“One of the most impactful nutrition-based books of modern times.”—David Perlmutter, MD, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Grain Brain
First published in 2011, Wheat Belly introduced the world to the hidden dangers of modern wheat and gluten, revolutionizing the conversation around health and weight loss forever. Nearly a decade later, Dr. William Davis’s provocative indictment of the dominant staple in our diet continues to inspire countless people to “lose the wheat.”
After witnessing thousands of patients regain their health after giving up wheat, Davis reached the disturbing conclusion that wheat is the single largest contributor to the nationwide obesity epidemic—and its elimination is key to drastic weight loss and optimal health. In Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis provides readers with a user-friendly, step-by-step plan to navigate a new wheat-free lifestyle. Now updated with refreshed recipes, new program guidelines, and cutting-edge nutritional findings, Wheat Belly is an illuminating look at what truly is making Americans sick and an action plan to clear our plates of this harmful ingredient.
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WHEAT: THE UNHEALTHY WHOLE GRAIN
The scientific physician welcomes the establishment of a standard loaf of bread made according to the best scientific evidence. . . . Such a product can be included in diets both for the sick and for the well with a clear understanding of the effect that it may have on digestion and growth.
—Morris Fishbein, MD, editor, Journal of the American Medical Association, 1932
IN CENTURIES PAST, a prominent belly was the domain of the privileged, a mark of wealth and success, a symbol of not having to clean your own stables or plow your own field. In this century, you don’t have to plow your own field. Today, obesity has been democratized: Everybody can have a big belly. Your dad called his rudimentary mid-twentieth-century equivalent a beer belly. But what are soccer moms, kids, and half of your friends and neighbors who don’t drink beer doing with a beer belly?
I call it “wheat belly,” though I could have just as easily called this condition pretzel brain or bagel bowel or biscuit face since there’s not an organ system unaffected by wheat. But wheat’s impact on the waistline is its most visible and defining characteristic, an outward expression of the grotesque distortions humans experience with consumption of this grain.
A wheat belly represents the accumulation of fat that results from years of consuming foods that trigger insulin, the hormone of fat storage. While some people store fat in their buttocks and thighs, most people collect ungainly fat around the middle. This “central” or “visceral” fat is unique: Unlike fat in other body areas, it provokes inflammatory phenomena, distorts insulin responses, and issues abnormal metabolic signals to the rest of the body. In the unwitting wheat-bellied male, visceral fat also produces estrogen, creating “man breasts.”
The consequences of wheat consumption, however, are not just manifested on the body’s surface; wheat can also reach deep down into virtually every organ of the body, from the intestines, liver, heart, and thyroid gland all the way up to the brain. In fact, there’s hardly an organ that is notaffected by wheat in some potentially damaging way.
PANTING AND SWEATING IN THE HEARTLAND
I practice cardiology in Milwaukee. Like many other midwestern cities, Milwaukee is a good place to live and raise a family. City services work pretty well, the libraries are first-rate, my kids go to quality public schools, and the population is just large enough to enjoy big-city culture, such as an excellent symphony and art museum. The people living here are a fairly friendly bunch. But . . . they’re fat.
I don’t mean a little bit fat. I mean really, really fat. I mean panting-and-sweating-after-one-flight-of-stairs fat. I mean 240-pound eighteen-year-old women, SUVs tipped sharply to the driver’s side, double-wide wheelchairs, hospital equipment unable to accommodate patients who tip the scales at 350 pounds or more. (Not only can’t they fit into the CT scanner or other imaging device, you wouldn’t be able to see anything even if they could. It’s like trying to determine whether the image in the murky ocean water is a flounder or a shark.)
Once upon a time, an individual weighing 250 pounds or more was a rarity; today it’s a common sight among the men and women walking the mall, as humdrum as selling jeans at the Gap. Retired people are overweight or obese, as are middle-aged adults, young adults, teenagers, even children. White-collar workers are fat, blue-collar workers are fat. The sedentary are fat and so are athletes. White people are fat, black people are fat, Hispanics are fat, Asians are fat. Carnivores are fat, vegetarians are fat. Americans are plagued by obesity on a scale never before seen in the human experience. No demographic has escaped the weight gain crisis.
Ask the USDA or the Surgeon General’s office and they will tell you that Americans are fat because they drink too many soft drinks, eat too many potato chips, drink too much beer, and don’t exercise enough. And those things may indeed be true. But that’s hardly the whole story.
Many overweight people, in fact, are quite health conscious. Ask anyone tipping the scales over 250 pounds: What do you think happened to allow such incredible weight gain? You may be surprised at how many do not say “I drink Big Gulps, eat Pop Tarts, and watch TV all day.” Most will say something like “I don’t get it. I exercise five days a week. I’ve cut my fat and increased my healthy whole grains. Yet I can’t seem to stop gaining weight!”
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
The national trend to reduce fat and cholesterol intake and increase carbohydrate calories has created a peculiar situation in which products made from wheat have not just increased their presence in our diets; they have come to dominate our diets. For most Americans, every single meal and snack contains foods made with wheat flour. It might be the main course, it might be the side dish, it might be the dessert—and it’s probably all of them.
Wheat has become the national icon of health: “Eat more healthy whole grains,” we’re told, and the food industry happily jumped on board, creating “heart healthy” versions of all our favorite wheat products chock-full of whole grains.
The sad truth is that the proliferation of wheat products in the American diet parallels the expansion of our waists. Advice to cut fat and cholesterol intake and replace the calories with whole grains that was issued by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute through its National Cholesterol Education Program in 1985 coincides precisely with the start of a sharp upward climb in body weight for men and women. Ironically, 1985 also marks the year when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) began tracking body weight statistics, tidily documenting the explosion in obesity and diabetes that began that very year.
Of all the grains in the human diet, why only pick on wheat? Because wheat, by a considerable margin, is the dominant source of gluten protein in the human diet. Unless they’re Euell Gibbons, most people don't eat much rye, barley, spelt, triticale, bulgur, kamut, or other less common gluten sources; wheat consumption overshadows consumption of most other grains by more than a hundred to one. Wheat also has unique attributes those other grains do not, attributes that make it especially destructive to our health, which I will cover in later chapters. And it’s not just about gluten—modern wheat is an impressive collection of dozens of dietary toxins. Once you come to appreciate just how toxic many of the components of modern wheat truly are, you will be amazed that most people even survive its consumption. While I mostly focus on wheat, the worst offender, I will also discuss how and why other grains that are, after all, genetic cousins, will not be left off the hook, either. Grains—really just seeds of grasses—are also uncommonly promiscuous, readily sharing genes across species. It means that, although wheat is the worst, genetically related grasses like rye, oats, or corn are not blameless.
The health impact of Triticum aestivum, common bread wheat, and its genetic brethren ranges far and wide, with curious effects from mouth to anus, brain to pancreas, Appalachian housewife to Wall Street arbitrageur. But recognize that this food, blessed by virtually all who provide dietary advice, star of nutritionally bankrupt “healthy whole grains,” lies at the foundation of struggles with weight, visceral fat, and, oh, just a few hundred common health conditions, and you will be on your way to undoing the entire mess.
If it sounds crazy, bear with me. I make these claims with a clear, wheat-free conscience.
Like most children of my generation, born in the middle of the twentieth century and reared on Wonder Bread and Devil Dogs, I have a long and close personal relationship with wheat. My sisters and I were veritable connoisseurs of breakfast cereal, making our own individual blends of Trix, Lucky Charms, and Froot Loops and eagerly drinking the sweet, pastel-hued milk that remained at the bottom of the bowl. The Great American Processed Food Experience didn’t end at breakfast, of course. For school lunch my mom usually packed peanut butter or bologna sandwiches, the prelude to cellophane-wrapped Ho Hos and Scooter Pies. Sometimes she would throw in a few Oreos or Vienna Fingers, too. For supper, we loved the TV dinners that came packaged in their own foil plates, allowing us to consume our battered chicken, corn muffin, and apple brown betty while watching Get Smart.
My first year of college, armed with an all-you-can-eat dining room ticket, I gorged on waffles and pancakes for breakfast, fettuccine Alfredo for lunch, pasta with Italian bread for dinner. Poppy seed muffin or angel food cake for dessert? You bet! Not only did I gain a hefty spare tire around the middle at age nineteen (my version of the “freshman fifteen”), I felt exhausted all the time. For the next twenty years, I battled this effect, drinking gallons of coffee, struggling to shake off the pervasive stupor that persisted no matter how many hours I slept each night.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Wheat: The Unhealthy Whole Grain
Chapter 1 What Belly? 3
Chapter 2 Not Your Grandma's Muffins: The Creation of Modern Wheat 12
Chapter 3 Wheat Deconstructed 31
Part 2 Wheat and its Head-to-Toe Destruction of Health
Chapter 4 Hey, Man, Wanna Buy Some Exorphins? The Addictive Properties of Wheat 43
Chapter 5 Your Wheat Belly Is Showing: The Wheat/Obesity Connection 55
Chapter 6 Hello, Intestine. It's Me, Wheat. Wheat and Celiac Disease 74
Chapter 7 Diabetes Nation: Wheat and Insulin Resistance 95
Chapter 8 Dropping Acid: Wheat as the Great pH Disrupter 116
Chapter 9 Cataracts, Wrinkles, and Dowager's Humps: Wheat and the Aging Process 130
Chapter 10 My Particles Are Bigger Than Yours: Wheat and Heart Disease 146
Chapter 11 It's All in Your Head: Wheat and the Brain 166
Chapter 12 Bagel Face: Wheat's Destructive Effect on the Skin 176
Part 3 Say Goodbye to Wheat
Chapter 13 Goodbye, Wheat: Create a Healthy, Delicious, Wheat-Free Life 191
Appendix A Looking for Wheat in All the Wrong Places 229
Appendix B Healthy Wheat Belly-Shrinking Recipes 238