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Is Wheat Bad for You? A Review of Wheat Belly

Updated on December 12, 2014

There’s a new health movement that has begun sweeping across our land. Thousands of people are finding out for themselves what it means to be healthier, slimmer, and sharper. And they are accomplishing this by eliminating from their diet the one thing that has been holding them back – wheat.

Wheat Belly is the book and William Davis, M.D. is the man. His book on wheat elimination has been so successful that some celebrities and journalists like Bill O’Reilly, Elizabeth Hasselbeck, and Miley Cyrus have gone on record stating that getting wheat out of their diet has meant a huge difference in their health. Kelly Ripa recently interviewed Dr. Davis on her TV program, which will bring greater awareness to the issue.

There have been other books which pre-date Davis’ book – among them, Dangerous Grains, by James Braly, M.D. and Ron Hoggan, and The No-Grain Diet by Joseph Mercola, D.O. Why has Davis’ message been able to penetrate our psyches in a way that previous works have not?

The Market for the Book

To begin with, Wheat Belly is a genius title. I don’t know how many marketing specialists it took to come up with such a descriptive title, but they got it right. Wheat Belly is short and memorable. Wheat Belly is a reminder of the abdominal fat that our increasingly overweight or obese population must carry around each day. It’s that annoying visceral fat that must be belted in each day, if you’re a man, or covered up with a tunic or empire-waisted blouse, if you’re a woman. In short, it’s inconveniently in the way, unsightly, and unhealthy in a way that other body fat is not.

But there is another reason why Wheat Belly has been successful. By focusing on quite possibly the worst carbohydrate that anyone could eat, Davis has called into question many years of supposedly authoritative nutritional advice. By telling people, “If you want to get healthier and stay slender, don’t ever eat wheat”, Davis has made it incrementally easier for consumers to take up his challenge. No grains at all seems daunting for many, but no wheat is do-able. Just for 30 days. Honest. See what happens when you get this toxin (Dr. Davis feels it’s an anti-nutrient) out of your life.

Heritage Wheat -- Not Cultivated Much Now


Dr. Norman Borlaug (4th from right) in a field of his semi-dwarf wheat, in Northern Mexico


What is So Terrible About Wheat?

This brings up the question of why wheat is so bad for you. How did we get to this point, considering that the U.S.D.A’s food pyramid (now referred to as MyPlate) currently recommends 6 to 11 servings of bread or cereals per day?

In his exposition, Dr. Davis gives us a lengthy history of wheat, including the evolution of some of its earliest relatives. Approximately 10,000 years ago, mankind began to consume cereal grains, starting with the grain einkorn, which still grows wild in some parts of the world, continuing with emmer, which was eaten during biblical times, and then on to the more modern varieties of wheat.

Up until the late 1970’s, most people did reasonably well with the type of wheat that was found in the Standard American Diet (SAD). But a geneticist, Dr. Norman Borlaug , worked to develop a strain of modern wheat that would exponentially increase agricultural yields, thus alleviating hunger world-wide. He and his researchers came up with a strain of semi-dwarf (about 2 feet tall), high-yield wheat. This new hybrid quickly became very successful, and all farmers began growing it and profiting greatly from the increased yields. By 1985, you could not find the older wheat in our nation’s food supply. You still can’t. If you want to find heritage wheat, good luck.

This hybrid of wheat is remarkably different from older varieties, and it has many more chromosomes, in addition to containing unpredictable traits that were not found in either parent strain before crossing. Modern wheat has an increased gluten content (it’s about 80% gluten), possibly implicating it in the increased incidence of celiac disease in the U.S. In addition, all wheat, whether refined or whole grain, contains amylopectin A (increases blood sugar more than table sugar), gliadin (increases appetite, and makes your intestines permeable), and harmful lectins (which wipe out good gut bacteria and create a favorable environment for bad bacteria).


Into the Food Supply

And, as Davis explains it, you have a newer form of wheat that is in just about every processed food. Modern wheat not only makes the most delectable of baked goods, but it also increases appetite and adds flavor to junk foods. Intriguingly, Davis stops just short of saying that the food industry and agribusiness knew about these effects and purposely included more wheat in the food supply to increase profits. He does remark on the tragedy of researchers’ confident push to develop a high-yield wheat hybrid while completely disregarding any possible harm to humans or animals.

If it tastes good and makes the appetite increase, it is no wonder why the ubiquitous wheat contributes directly to our nation’s health problems. The human intolerance to wheat varies. While some unfortunate people with celiac disease cannot tolerate wheat gluten in any amount, many others are bothered to a lesser degree. This is a form of sub-clinical wheat sensitivity. The intolerance may eventually cause unfortunate problems like obesity and subsequent diabetes, or, on the other end of the scale, it may cause people to feel sluggish from day to day.

In his book, Dr. Davis takes great care to distinguish between being gluten-free and being wheat or grain-free. He needs to emphasize this difference in his book because of the hugely profitable gluten-free food industry. Many, if not all, gluten-free breads, soups, health bars, brownies, etc. contain significant amounts of substitute starches, like rice starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch. These foods will stave off some of the worst symptoms, but will continue to promote obesity and type 2 diabetes, due to the blood sugar instability that they cause.

Dr. William Davis' Lecture on Wheat in the Diet

What Wheat-Free Accomplishes

Through many years of promoting a wheat-free diet in his cardiology practice, Dr. Davis has found that the following conditions are the most improved or even cured, after ditching the wheat: GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), type 2 diabetes, obesity, ulcerative colitis, asthma, various skin diseases and rashes, and joint pain. Triglycerides and HDL both have much improved scores on lab results after changing the diet. Davis does not in any way limit the health improvements that are to be found, and he is open to more comprehensive anecdotal evidence as time goes by. On his Wheat Belly Facebook page, he follows the reports of many people who have experienced dramatic improvements in their conditions.

In Wheat Belly, except for explaining that some people will experience temporary withdrawal symptoms after eliminating wheat, Dr. Davis does not attempt an examination of the many lifestyle factors which will change once wheat-free (this would take another book to explain). To his credit, though, Davis does include some sample meal plans and a few excellent recipes.

One could look at this book in several ways. Davis definitely argues that eliminating wheat in all forms will lead to better health. If you did nothing else, you would benefit greatly. He does, however, believe that going low-carb (thus eliminating or greatly reducing sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and many starchy vegetables) is an even better course of action, and may be absolutely necessary for some people to lose the very last of their stubborn body fat. His feelings on other grains (rice, corn, amaranth) are that you could eat some occasionally, depending on your subjective feelings of wellness and your position on the “carb curve.”

Why Should I Read this Book?

Few people are optimally healthy. There is a place for everyone in this book. From the 300-pound woman who has tried everything to lose weight, to the 135-pound woman who has plantar fasciitis and arthritis in her thumb. From the man with severe bowel disease who worries about colon cancer, to the man who looks good, but worries about his beer belly. From the child who has severe allergies and asthma attacks, to the child who has unexplained rashes.

For this reason, I recommend reading the book, even if you are a skeptic. It’s far better written and more engaging than other books of its kind. And I have noticed that if you leave this book lying around, others will pick it up out of curiosity. They will quickly become transfixed.

Oh, and where am I in all of this? About five months into my wheat and mostly grain-free lifestyle. I cannot say enough good things about this way of eating, and I have seen many improvements in my health over time. I wasn’t looking for Wheat Belly. It found me.


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      walker49 22 months ago

      I stumbled across Wheat Belly through researching the fact that bromine in bread ( banned in the UK I believe though) hindered iodine absorption. What comes across in this book is that William Davis knows what he is talking about and has a ring of truth to it. I have started cutting down on wheat etc for about a week, can't go the whole hog as it would be too unsociable. I am hoping it will help a rash I have on my back of about 12 years standing.

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      sprouted grain baker 2 years ago

      Wheat was hybridized as a dwarf variety to ensure a sturdier stalk so that the plant was less likely to collapse in a wind or rain storm. Once the stalk has collapsed and the stalk is laying in the field, the grains have a tendency to sprout. Sprouted grains interfere with gluten development. Millers always have to give bakers the falling number on the flour they are selling. This tells the baker the percentage of grain that sprouted prior to milling. A low falling number reduces the value of that flour for bakers. Mills will test wheat for its falling number before buying large amounts of the grain because they don't want sprouted grains.

      By creating a stronger albeit shorter stalk, wheat has proven more impervious to rain wind storms and the percentage of sprouted grain within wheat harvests have shrunk. Thus making the wheat more valuable to millers, to bakers, etc., etc. This is why dwarf wheat was developed and why it has been successful. It has NOTHING to do with increasing yield and everything to do with increasing viable commercial yield.

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas


      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. I have learned a lot in the 9 months I've been doing this. The problems I had kind of creeped up on me over time. Mine weren't the typical maladies associated with wheat sensitivity, but there is no doubt that I got better once wheat was out of my diet for good. I have experienced relief from coccyx pain, from tendinitis in my thumb, from headaches, from plantar fasciitis, and the muscles in my thoracic spine area are less stiff and achy.

      Glenn, if you're a naturally slender person (like me) who's never struggled with your weight, you probably don't have insulin resistance, and I think it even more important to read Perfect Health Diet alongside Wheat Belly. Perfect Health Diet was written by Paul Jaminet PhD and his wife Shou Ching Jaminet PhD. Somehow, I think it is important to follow someone who's also never been overweight (that would be Dr. Jaminet), because he has some insights that Dr. Davis lacks, and he has written something jam-packed with information on both micro and macro nutrients. Perfect Health Diet is coming out in a new edition on December 11, 2012. Meanwhile, here's their site:

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 5 years ago from Long Island, NY

      Wow! I never realized that wheat was altered and that we are eating hybrid wheat now. I eat wheat cereals and wheat crackers. But I wonder now if it is harming me.

      I think I'm slim, so that's not the problem. But I developed tinnitis several years ago and I wonder if it could actually be from an allergy to something, maybe to wheat.

      I also have IBS that doesn't bother me often, just once in a while -- But you mentioned that is one of the things that wheat can cause.

      It's worth a try to experiment to try to avoid it for a while and see how I feel. I'm glad I found your hub on this subject. Very informative and clearly written. Voted up, and I'm ordering the book too.

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas

      James, thanks for coming by to comment!

      Your position is not uncommon. I would not have given up wheat, because I love baked goods and crackers, and like most people, I consumed too much of them. However, just in the last several years, I started to develop the typical aches and pains of aging. My spine thanks me every day for giving up wheat!

      If you study ancestral health, one of the most fascinating things is the speculation that Northern Europeans were not meant to eat grains (Northern European is a lot of us!) This may be because cultivated grains reached these regions far later. But yet, there are millions of people in Asia who have thrived in good health for thousands of years on rice. It's all so interesting.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 5 years ago from Chicago

      Fascinating Hub. What is to be left to us to eat? Organic vegetables and fruit I guess. Dreary.

      I read an article by Mike Royko once that said he was told to cut out meat for sure, and maybe dairy, booze, bread, cigars, et al. He said that if he gave everything up his doctor wanted he wouldn't want to live. He wrote that sure it would take ten years off his life to enjoy the things that he felt made life worth living. But which ten years he asked? The last ten when he would be wheeled around in a wheelchair in diapers in a nursing home barely even still himself—was his conclusion. :-)

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas

      RTalloni, I am glad you enjoyed this. I think you'll be hearing more about this issue in the years to come. Thanks for coming by.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

      Aha! and so interesting! This is the missing link in what I've suspected about gluten for some time now. Thanks much for posting this information and highlighting the book.

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas

      Angela Brummer,

      There is a lot to learn about wheat. Thanks for your comment.

    • Angela Brummer profile image

      Angela Brummer 5 years ago from Lincoln, Nebraska

      It makes for good reasoning that the plant it's self changed. Thanks for sharing this!

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas

      Beingwell, I'm glad you took the time to read my hub. Thanks.

    • beingwell profile image

      beingwell 5 years ago from Bangkok

      Great article. My husband and I are eating more wheat breads because we're avoiding white flour. Some breads are harder to chew though. It's the fiber acting up, I guess.

      Nice hub! Voted up!

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas

      Nice to say, DRBJ, that chocolate (or at least the 85% cacao) comes off very favorably in this book! Yes, read the book. I wish I could eat chocolate, but it doesn't like me.

      Thanks for coming by to leave a comment.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

      And here I thought 'Chocolate Belly' was the real bad guy. Fascinating information, gracenotes, about modern wheat. Now I have to read the book.

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas

      Jen, thanks for your comments. That is very gratifying that your husband had such a quickly favorable reaction. Best of luck on your continued journey, and I believe more pleasant surprises are in store.

    • profile image

      Jen 5 years ago

      My husband and I have already seen noticeable health improvements in one weeks time going wheat free. We are following the plan Dr. Davis lays out in his book. I can only say that it was nothing short of a miracle to watch the swelling of my husband's feet and ankles go down within 24 hours of discontinuing wheat...and yes, they are still down. We've cleaned out the cupboards and are committing to this a a way of eating.

    • gracenotes profile image

      gracenotes 5 years ago from North Texas

      Thanks for the comments, TMbridgeland. Didn't really mean for this to be a criticism of Dr. Borlaug. I know (and Dr. Davis knows too) that Borlaug's motives were entirely humanitarian in nature as he developed his wheat strains. I believe that Davis even speculates a little near the end of his book about whether and how foodstuffs could be developed to feed hungry people, without compromising their health, and what role heritage grains might still play.

      I know that there are peoples of the world who pretty much had to consume grains due to their unique climate, population factors, etc. It's the only way they could keep from starving. This makes me very thankful that, in this country, we do not have to consume grains in our diet.

    • tmbridgeland profile image

      tmbridgeland 5 years ago from Small Town, Illinois

      I do not eat wheat, and have not for about ten years. I agree with everything in this Hub, except the criticism of Norman Borlaug. He has saved more lives than any single person in human history. He stopped famines in India and Mexico with his new wheat varieties, and saved millions from starvation. A fine tradeoff, I think. Great HUB! Voted up.