the exception of Celiac disease, every condition can be connected to a diet high in animal fat, processed foods and sugar leading to obesity and resulting in metabolic syndrome.  Celiac disease is an immune system response to wheat.  I am not going to make a conjecture whether the rise in the incidence of Celiac disease is due to the change in the genetic structure of the modern wheat crop, some human genetic problem or an imbalance of healthy gut flora.  It is my opinion, however, that wheat is only part of the big picture for Celiac disease.  

The author also presented  medical evidence that wheat is a trigger for schizophrenic episodes and ADHD.  I don't disagree that wheat can aggravate people with disorders, mental or digestive; but I am not convinced that wheat is the CAUSE of the disorders.  More than 80% of the body's neurotransmitters are manufactured in the gut.  If the gut is lacking healthy flora, an individual can experience weakened immunity, food allergies, depression, anxiety , ADD, ADHD and a myriad of very real diseases.  Just imagine schizophrenia or ADHD with added anxiety!  Dr. Russell Blaylock has found in his studies and research that vaccinations can damage the gut of young children, leading to many neurological diseases, some of which are listed above.  My point is that these disorders don't always point back to wheat alone.  Perhaps wheat is just a common denominator for people with diseases because wheat is commonly eaten in our American diet.  It is as common as, well, vaccinations, soda pop, artificial sweeteners, burgers and ice cream.  What should we blame?  I say we should blame the entire (high fat, high sugar, high salt, high protein, dairy rich, low fiber, over medicated) American lifestyle!

Davis pointed out that whole-wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than table sugar, thus creating the diabetic problem of insulin resistance. Obesity (and visceral fat) is clearly understood to be at the foundation of diabetes and widely considered the culprit of insulin resistance.  Therefore, it seems more reasonable to address the weight than to blame the wheat.  There are some varied opinions about the dietary approach needed to treat diabetes.  The ADA recommends restricting refined carbohydrates while including whole grains, starchy plant-based foods, low-fat dairy and lean meat.  Still, this diet can only manage the disease without helping the individual loose the weight.  What then, I ask, are the contributing factors of the obesity epidemic?  Dr. Neal Barnard has studied and proven that a low-fat, vegan diet can promote weight loss and reverse diabetes.  Every plant-based guru agrees that the high animal fat, protein and dairy diet of our culture is the key contributor to obesity.  The standard American diet, with daily doses of sugar, fructose, high fructose and fatsets the body up for insulin resistance.

As I am compiling this post, I have received my March McDougall newsletter by e-mail.  Ironically, this issue highlights the dangers of the gluten free diet and busts the Wheat Belly best-seller.  McDougall acknowledged that Davis misrepresented studies in order to  give the wheat-free diet some weight loss appeal.  Another interesting review - without surprise - pokes holes in his "hype" about wheat (this comes from the cereal grain industry); however, the response seems well sited with references and studies. 

I am concerned about the dietary recommendations in Wheat Belly.  The list starts with vegetables and I whole heartedly agree that we should all consume unlimited quantities of plant foods.  My concern is with the instruction to generously consume oils along with meats and dairy.  The oils that we consume are primarily omega 6 fats which contribute to inflammation, heart disease, bad gut flora leading to constipation, weak immune system and cancer.  Any fat in the diet, plant or animal, slows the blood flow which starts a dangerous chain reaction of physical problems.  Eating meat raises insulin like growth factor which feeds cancer cells.  Red meat is linked to colon cancer.  Dairy is more closely linked to prostate cancer than cigarette smoking is linked with lung cancer.  Davis's recommendations fall short of a healthy diet in my opinion.  Like Wheat Belly, the low-carb, gluten free or Paleo diet appears to be a repeat of the Atkins diet.  As far as weight loss is concerned, there is often some initial loss of weight but it cannot be maintained when the extra fat consumed in the diet causes insulin resistance which then leads to further weight gain.   
This video shows current low-carb promoters holding onto some extra weight.  Author William Davis is included in the Vegsource list of over-weight low carb gurus.  Perhaps the video is a little harsh to call him "fat"; but regarding the comparison between low carb and plant-based experts, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Low Carb vs. Plant-Based by Vegsource.com

Dr. Esselstyn gives a great lecture in the following video, discussing diet and health from a medical perspective.  He confirms, from his patient studies as Director of Cardiovascular Disease and Prevention at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, that the foods which Davis allows his patients to consume are very harmful to the cardiovascular system.  Dr. Esselstyn would have done a study on cancer in the same way, but conventional methods of cancer treatment have a monopoly in the medical profession.  Metabolic diseases can be reversed if we abandon the American idea of "health" food and eat a whole food, plant based diet.

TEDxCambridge - Caldwell Esselstyn on making heart attacks history

  • Animal fat contributes to higher estrogen levels which in turn cause hormone imbalance, acne, PMS, weight gain and will feed cancer.
  • Meat is an addictive food and can contribute to food cravings, cause constipation and elevated insulin like growth factor.  People who eat a lot of red meat are 300 % more likely to develop colon cancer.
  • Dairy and cheese is also addictive, high in fat and contributes to many diseases (arthritis, Chron's, autoimmune disease, heartburn, artery disease, obesity, prostate cancer, breast cancer - just to name a few).



    1. Duly noted. His bio does not list him as a cardiologist, however, he is the Director of Cardiovascular Disease and Prevention at Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. As a surgeon, he most likely assisted in many open heart surgeries. Just a guess.