Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health

Wheat Belly is written by William Davis, MD, whose personal journey started with his consternation over his own unwanted spare tire. As his message is compatible with the starting assumptions of Suppers (that certain processed foods are inherently addictive), it seems like a good book to share with members. 

Davis notes, “I could just as easily have called this condition pretzel brain or bagel bowel or biscuit face since there is not an organ system unaffected by wheat."

Key messages of Wheat Belly include:

The glycemic index of whole wheat bread is higher than that for sugar. In Dr. Davis's understanding this means that for people concerned about their blood sugar, "healthy whole grain bread" is even more of a concern than sugar. “A snickers bar has less effect on spiking blood sugar (and no, Suppers is not recommending snickers bars). Wheat products elevate blood sugar levels more than virtually any other carbohydrate, from beans to candy bars,” owing to the rapidity with which these artificial, manipulated grains break down into glucose in the blood.

The consequences of glucose-insulin-fat deposition are especially visible in the abdomen, resulting in Wheat Belly. The bigger the belly, the poorer the response to insulin. And the surer the journey into type 2 diabetes.

Wheat today is not the grain it was decades and hundreds of years ago. Changes in the grain -- which includes proteins that no animal has ever had to digest before -- are sometimes responsible for acid reflux, irritable bowel, skin rashes, arthritis, asthma, to name a few.  It is central to many inflammatory responses.

"Wheat nearly stands alone as a food with potent central nervous system effects. Wheat is one of the few foods that can alter behavior, induce pleasurable effects, and generate a withdrawal syndrome upon its removal.”

Because wheat is acid forming, your bones have to give up minerals to buffer it, even more than with meat. So wheat consumption increases the likelihood of osteoporosis, the trade off for avoiding death from a too acidic pH. (He also notes that women who take most of their protein from plant sources have nearly zero hip fractures, so he’s not giving meat a free pass either.) 

When we hear the statistics about obesity and diabetes and all the other diagnoses and complications that follow, what is actually causing the problem?  The answer is rapid aging at the cellular level by debris in the blood made from glucose and proteins.

The agent of pathological changes associated with high blood sugar and wheat belly is a process called “glycation” and the formation of AGE’s, advanced glycation end products. Glycation is the process of changes in proteins in the blood stream and throughout the body including joints (where cells are long-lived and don’t recover). High blood sugar coupled with inflammatory activity in visceral cells and glycation (a stiffening and brittle-making action) in cartilage tissue in joints results in the painful swelling of hips, knees and hands.

AGE’s may be thought of as debris that can accumulate just about anywhere:

  • cloud the lenses of the eyes (aka cataracts)
  • clog neurological connections (dementia)
  • cause sagging skin
  • gnarl joints with arthritis
  • reduce kidney’s ability to remove waste

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We get AGEs in two ways, one by direct consumption and two by formation in the body in response especially to high blood glucose: “endogenous AGEs” (meaning your body makes them, especially when you eat modern foods like wheat and high fructose corn syrup), and “exogenous” AGE’s (occurring in meats, cheeses and especially those exposed to high temperatures and certain kinds of processing.) Experts are not in  agreement about how healthy or unhealthy meats are, and Davis says meat can be eaten, but avoid high temperature cooking like frying. He says to eat meats rare and medium, and to use water-based, not oil-based, cooking methods.

The process goes like this:

  1. You ingest foods that increase your blood glucose
  2. Overabundance of glucose molecules allows more creation of combined glucose-protein molecules (AGE’s)
  3. AGE – debris – forms clumps
  4. They go wherever glucose goes in the body (virtually everywhere), which is how one fundamental problem – high blood sugar – can be at the root of so many far flung problems
  5. They are evidenced as signs we associate with inflammation, oxidative stress, and aging: cataracts, wrinkles, arthritis, coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis, etc.

It should be noted that the complications of diabetes can be substantially reduced by managing blood sugars well. It’s the high blood sugars that accelerate the formation of these pathological glucose-protein particles. They also form in non-diabetic people and accumulate over time. The HbA1c (or A1c) lab test is used to measure blood sugars during the two to three months prior to the blood drawing. It is also a good index for glycation.

Getting back to modern wheat, it is because it triggers a rapid rise in blood sugar (remember, even faster than candy bars) that wheat -– even whole wheat -– triggers the formation of AGE faster than other carbohydrates.

Before you take Lipitor:

Understand that eating wheat increases LDL and eliminating wheat reduces it. Davis describes the confusion surrounding LDL noting that most doctors are relying on labs that calculate but don’t actually measure LDL. The equation follows:  LDL = total cholesterol minus HDL minus (triglycerides divided by 5). The 3 values on the right are measured. Confusingly, the formula can be way off and doesn’t account for the variation in size of LDL particles (with larger LDL being the safe kind and small LDL the kind that leads to deadly accumulations of plaque.)

Before you decide to take a statin, Davis says you have the option of requesting tests that actually measure the LDL and size of the particles. Davis explains that eating fatty foods does not necessarily increase triglycerides because when you eat them, the body is signaled to shut down its own production. Carbohydrate foods contain practically no triglycerides, but in triggering insulin production, they trigger fatty acid production in the liver. So high insulin triggers your liver to convert carbs to triglycerides.

Insulin is the fat storage hormone. It is the means by which bodies can accumulate energy from food during times of plenty to provide fuel for times of famine. (It is not safe to store energy in the blood; that’s diabetes. Fat is by far the safer place to store it but there are consequences.)

Davis cautions that wheat must not be replaced with other carb-rich foods that still stimulate insulin production (like typical gluten free products). To get the full benefit of going wheat free, those calories need to be replaced by vegetables, protein and fats, according to Davis.

A new crunching of the numbers presented in The China Study (the largest ever study of human nutrition) supports Davis’s view. When you pluck out the data on wheat, it is found to be the strongest positive predictor of body weight of all diet variables. It also correlates with heart disease mortality. The new view on the data was reported by a researcher who is a raw food advocate. She explained that The China Study was not wrong, just incomplete because diet-disease patterns emerged from data that was collected but not reported in the study.

Wheat affects the brain in temporary and permanent ways. The opiate effect of wheat stops when you stop eating it (which is challenging since it’s opiate). Effects on brain tissue that can lead to poor coordination, seizures and dementia may not be reversible. But when gluten is removed, the progression stops. Of people with ataxia (extreme clumsiness) about half show abnormal blood markers for gluten. 10 – 22.5% of people with celiac disease have neurological involvement. In this form of gluten intolerance, the cerebellum shrinks, leaving the person bumping into walls, perhaps incontinent, and with reduced verbal skills and memory.

If problems with memory and the way your mind works are troubling you, the easiest best way to tell if gluten is the problem is to 100% eliminate -– not one speck allowed –- for a few months. Davis says in his practice the withdrawal period is a week or so to at most four weeks.

Acne-free cultures have been shown to acquire it as soon as wheat, dairy, and sugar are introduced. With or without celiac disease, skin reactions are a common result of gluten intolerance, including herpes-like rashes, dermatitis, oral ulcers, psoriasis, and a range of sores, bumps and rashes. Many clear up on wheat elimination. Removing wheat will set you free from the cycles of hunger, scrambling for comfort, and unwanted eating. Davis says it’s easiest to go cold turkey, much as alcoholics can’t taper because the drug-like effects pull you right back into consumption. Withdrawal symptoms typically include fatigue, brain fog, sadness and irritability.

Peripheral neuropathy is a form of nerve damage in the legs often caused by poorly managed diabetes. The sufferer is unable to feel pain when cut or burned. It is associated with diminished control of blood pressure and heart rate as well as sluggish emptying of the stomach.

Dor's Personal Response

My personal experience with inflammation relates initially to heavy metal poisoning. That said, when my joint pain starts up again, there are two things I do to tame it back again. One is getting back to a gluten-free, clean, green, cooling diet and two is to insist on good habits around sleeping, which is also anti-inflammatory. The biggest benefit for me personally is mental and physical energy. Off wheat, I don’t get tired until it’s time to sleep.

Suppers recipes do not include gluten grains for two reasons. One, we avoid highly processed foods, including milled grains, and use natural whole foods that stabilize blood sguar. And two, we're teaching food preparation from single whole, fresh ingredients that are less likely to trigger addictive behavior.  

Dor’s Favorite Recipe from Wheat Belly: Flax Wraps

3 TBS ground flax seeds
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp paprika
pinch of sea salt
1 TBS coconut oil, melted
1 TBS water
1 large egg
a little more oil to grease the plate

Mix the ground flax seeds, baking powder, onion powder, paprika, and salt in a bowl. Stir in 1 TBS coconut oil. Beat in the egg and water until blended.

Grease a mircrowave safe plate or pie pan. Pour in the batter and tilt around to spread evenly. Microwave 2–3 minutes on high, until cooked. Let stand 5 minutes. It should slide right off.

Flip and top with ingredients such as chili or sliced meats and avocado slices. We filled the wrap with a no-bean chili made of zucchini, onions, peppers, mushrooms and ground turkey, and offered parmesan cheese to those who wanted it.