Its central message is that wheat, as we know it today, has been ‘hybridised’ and genetically modified to the point that it is almost a completely different food than it was during our grandparents’ generation.
The author, William Davis, is an American cardiologist who has become convinced of the health benefits of not eating wheat through years of experience in his cardiology practice.
Davis convincingly unpacks an argument along the lines that while the ‘big business’ funded food industry is continuing to market ‘whole grain’ foods as the most nutritious dietary staple, wheat is the major contributor to obesity and digestive health complaints.
More alarmingly, the health implications extend far beyond swelling waistlines and coeliac disease.
Davis makes the case for wheat being our dietary problem child with the following key arguments:
Wheat is everywhere.
- In the western world it’s hard to find a meal that isn’t based around wheat as the staple carbohydrate – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Basically we eat too much of it.
Gluten is hard on our bodies.
- Wheat is the dominant source of gluten protein in the human diet. ‘Modern’ wheat has been modified significantly over the second half of the 20th Century so that it grows more quickly, is shorter and easier to harvest, drought and pest resistant and softer so that it’s more ‘pliable’ and can be used with more diversity in cooking. These changes have modified the wheat on a chromosomal level so that there are more and different gluten proteins present in the wheat than existed 40 or 50 years ago. 42 chromosome Triticum aestivum – ‘modern wheat’ – has the greatest gluten variety of all the strains.
- Gluten isn’t the only potential culprit. Other proteins and enzymes have been added to wheat to serve particular functions, and have similarly complex implications for human health. However these are difficult to identify and isolate, so eliminating wheat based food usually means eliminating gluten and the full range of other proteins and enzymes at the same time.
- The health implications of wheat go far beyond the better known and debilitating coeliac disease, to include:
- skin irritations like eczema
- higher incidence of cancers and other chronic illness
- diabetes and obesity (obviously)
Wheat has the highest impact on blood sugar.
- Amylopectin A, the type of carbohydrate found in wheat is different to that found in other carbohydrate foods like potatoes, beans or fruit. It is the easiest to digest and therefore most ‘enthusiastically’ increases blood sugar.
- ‘Whole wheat’ bread (the supposedly healthy type), has a glycaemic index (GI) of 72, which increases blood sugar more than table sugar, with a GI of 52. Raised blood sugar prompts the release of insulin which converts the sugar into glucose to store in fat cells. The higher the GI, the more insulin is required, and the more fat cells are stored. Hence, wheat belly. Keeping blood sugar steady by avoiding high-GI foods is the primary goal for diabetics and people with insulin resistance.
- As Davis writes, “eating a three egg omelette that triggers no increase in glucose does not add to body fat, while two slices of whole-wheat toast increases blood glucose to a high level, triggering insulin and growth of fat, particularly abdominal or deep visceral fat”. The bigger your wheat belly, the poorer your response to insulin and the greater the likelihood of developing insulin resistance or diabetes.
Wheat has addictive properties.
- When wheat is consumed, exorphins – short for ‘exogenous morphine-like compounds’ are released. When people say they’re ‘addicted’ to bread, in some senses they are, as these exorphins have the same impact of producing a ‘high’ regardless if they come from food or drugs.
I’m not going to repeat all of Davis’ science or arguments here – that’s for him to do – however the book appears to be meticulously researched, clearly explained, and is full of anecdotal success stories from his clinical practice that have this reviewer convinced to try harder to eliminate wheat from her diet!
My own personal experience of years of insulin resistance is that I feel infinitely better when I avoid wheat. Toast for breakfast is a guaranteed way to set myself up for a day of cycling between high and low blood sugar, and the poor food choices that inevitably follow.
Wheat Belly is available in kindle format as well as paperback via Amazon, and I highly recommend it!