I found the New York Times Bestseller book Wheat Belly, by cardiologist Dr. William Davis to be a fascinating and, at times, frightening book. He opens with a discussion about how housewives of his mother’s generation were always so slim, despite baking all kinds of goodies, and never donning a pair of sneakers. And yet today we have tri-atheletes who burn an extraordinary amount of calories every day, eat a healthy balanced diet and are still overweight! How can that be? Genetically modified wheat, Dr. Davis says, is the culprit, and his discussion of polyploidy genetics and historical anthropology shows the many differences between today’s wheat and that of the first agrarians. Buy it on Amazon!
Since the 1980’s we have been pushed to “eat more whole grains” as part of a healthy diet. But Dr. Davis says this is the wrong message to send. Especially when wheat has a higher glycemic index than sugar, why are Americans eating wheat with every meal and in between? While I had never really thought about wheat as being the culprit behind the “fattening of America”, it now makes perfect sense to me. Dr. Davis’s motto is “lose the wheat, lose the weight.”
There is a great deal of discussion about weight, obesity and especially the visceral fat that accumulates in the abdominal region, which presents more health complications than fat accumulation in any other part of the body. But even though the title of the book is Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis does point out that wheat effects more than just weight, and he presents a litany of health complications, each with their own chapter. From the addictive properties of wheat, to celiac disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, accelerated aging, heart disease, skin conditions, and brain disorders. As Dr. Davis says “ Gluten mediated reactions have been documented to affect every organ in the human body, sparing none. Eyes, brain, sinuses, lungs, bones… you name it, gluten antibodies have been there.” This is when the book starts to become frightening.
There are some moments when the writing borders on the sensationalistic. For instance when he states that simply by removing wheat from the diet: “Diabetics can become nondiabetics, prediabetics can become nonprediabetics,” seems a little too good to be true. Certainly removing wheat from the diet can stem the chances of developing the disease in the first place, but it doesn’t seem likely that we can turn back time, at least once diabetes has developed. There have also been some concerns raised by blogger Peter Bronksi, who has celiac disease. He posits that Dr. Davis misinterpreted some of the studies that he cites, in order to make the science meet his theory. You can read Bronski’s criticisms here. I would think that Dr. Davis wouldn’t have to bend the data, and my hope is that this was just a misquote or an oversight.
At the end of the book, Dr. Davis gives you tips and even some recipes, on how to transition to a wheat-free diet. He is sure to mention that the best way to replace lost wheat calories is with real food, e.g. “not highly processed, herbicided, genetically modified, ready-to-eat, high-fructose corn syrup filled, just add water, food products…” This is a very important statement, and Dr. Davis goes on to show you how to do this with a discussion of what ingredients you can eat, some meal planning advice and even some recipes.
Sprinkled with light humor and heavy with allusions to Americana, lest you think Dr. Davis unpatriotic in his quest to rid the American diet of those amber waves of grain, this book is a captivating read, and one that will make you think twice before you reach for your next slice of toast (whole wheat or not). Even if you don’t already have a known gluten intolerance.
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