Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis
Wheat Belly is a very interesting read by a Doctor who specializes in Cardiology and practices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA. He discusses wheat in the diet, and how it isn’t necessarily good for one’s overall health. In fact, he believes that it is so bad for your health that it should carry a Surgeon General’s warning. That is a pretty extreme statement! He has spoken on his book at various events. Below is a Q&A session/interview where he presents a fascinating look at how wheat has changed genetically over the last several decades, and not only does it look extremely different now, but it no longer contains the same nutrition that it used to when our ancestors ate it.
I hope you find the below an interesting eye-opener, to a food that we often think of as nutritious.
Q to Dr. Davis: You say the crux of the problem with wheat is that the stuff we eat today has been genetically altered. How is it different than the wheat our grandparents ate?
A (Dr. Davis): First of all, it looks different. If you held up a conventional wheat plant from 50 years ago against a modern, high-yield dwarf wheat plant, you would see that today’s plant is about 2½ feet shorter. It’s stockier, so it can support a much heavier seedbed, and it grows much faster. The great irony here is that the term “genetic modification” refers to the actual insertion or deletion of a gene, and that’s not what’s happened with wheat. Instead, the plant has been hybridized and crossbred to make it resistant to drought and fungi, and to vastly increase yield per acre. Agricultural geneticists have shown that wheat proteins undergo structural change with hybridization, and that the hybrid contains proteins that are found in neither parent plant. Now, it shouldn’t be the case that every single new agricultural hybrid has to be checked and tested – that would be absurd. But we’ve created thousands of what I call Frankengrains over the past 50 years, using pretty extreme techniques, and their safety for human consumption has never been tested or even questioned.
Q: What extreme techniques are you talking about?
A: New strains have been generated using what the wheat industry proudly insists are “traditional breeding techniques,” though they involve processes like gamma irradiation and toxins such as sodium azide. The poison control people will tell you that if someone accidentally ingests sodium azide, you shouldn’t try to resuscitate the person because you could die too giving CPR. This is a highly toxic chemical.
Q: Can’t you just get around any potential health concerns by buying products made with organically grown wheat?
A: No, because the actual wheat plant itself is the same. It’s almost as if we’ve put lipstick on this thing and called it organic and therefore it is good, when the truth is, it’s really hardly any better at all.
Q: A lot of us have switched to whole wheat products because we’ve been told complex carbohydrates are heart healthy and good for us. Are you saying that’s not true?
A: The research that indicates whole grains are healthy is all conducted the same way: white flour is replaced with whole wheat flour, which, no question, is better for you. But taking something bad and replacing it with something less bad is not the same as research that directly compares what happens to health and weight when you eliminate wheat altogether. There’s a presumption that consuming a whole bunch of the less bad thing must be good for you, and that’s just flawed logic. An analogy would be to say that filtered cigarettes are less bad for you than unfiltered cigarettes, and therefore, a whole bunch of filtered cigarettes is good for you. It makes no sense. But that is the rationale for increasing our consumption of whole grains, and that combined with the changes in wheat itself is a recipe for creating a lot of fat and unhealthy people.
Q: How does wheat make us fat, exactly?
A: It contains amylopectin A, which is more efficiently converted to blood sugar than just about any other carbohydrate, including table sugar. In fact, two slices of whole wheat bread increase blood sugar to a higher level than a candy bar does. And then, after about two hours, your blood sugar plunges and you get shaky, your brain feels foggy, you’re hungry. So, let’s say you have an English muffin for breakfast. Two hours later you’re starving, so you have a handful of crackers, and then some potato chips, and your blood sugar rises again. That cycle of highs and lows just keeps going throughout the day, so you’re constantly feeling hungry and constantly eating. Dieticians have responded to this by advising that we graze throughout the day, which is just nonsense. If you eliminate wheat from your diet, you’re no longer hungry between meals because you’ve stopped that cycle. You’ve cut out the appetite stimulant, and consequently you lose weight very quickly. I’ve seen this with thousands of patients.
Q: But I’m not overweight and I exercise regularly. So why would eating whole wheat bread be bad for me?
A: You can trigger effects you don’t perceive. Small low-density lipoprotein [LDL] particles form when you’re eating lots of carbohydrates, and they are responsible for atherosclerotic plaque, which in turn triggers heart disease and stroke. So even if you’re a slender, vigorous, healthy person, you’re still triggering the formation of small LDL particles. And second, carbohydrates increase your blood sugars, which cause this process of glycation, that is, the glucose modification of proteins. If I glycate the proteins in my eyes, I get cataracts. If I glycate the cartilage of my knees and hips, I get arthritis. If I glycate small LDL, I’m more prone to atherosclerosis. So, it’s a two-fold effect. And if you don’t start out slender and keep eating that fair trade, organically grown whole wheat bread that sounds so healthy, you’re repeatedly triggering high blood sugars and are going to wind up with more visceral fat. This isn’t just what I call the wheat belly that you can see, flopping over your belt, but the fat around your internal organs. And as visceral fat accumulates, you risk responses like diabetes and heart disease.
Q: You seem to be saying that aside from anything else, wheat is essentially the single cause of the obesity epidemic.
A: I wouldn’t go so far as to say that all obesity is due to wheat. There are kids, of course, who drink Coca-Cola and sit in front of video games for many hours a day. But I’m speaking to the relatively health-minded people who think they’re doing the right thing by limiting fat consumption and eating more whole grains, and there’s a clear subset of people who are doing that and gaining weight and don’t understand why. It causes tremendous heartache. They come into my office and say, “I exercise five times a week, I’ve cut my fat intake, I watch portion size and eat my whole grains—but I’ve gone up three dress sizes.”
Intrigued? Interested in trying to cut out wheat from your diet to witness the potential benefits?
Stay tuned for another Blog soon that will continue the interview with Dr. Davis……