This is quite a remarkable discussion of wheat in the modern diet. As a non-wheat eater I would probably have not read it so soon if not given a copy by a friend who said I needed to read it — she was right!
Wheat Belly discusses the correlation between the onset of obesity in the western world and the evolution of modern wheat strains, suggesting that beyond correlation there is causation. Dr. Davis describes his experience in helping people achieve major weight loss solely by strictly removing their consumption of wheat in their diet. Did you know that wheat pumps more sugar into your blood than pure sugar (a higher glycemic index)?
Dr. Davis supports his argument in several ways:
- he traces the evolution of wheat in the human diet from prehistoric times
- he provides extensive references to the research literature on the effects of wheat (and particularly gluten) in the diet
- he discusses the all pervasive impact of wheat in the processed food industry leading to the presence of wheat in almost all processed foods and other items (such as the glue on envelopes and stamps)
- he includes menus and recipes for a wheat free diet
Beyond this Dr. Davis also provides a wealth of information related to the damages that can be caused by gluten (a major component of wheat) on those who have gluten sensitivity (as he and I both do). The presentation is well documented with over 300 references. In addition Dr. Davis draws on his own long experience of treating various conditions by removing wheat from the diet, providing such results in various case presentations thorughout the book.
Much of the book relates to a discussion of wheat consumption and obesity. Obesity is a ‘hot’ topic in this age of an obesity epidemic and in this portion of the book Dr. Davis provides an argument that wheat consumption in particular leads to visceral fat accumulation — ‘wheat belly’. Visceral fat is further vilified as it becomes, in fact, another organ of the body which in particular generates excessive hormones and in particular estrogen. These hormones lead to secondary side effects which are not good. I have not eaten wheat since about 2002 when I realized that I had problems with gluten and switched to a gluten free diet. I cannot attest to the weight loss aspects of the argument, but can comment on the visceral fat. After ten years on a gluten free diet I still had about 20 pounds of visceral fat — fat which I lost when I removed from my diet animal protein as recommended by Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. in his book “How to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”.
The discussion of the evolution of wheat as a grain is fascinating. Dr. Davis traces the evolution from the early version, einkorn, through emmer wheat to our modern wheat. These wheats differ significantly in their genetic makeup. Einkorn is a 14 chromosome plant. Emmer, obtained by combining einkorn with goatgrass is a 28 chromosome plant. Modern wheat has 42 chromosomes. In recent times, particularly in the past 30 to 50 years plant geneticists have substantially modified and tailored the wheats that are being produced to maximum crop yields and to tailor wheats for specific baking and nutritional characteristics. (I am old enough to remember walking in wheat fields where the wheat was four foot high — not any more!) This evolution of wheat is producing larger numbers of gluten varieties — varieties to which the human body is not necessarily adapted. It is likely that this presentation has led to the increased interest in the media on ‘heirloom grains’ (see a Wall Street Journal Article). Dr. Davis emphasizes that all of this evolution by the plant geneticists is uncontrolled and untested as regards the impact on the human body. He further states that this process is what has led to the obesity epidemic of modern times. He further illustrates this record with a description of the different reactions his body had to 4 ounces of einkorn bread as opposed to 4 ounces of organic whole wheat bread (which, as a gluten sensitive person he does not normally eat). The einkorn was easily digested by his body with no adverse side effects. After eating wheat it took a full day and a half to recover, in the meantime enduring nausea, inability to do normal mental activities and difficulty sleeping.
Dr. Davis lists an incredible number of ailments that he has successfully treated by removing wheat (and particularly gluten) from the diet. These include:celiac disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, liver disease, autoimmune diseases, insulin-dependent diabetes, neurological impairment, nutritional deficiencies, oral ulcers, cutaneous vasculitis, acanthosis nigricans, erythema nodosum, psoriasis, vitiglio, Behcet’s disease, dermatomyositis, icthyosiform dermatosis, pyoderma gangrenosum. . . This exposition is indeed more than half of the book. It is an incredible eye-opener. Although diagnosed celiac disease (the condition most people associate with gluten problems) only affect about 1% of the population, when one adds these other conditions and obesity one is considering more than a third of the population! Reading this part of the book was particularly interesting to me as a long time sufferer. The manifestations of the damage done to bodies are very varied and, in part, certainly validate an assertion that we are all different. Will depriving yourself of wheat/gluten get rid of an ailment that you suffer from? The easiest, lest expensive test is just to go ahead and try. If it will make a difference you will know within a month — possibly in much less time. I realized a benefit in only 4 days and many others have similar success. A month will very likely allow you to experience significant weight loss if that is your objective.
Gluten is everywhere in our modern food industry. That said, it can be avoided. The easiest advice is stay away from the center aisles in the supermarket. And the baking section. Beware of the deli section and any processed meats. Stick to fresh fruits and vegetables and unprocessed meats if you eat them. Dr. Davis gives detailed instructions.
Yes, you can survive on a wheat free diet. Many people do. Many supermarkets have gluten free sections now and there are many suppliers on the internet who will ship their products to you. And you can cook your own meals to be sure of success. The menus and recipes in Wheat Belly will get you started.
This book is well worth reading. I personally believe that everyone should experiment with a wheat/gluten free diet for a month. If you do not see a benefit you will not have been too deprived. If you do receive a benefit it will be hard for you to go back to wheat.