Here we go again. Just when it seemed like the low-carb craze was finally over, a new book called Wheat Belly comes along. While the book looks like a critique of modern day wheat and its impact on our health, it’s simply yet another book that bashes carbs of all sorts – it just comes at it from a disguised perspective. It’s all dressed up in science claiming that today’s wheat is the cause of all that ails us – from obesity and diabetes to even the delusions of schizophrenia. But it’s all about carbs – make no mistake about it.
There have been plenty of physicians in the past who have extolled the benefits of a low-carb lifestyle: Stillman, Montignac, Dukan and the late Dr. Robert Atkins. Now add William Davis, MD, author of Wheat Belly and a preventative cardiologist, who believes that eliminating all wheat will rid us of wheat bellies, bulging thighs, bagel butts and double chins. He also states that eliminating wheat has been the cure for some people, saving them from drastic colon surgery or allowing others who are incapacitated and crippled with pain to walk.
Are you sceptical yet? If not, you should be. If achieving good health were only that simple.
While Davis does present plenty of scientific research in the book, the problem is that much of it is not really directly linked to consuming wheat and its consequences per se. Many of the dire outcomes are really those associated with diseases, such as celiac disease and diabetes, where they remain undiagnosed or where treatment plans may not be followed.
But first, his attacks on wheat. There are dozens and dozens of pages devoted to how wheat has changed over the years due to it being hybridized. I have no argument here in how he says that wheat has changed, but the all-encompassing impact of this hybridization on our health is another story.
Davis writes of “wheat addiction” and its ability to “affect the central nervous system as much as nicotine and crack cocaine do.”
His observations about the so-called dangers of eating wheat followed his college years during which time he “gorged on waffles and pancakes for breakfast, fettuccini Alfredo for lunch, pasta with bread for dinner.” Poppy seed muffin or angel cake followed for dessert. His subsequent spare tire around the middle, feeling exhausted and an inability to shake off the pervasive stupor persisted no matter how much he slept.
Is there any surprise that he felt lousy? His meal pattern doesn’t even resemble anything that comes close to healthy eating. To then blame it on hybridized wheat is almost laughable. Yet when you pack the pages with plenty of science – much of which the average person couldn’t or wouldn’t even begin to sort through – many buy into the concept.
It’s especially true during this era of gluten phobia. There’s no doubt that for those with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, avoiding wheat and other gluten-containing foods is key to good health. But to promote the evils of wheat, in any amount, for the average person, even one who is overweight, simply goes against the scientific evidence.
The book points to the effects of wheat on blood sugar readings, particularly University of Toronto research which shows that whole wheat is digested and enters into the blood stream more quickly than a chocolate bar. This can lead to a rollercoaster effect on blood sugar readings. As a result, Davis writes, eating an English muffin breakfast at 9 a.m. is followed by mental fog, fatigue and shakiness at 11 a.m. These blood sugar fluctuations can stimulate appetite and cause weight gain.
Well, if you ask any nutrition professionals, they will tell you that eating this kind of unbalanced breakfast – all quickly digested carbs and no protein – is a recipe for overeating. Throw in an egg and the entire picture changes.
Portion sizes of various wheat choices also play a role. Dr. David Jenkins, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc. of the University of Toronto, a world renowned researcher whose group developed the glycemic index, the measure of how fast a food enters the bloodstream as sugar, states, “You can have too much of a good thing.” He adds, “I do not believe it is the bread, if whole grain, that is the problem but our overall excess consumption and lack of exercise.”
Davis devotes an entire chapter to the dangers of wheat and advanced glycation end products. These compounds, or toxins, known as AGEs have been linked as culprits in the development of diabetes, heart disease and stroke, kidney disease and even Alzheimer’s. For those with diabetes, high blood sugar levels can make the levels of these compounds soar. Not surprisingly, controlling blood sugar readings for those with diabetes is critical to preventing high AGEs count and the complication of disease.
But what does this have to do with the average person? Top researchers in the field of AGEs and their toxic effects are indeed sounding the alarm bells, but they’re concerned about the common dietary sources for the average person: grilled, fried and high temperature cooked foods – burgers and fried chicken, for example.
Wheat is not one of the offenders they warn against.
In case the beginning of the book doesn’t make you swear off wheat, Davis then outlines a long list of the other supposed ravages of wheat from osteoporosis and cataracts to skin changes (what he calls bagel face) and hair loss.
Give me a break.
After laying out the case against wheat, the author then describes his vision of a healthy diet. And this is when the disguise comes off. He suggests only small, one half cup servings of gluten-free grains such as quinoa and buckwheat. He limits nutrition superstars like legumes to one half cup portions. Fruit is allowed but he suggests that small servings of “eight to ten blueberries, two strawberries, a few wedges of apple or orange are fine”. When it comes to meat, “eat what your body tells you to eat” is the prescribed portion.