Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Confused Day Tuesday: Do You Have a Wheat Belly?

Source: iStockPhoto

Before I start this post, I'll be honest, I haven't read the book Wheat Belly (written by William Davis, MD). To be fair I did try to read it, I just couldn't get into it because it angered me too much.  And, this post is not a review of the book, instead it's really an insight on my thoughts about the entire "wheat-free" craze.  I suppose Dr. Davis is the scapegoat here, but I'm just trying to give my honest opinion on the idea that "wheat free is the way to be!"

Let's go back a few months ago..... after talking to several people who purchased the book in hopes of "losing their belly fat" and who months later felt dissapointed because their "belly fat was still there", I figured the book warranted a good blog post.  Having been on a 90% wheat-free diet myself for the past 4 years (low FODMAPs), I can assure you that the size of my own belly has not changed.  In fact, I put on 10 pounds after giving up wheat, because with an intolerance to foods (such as wheat, and many others for me) many people do not absorb healthful nutrients, thus they lose weight.  Once I eliminated my intolerances (wheat being only one of them) I started absorbing more nutrients, feeling energized, and putting on weight.  It was a very good thing.

I digress, my interest in this book really began when a friend of mine started reading the book in hopes of (as I said above) losing her "belly fat".  She explained to me how the book said something along the lines of;

"Your blood sugar will actually go higher from eating two pieces of wheat bread than having six teaspoons of sugar, the higher your blood sugars go, the more fat-storing hormone you are going to send out." ( Source)

My interest was peaked.  I did some research and found out that was absolutely true.   A few weeks later I tried reading the book but soon gave up (although I used it as a resource when writing this post).  Then, I was sent this article, and posted it on Twitter to hear what people had to say.  I got a great response from @Fache79 (check out her blog!), a soon-to-be-dietitian in Canada, who writes for the Dietitians of Canada's Student Network.

I read every word of the great book review she sent me.  As detective and "Dietitian-in-Training" Marianne (and her Registered Dietitian colleagues who also helped write the review) found out there was a lot to learn when reading between the lines of Davis' book.   Here is a snapshot of what Marianne and her colleagues had to say (including some of my opinions on the topic).

1)  The statement that seems to stick out in most people's minds is the one about how wheat has a higher glycemic index than sugar (sucrose).  Having a higher glycemic index means that wheat will spike your blood sugar faster than sugar. And yes, insulin is the "fat storing hormone".  It might seem surprising that wheat bread (and even whole wheat bread) has a high glycemic index (70 or above is considered high), and that it's actually higher than sugar.

Source: NutritionData.com
Glycemic Indexes are on the left, and the Glycemic Loads are on the far right

But when you look at wheat bread's glycemic load (a more accurate depiction of the effect a food will have on your blood sugar and insulin levels, because it takes into account the actual amount of carbohydrate consumed) you will see it is low (10 or below is considered low).  The real issue I have is that so many other foods have much higher glycemic loads ; Baked Potatoes, White Rice, Brown Rice, and even Yogurt! 

Source: iStockPhoto

2)  The author of this book provides a lot of evidence that wheat is a villain, but as Marianne pointed out in her review of the book (and as I noted as I perused Davis' pages of references) many of the studies are repeated throughout his long list of references, making it look like he has more evidence than he really does.  And of course, more importantly, a lot of the information he provides as "evidence" of his claims are simply not true when you actually look at the research articles (which is something that Marianne did), or is taken from poorly done research (much of which is Davis' own research. Fancy that).

3)  If you look at the sources provided in the reference section of Davis' book, you might notice that while he seems to be putting all the blame on wheat, the bulk of his research was done on the positive effect of "carbohydrate-controlled diets", in other words "low-carb diets".  Yes, low-carb diets can really work for some people, but does "low-carb" mean "wheat-free"?  NO!

These are WHEAT FREE donuts (pretend).  Is this guy saying I can eat these instead of the original wheat-loaded donuts, and I'll get rid of my belly?!  Nice!
HA, no wonder this book is so popular

I think Dr. Davis (the author) said it best when he said; 

"Wheat belly is not a diet, it's an articulation of an explosive and large problem in the American style of eating."( Source)

 I do agree with this statement.  Americans are eating too many carbohydrates, from all sources, and yes, a majority of those sources do seem to be from wheat.  If we could just eat a normal amount of carbohydrates and wheat/grain products, most of us would be ok (meet with a local dietitian to find out a good personal recommendation).  If we could reduce our sugars and grains a bit (ok, for most people, a lot!), eat more fruits, vegetables, and legumes, get some quality protein at each meal, most of us wouldn't have a problem.  But to blame wheat and gluten for our issues is just crazy.  Have you seen the sugar content in some of the most popular gluten and wheat free foods these days?  Check it out, they are often higher than their original, wheat-loaded versions.  If you read the book keep in mind that any weight loss from going "Wheat-Free" (or gluten-free) when it's not medically necessary is most likely the result of being more mindful about what you eat, and having to pass on all the pre-meal restaurant bread sticks, chips, and italian bread and butter.  And, per Marianne, Davis was right in suggesting a less refined and processed diet, and a more whole foods-based diet. So, if that's the moral of the story. I agree, AMEN!

I'm open to the idea that my views may be changed in the future.  Absolutely.  If more evidence comes out that says wheat and gluten are as bad as is indicated in this book (for everyone, not just those who medically need to avoid them), I can accept that.  I don't know everything.  Until then, I don't feel bad serving whole grain breads to my husband, or recommending them to my clients.

QUESTION:  Have you read Wheat Belly?  What are your thoughts?

Thanks for reading!

The Candid Rd
NOTE: I love comments!  But, be sure to come back to read any replies to questions or comments, as they do not go directly to your e-mail.


  1. I agree that wheat itself is not a problem when is consumed with moderation. It's just another fad diet. I just don't get it. Why these fad diet books still get published? Wht people can't just do the simplest and most effective thing? Eat a balanced diet and move!!!

  2. I have not read this book but have heard about it. I have read other books though about going grain free. I will admit that it's pretty interesting but like you said as a society, it's always too much of everything! I think we DO eat WAY too much wheat products (even whole grains) and believe that if we all cut back on the amount of wheat products we ate we would be healthier bc that would mean more room for produce!!

  3. I couldn't agree more!! It drives me crazy!
    I read a review of it in Cereal Foods World Magazine; here's the link: http://www.aaccnet.org/publications/plexus/cfw/pastissues/2012/Pages/2012JulAug.aspx
    By the way, I like your new posting schedule :)

  4. I will say, the only thing Davis gets correct in the book (in my opinion), is he does advocate for people to eat a less processed, real food diet. He doesn't recommend people eat "gluten free" processed products, because they do in fact have a huge impact on blood sugars.

    Thanks for all the mentions - I'm glad you liked our articles! Shout outs to my cowriters Kim and Melissa (check out Melissa's blog: http://apronstringsandhealthythings.wordpress.com/). One minor correction though - my twitter name is @fache79 :)

    1. Oh shoot, I'll make that correction. Thanks Marianne! Where did I get that?!

  5. Eliminating wheat improves digestive health greatly, and reduces appetite owing to the gliadin protein found in wheat. This, coupled with a low-carb lifestyle, is the magic of Wheat Belly. Eliminating wheat turns off that "hunger switch" and makes low-carbing easy as pie - or avoiding pie, lol. I lost 55lbs following WB, and the weight has stayed off a year now. Record weight loss for me, and record at keeping it off, with virtually no effort. Call it what you will, but WB is changing the lives of thousands. And no gluten, no lectins - health markers are greatly improved, along with the waistline.

  6. "I tried reading the book and gave up after just a few pages" translation, "I'm just so darn lazy but I'll try and ride the wave of WB popularity just by talking about it".

    1. Ouch. I wouldn't call it laziness. But, I appreciate your opinion. Thanks for stopping by!

    2. I just don't think you start an argument against someone's work by saying you've never even read it. Two reasons "modern semi-dwarf" wheat is for no one; amylopectin-A and gliadin. Of course gluten is bad too. We could also discuss the gut damaging effects.

      If you do some research into the Egyptians (just one example), you will see that they lived on a diet biased toward carbs (wheat primarily) and they were riddled with disease (crawling with parasites, had dental caries and even a fair amount of arthritis, blood-vessel disease was common, contrary to assumptions that it rises from urban stress and a modern high-fat diet). Plenty of references out there. You just need to see beyond what you've been "taught". If you haven't read it, then I suggest you read Gary Taubes' Good Calories Bad Calories (or the condensed Whey We Get Fat). Nutrition science is anything but actual science.

      Someone posted this today and it's spot on, "During a lecture at Cal Tech, he [Michael Crichton] said, “Let’s be clear: The work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right. … The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.”

      The medical community has always been subject to “group-think,” but in recent decades we have become the leaders. Numerous physician-scientists have been ostracized, defrocked, de-licensed and in some cases driven to self-destruction by a medical community that has embraced consensus in science.

      In essence, “We don’t care about your data; we all agree you are wrong."

      Read more at http://www.wnd.com/2012/12/feds-keeping-people-sick-the-vitamin-d-story/#8DmAbDqVigEK1pWu.99 http://www.wnd.com/2012/12/feds-keeping-people-sick-the-vitamin-d-story/

  7. My wife and I have lost almost 100 pounds between us - mostly belly fat - since adopting the Wheat Belly diet. However, the weight loss is just the tip of the iceberg and, for us, a beneficial side effect. The greater benefits, by far, have been the elimination of so many other issues with our health.

    - our cholesterol numbers are perfect, eliminating the need for statin drugs
    - we are no longer diabetic (type 2), eliminating those drugs
    - my rosacea has gone away
    - my proctitis has healed
    - joint pains, which we attributed to "just getting older" have disappeared
    - our energy levels are much higher
    - our mental processes have improved considerably
    - my sleep apnea has gone away
    - our skin has become soft and supple again
    - our hair has thickened and some of the color has come back
    - our dental hygienist has commented on the lesser buildup of plaque/tartar
    - the constant thoughts of food all day long have disappeared
    - increased muscle and strength

    Also, our weekly food budget has decreased by 35%, even though we are eating more expensive meats and cheeses. Our gas consumption is down as we make fewer shopping trips and we are spending far less on over the counter and prescription drugs.

    1. Noel, thank you SO Much for your comment. I absolutely believe that some people will benefit from a wheat free diet (heck, I'm one of them!) but the point I was trying to make is that giving up wheat is not for everyone, and will not provide the same benefits for everyone. I think, similar to gluten free diets (that aren't medically necessary) giving up wheat will definitely lower your intake of mindless munchies, because you have to be more thoughtful/mindful about what oyu eat, which is what MANY Americans need to work on in order to be healthier. So, indirectly this diet could help for many, but to demonize wheat isn't the best idea, in my opinion. But, like you indicate, it could certainly be beneficial for some.
      I appreciate your comment, and am happy for your success!!

    2. Of course, since you haven't read the book, you are unaware of the insidious qualities of wheat, apart from the gluten issue. The most destructive aspect of it is the continued hybridization to increase the gliadin protein, which attaches to the opiate receptors in the brain. Even though it's effect is minor, as it wears off you start to crave more food. In other words, you have an increased appetite, the effect of which causes people to consume, on average, approximately 440 more calories per day. This is probably why wheat gliadin is included in so many foods - condiments, french fries, potato chips and many more. What is it doing there? Increasing your consumption.

      Completely remove the wheat from your diet and those cravings disappear and you stop overeating. Very simple.

      Also, the phytic acid in whole wheat chelates vital minerals from your body - iron, zinc, calcium, magnesium and more. Is it any wonder that we've become a nation of supplement consumers?

    3. I'm actually completely aware of this, I have the book, I've read this section (note from my post, I did read parts of the book, just not all). I would argue that any carbohydrates will increase your insulin, thus make you hungry, which is why low-carb diets work so well.

      Many foods contains phytates, not just wheat. Again, eating the correct amount of grains is the goal, but Americans are eating way too much. I don't care what kind of grain it is, we are eating too many.

    4. One last post on a couple of issues...

      I noticed that you follow the low FODMAPs diet plan, somewhat. If you completely gave up grains, your IBS would go away. Grains are the main culprit, when it comes to bowel issues, as humans do not possess the multiple stomachs required to convert grains into fatty acids. Grains are for ruminants.

      Yes, many foods contain phytates and they all should be avoided, or severely restricted in your diet.

      When I speak of gliadin causing cravings, I'm not talking about the hunger caused by insulin, I'm talking about the addictive nature of the gliadin causing food obsessions and cravings, similar to opium addicts needing drugs. It's not about hunger. You can be completely full and still be prompted to overeat, via the gliadin. Remove it from your diet and normal hunger/satiety signals prevail.

      As an RD, I think you should get ahead of the game, as I believe wheat will be the new tobacco. We're going to find out that the food industry has been well aware of the qualities of gliadin and have been purposefully "spiking" many popular food items with it. It will only take one whistle-blower.

  8. I agree about fad diets,.. generally just stupid affectations to sell books. What Dr. Davis has discovered, however, is not at all in that category. Wheat (and any other grain-based food) is harmful. Do a little basic research (not article/editorial perusing) and it is quite well documented that grains cause all sorts of problems, especially wheat. Humankind became afflicted with a massive increase in arthritis, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc. just after the discovery and widespread usage of grains maybe 8,000 years ago. Wheat was the major instigator of all those maladies. It is still the primary cause of those maladies. I know of no one who has not had significant "malady-removal" once they spent a month or two wheat/grain/sugar/highcarb free. Every single person I have been able to convince to try this for a couple of months has had startling improvements in all kinds of ways. Here is my list: http://i258.photobucket.com/albums/hh253/Gyrobob_theOriginal/Healthy%20Stuff/Wheatfreeresults02d.jpg

    1. I will take a loot at this, thanks!
      I agree, if we reduce our sugar and carb intake 99% of us WILL be healthier. Absolutely (a favorite book of mine is Good Calories, Bad Calories, by Gary Taubes). I think most of my clients that I see eat about 5-6 ounces more grains than they should (considering the recommendation is SO low, it's not hard to eat too many!). Reducing your grain intake is a smart idea, yes, but giving them all up? I'm just not convinced that's the answer.

  9. I am shocked that you piggy backed off of someone eles (who is a dietician in training at that) book review to review a book you havent read. I know middle school kids who put more effort into their work than you just did. If you had read the book, then you would know that gluten free processed foods, along with rice, potatoes, corn and sugar are all also discussed as being a problem with our health. What is much more bothersome then you debunking a book you didnt read, is your name! Candid, as in truthful? Maybe you should name your blog "The unoriginal RD" or perhaps "The carbon RD"

    1. I appreciate your opinion, and I knew I'd get some comments like this. I agree, I should have read the book. Regarding your comment about how it wasn't even an RD who wrote the review, she did have 2 RDs write the articles with her (see her comment above).
      This wasn't a book review. Not at all. I made that clear at the beginning of the post. It was my Candid thoughts on the whole "wheat free" craze that I've heard so much about. I could have written this post without even mentioning the book. I think no matter what, wheat is not the devil (although for some, it can be, sure). We eat too much of it, that's the problem. I will always believe this.
      Thank you.

  10. I am very disappointed in the commenters who choose to comment without signing their names. I personally appreciate each of your opinions, but if the comment author does not wish to be identified with his or her comment, the power of his or her words lessens.

    A few points:

    *I am thrilled that this diet appears to work for some readers and some of the people they know. I hesitate to say this diet will work for everyone. For individuals, situations like these are more like case studies (the weakest type of research) than randomized, controlled trials. Our lives are complicated. In terms of food, being able to pinpoint one cause of one or more effects is nearly impossible. Changing one thing in our lives, such as eliminating wheat, can change other aspects of our lives that we don't even see. Again, I'm glad this diet works for some people, but to tout an elimination diet as a cure-all is not sound and veers into fad diet territory.
    *Similarly, not all studies are created equal. Reading the title and abstract of a research paper does not make you (or me) the expert in that subject. Unfortunately, there are many writers who do just that - they read a title, skim the paper, and write an attention-getting headline of their own. Having had extensive training in statistics, including in health statistics, I can say that there are many, many flawed studies out there, often through no fault of reader, reviewer, even researcher. Being able to really delve into a research study to see if it is valid is a specialized skill that most people cannot have.
    *I have worked both sides of the research publication world, as an author and behind the scenes in the editorial staff of a research publication. Research is not as clear-cut/black-and-white as the majority of the population believes. Just because something is published doesn't mean it is perfect.
    *Conflict of interest in research studies is a slippery thing. Researchers are supposed to declare conflict of interest - but then what? For the average lay reader: are you reading to the end of studies to see what possible conflicts of interest are in them? Similarly, using your own research extensively to prove your point is a grey area. Research 101 is finding a wide variety of studies to support your point.
    *One of the most important aspects of research that many do not realize: correlation does NOT equal causation. This inequality is particularly tricky in nutrition research, as the only way to support causation is to perform randomized controlled trials. For example, just because researchers found that a disease "increased" at a time when wheat consumption increased does not mean one CAUSED the other. There are countless other factors that could have increased the incidence of disease (including the fact that diagnostic techniques have improved, in the case of more modern diseases). As we cannot perform a RCT, we cannot show that one caused the other.

    As a final word: thank you to everyone for sharing their thoughts. I do believe that debate is an important part of science, and that professionals are NOT taught to group-think - on the contrary. Lone voices, especially if they are against current knowledge, are more likely to get headlines and publications. This can have both positive and negative consequences.

    Thanks for this post, Gina! Your voice is just as important to hear as any of the commenters :)

    1. Jessie,
      You never hesitate to impress me with your words. I thank you so much for coming on here (and posting your name, haha) as a professional and dietitian, and providing these wonderful points. You are exactly right, especially when saying that correlation does NOT equal causation (it's similar to the whole HFCS debate....).
      I thin many people are right in complaining tha tI shouldn't have written this post without reading the book, but this was not meant to be a review. Regardless of if I had read the book, I would have written the same thing. I have the book and have explored the research, and the citations in the back. My stance will stay the same, and my opinions will not change until the research supports that dietitians should be preaching to avoid wheat/grains/gluten. Period. I especially believe this is an important topic because of the setting where I work. I can't support preaching that wheat is bad, until I am 100% confident that it is. For now, I preach that we are consuming way too much. It's true. I will continue to teach people that they need to limit their intake of grains, but to avoid wheat/gluten and other gliadin-containing foods, is absurd to me, as of now.
      Thanks for your comment Jessie!!

    2. There is only one gliadin containing food - wheat... and I use the term "food" loosely.

      I'm saddened that your workplace determines the dietary advice you may dispense.

    3. As an RD, I only dispense evidence based information. I follow a code of ethics. Until I am convinced, from proper research, that we should not consume grains, I will not preach this information.

      I do not allow my workplace to determine the information I dispense. At all. I am not against grains. There are certain things I am against, and those things I just don't talk about with clients. I am not forced to sell anything or promote anything I don't want to promote.

      And yes, my low FODMAPs diet has helped me TREMENDOUSLY. I have not given up grains (or all wheat, for that matteR). What causes me most harm/disconfort are things like garlic, onion, honey, apples, and beans. Wheat is something I try to limit, but the effects of wheat are nothing like the effects of honey (for me, at least).

  11. I haven't read the book and definitely don't plan to. I am really not into crazes when it comes to eating. I think most people would have a lot of more success if they just watched the amount of food and food choices they make in general. I find it funny when people are wheat or gluten free to lose weight but then they are eating tons of other junk food- probably would've been better off with a little gluten!

  12. This is such a big topic!
    I have read the book (ok, I skimmed a bit in the middle--it was dense). I concluded the same thing I conclude about most things I read in nutrition trends....

    Making universal statements about what people should eat to be healthiest is a danger zone.

    Of course, I do believe certain things, as proven by research studies, are bad for all human bodies (i.e. high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils). However, if a person eats those once in a while, he/she will probably be ok (assuming no food sensitivities. Beyond these proven "bad" foods/ingredients, I hesitate whenever I see sweeping generalizations. I do like the scientific explanations in Wheat Belly about how wheat acts badly in the body, and I'm inclined to believe it---but I also think different people have different tolerances, and different thresholds for "too much."

    I know that for me, if I eat wheat, my belly is puffy (I'm not talking about fat here, just puffiness)... the day I quit wheat for real and made sure not to have ANY for 24 hours, I lost 4 pounds of puff overnight. But this is just me. I stay away from wheat and I feel great, physically and mentally. I also know that sugar makes me feel crappy and crazy, and that I do best with animal products and no grains (and lower carb than recommended by the government). So when I'm working with clients, I NEVER tell them they should quit wheat because it will make them puffy. Instead, I recommend (after doctor consult, etc) that maybe an elimination diet would help them determine which foods work best/worst for them. Explore it.... don't try and fit someone else's best diet mold!

    There are many roads to the same place (good health), and we can probably all have our own best/good choices for how to eat for our bodies. And maybe we will eventually find out that wheat is as bad as HFCS... but till then, I think it's better to determine on a case-by-case basis... I know all about gliadin and all that, and the story about it is believable. But until there's more, I can't blanket recommend that everyone remove wheat. Besides, my clients would think I was nuts if I did that. I generally give info to the level of the client, and in many cases it's about reduction of wheat/carb/sugar intake...not removal of whole categories of foods.

    I read through some of the comments above, and I had a feeling this topic would cause some heated opinions. I think we should all remember that most of the info we read online is third-party info, and although often embedded in smart people's knowledge, it's filtered through opinions/lenses. I see nothing wrong at all with reading info and sharing your interpretation of it--it's what makes people think and read more! I'm sure we all disagree on many things, and most of us are smart :-)

  13. no i have not read this however i feel that giving up anything in hopes of losing weight or finding a miracle fix just does not happen. great post!

  14. This sounds like the type of book I would love to read! :) I agree with Gina-to say that one grain has caused all of the health problems in this country would be naive, but our overconsumption of carbohydrates and processed foods is definitely a factor. I'd like to see some evidenced based research on the opiate effects of gliadin-sounds interesting, although it would be difficult to separate out effects of consuming a gliadin containing product if said product was also full of added fat and sugar.

  15. It's embarrassing that you would write a critique on a book you haven't read. Weather the book has credence or not, you have vanquished your credibility on this article as well any future opinions.