- Wheat-Free Diet: A 5-Step Detox Plan to Lose Your Belly
- The Wheat We Eat
- Wheat: It’s Not Just About the Gluten
- Wheat Free Diet: How to Break the Addiction
- Why sugar free?
- Eat whole food, real food.
- Why wheat and grain free?
- The Wheat Belly Diet
- The Wheat Belly Diet: What Is It?
- The Wheat Belly Diet: How Does It Work?
- The Wheat Belly Diet: Sample Menu
- The Wheat Belly Diet: Pros
- The Wheat Belly Diet: Cons
- The Wheat Belly Diet: Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
- What Is the Wheat Belly Diet?
- Health Benefits
- Best Foods
- Foods to Avoid
- Meal Plan Tips
- The Smoke and Mirrors Behind Wheat Belly and Grain Brain
- 7-Day Gluten-Free Vegetarian Meal Plan – Free to Download
- The Gluten-Free Diet – A Quick Intro
- The Basics: What is Gluten?
- 2. Pro gluten-free (Dr. Davis + Followers): Wheat makes you fat and causes many other serious diseases
- 3. Contra Gluten-Free (Harvard + Followers): Whole Grains are healthy
- Here is what I think
- And lastly, what about the gluten-free – weight loss connection?
- The Wheat-Free/Gluten-Free Diet
Wheat-Free Diet: A 5-Step Detox Plan to Lose Your Belly
by: Yuri Elkaim
By now, most people know that gluten is causing a great deal of trouble for many people who are either living with Celiac disease or have a sensitivity to gluten. What many of us don’t realize is that there’s yet another problem gluten causes: “wheat belly“, otherwise known as visceral fat.
It’s a funny sounding term, but the effects of this condition are no laughing matter.
The name wheat belly was coined by Dr. William Davis, and refers to a syndrome that affects your brain, your hormones, your immune system and so much more. It also results in a bulging belly, but that’s just a symptom.
Let’s explore why wheat is such a bad thing, and just how it’s the arch nemesis of an effective fat-burning diet.
The Wheat We Eat
The reason we hear so much more about celiac disease and gluten sensitivity isn’t because it’s a new thing. It’s because wheat is a new thing.
The wheat we eat today isn’t the same wheat that Americans were eating even sixty years ago. Back in the 1950s, researchers began playing with the actual DNA of wheat in order to create a seed that produced more wheat in less space and with less maintenance. They wanted a miracle product.
They were successful, and today’s wheat is less than half as tall as its genetic parents and far more productive for the farmers that grow it.
But all of that hybridization and modification had other results as well.
Today’s wheat is much higher in the substances gliadin, amylopectin and agglutinin—all of which are found in gluten– and also much lower in fiber. Together, these changes are having a drastic effect on the health of those who consume wheat and wheat derivatives.
It’s not that we’re diagnosing more celiac; it’s that we’re creating more celiac. Along with it, we’re creating a number of other health issues, one of them being belly fat.
Wheat: It’s Not Just About the Gluten
Even if you don’t have celiac disease, almost everyone exhibits issues related to gluten consumption, because there’s simply too much of it in our diets.
This is not only because of the wheat, but because food companies put it in absolutely every processed food. We’ll get to that in a minute, because in order to understand why the food companies use it so much, you need to understand the other contents of wheat itself and what they do to the body.
There are three other substances in wheat that help to create the syndrome we now call “wheat belly“: They are gliadin, amylopectin and agglutinin.
Gliadin is a protein found in large quantities in today’s wheat. Our bodies break gliadin down into peptides in the digestive tract and those peptides bind to the opiate receptors in the brain.
Different people react in different ways to this process, but there are certain adverse reactions that are quite common: appetite stimulation, withdrawal symptoms that come about two hours after eating wheat and wheat products, and dependency.
In short, gliadin creates an addiction to wheat.
Amylopectin is a carbohydrate contained in wheat that is responsible for today’s wheat having a higher glycemic index than many candy bars. The blood sugar high from eating wheat is often followed by sudden crashes, which again happens over about a two-hour cycle.
This is why so many people go through a two-hour cycle of eating foods high in sugar and flour, then crashing two hours later, experiencing brain fog, headaches and other symptoms, then craving more.
This is exactly why food companies love it so much and put it in virtually everything, from soup to salad dressing and even licorice: the more you eat, the more you crave. The end result? You buy more food.
Agglutinin is the third issue. Agglutinin is found in the germ of the wheat and is thought to interfere with the production and release of leptin, the hormone that signals fullness or satiety.
When combined with amylopectin and glutenin, you have a very vicious trifecta: together, they trigger a dependency on foods high in sugar and flour, plus an inability to tell when you are satisfied. This is one reason why we don’t just eat one donut, we eat six. We don’t eat one slice of pizza, but four.
Needless to say, this addiction to high calorie foods and inability to know when to stop eating them is a huge contributor to all of that excess visceral fat around the abdomen. It’s also responsible for chronic inflammation, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other issues related to obesity.
Wheat Free Diet: How to Break the Addiction
After all of that bad news, you’re probably ready for some good news and thankfully, I do have some.
Studies have shown that it only takes about five days to break the addictions to wheat and sugar and about two weeks to get your hormone levels back in line, reduce the chronic, systemic inflammation caused by wheat, and stimulate your body to start getting rid of your belly.
Here are the steps you can take over the next two weeks to completely reverse the wheat cycle and start losing weight. It all comes down to going on a wheat free diet.
In just fourteen days you will find that you:
- have tremendous energy
- don’t need caffeine as much as you used to
- have less inflammation
- can think more clearly
- no longer have cravings
- have steadier and better moods
- sleep better
- will probably lose a significant amount of weight!
By breaking this cycle, many people report losing as much as ten pounds in two weeks. After that, fat loss slows but it will continue as your body lets go of all that stored fat.
Step 1: Cut all wheat out of your diet.
What this will mean is getting rid of virtually every processed food. Food companies put wheat derivatives in almost every packaged food you buy a the supermarket. You’ll frequently see it listed as a “stabilizer.”
With this in mind, make it a point not to eat food from cans and bags for the next two weeks and base your diet on fresh vegetables and low-glycemic fruits, meats, poultry, eggs and seafood, nuts and seeds and healthy fats like avocados, olives, grass-fed butter, olive oil and coconut oil.
Stay away from both white potatoes and corn, which are actually starches, not vegetables. Sweet potatoes are okay and having a baked sweet potato with some cinnamon and butter is a great way to calm the cravings for something sweet.
Step 2: Cut all sugar out of the diet, at least for the first two weeks.
It’s nearly impossible to find sugary foods that are not also loaded with flour, and it’s even harder while you’re still addicted to wheat. An effective wheat free diet is also a no-sugar diet, so cut out the sweet stuff.
If you absolutely have to have a little sugar in your tea or coffee, go ahead, but do try to eliminate the caffeinated beverages and cut back a little on how much sugar you use.
Note: I don’t suggest drinking coffee or caffeinated tea under any circumstance, but given that I’m asking people to break their addiction to wheat and other unhealthy eating habits, convincing the coffee junkies among them not to get their morning fix might be too tall of an order.
If going without coffee and tea will send you over the edge, have the java and stay on track with getting rid of the belly.
Step 3: Stick to low-glycemic fruits for your sweet tooth.
You will crave sweets and carbs, although the intensity will dissipate dramatically after about three days. When you want something sweet, reach for low-glycemic fruits like apples, pears, plums and berries. Try to limit them to just two or three servings a day, though, to help you break the addiction as quickly as possible.
Step 4: Do NOT count calories or restrict portions of other foods.
When you’re really missing that bagel, focus on the fact that you can eat as much as you want of meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds and healthy fats.
You should not count calories or restrict eating of these foods in any way. The protein and healthy fats are going to help you feel full and will also help retrain your body to use more protein and less carbs for energy. They’ll also help reset your hormones.
Believe it or not, you’ll still lose fat, because you’re correcting imbalances and cycles that have nothing at all to do with caloric intake. So if it takes a six-egg omelet or five drumsticks to help you get through that donut craving, have at it. This healthy breakfast tip will also help curb your cravings.
Step 5: Get plenty of Vitamin C.
Vitamin C is extremely important for several reasons. The chronic inflammation caused by eating wheat uses up a lot of Vitamin C. A poor diet also usually means you’re not getting enough C to begin with.
Taking 2000-3000 mg of Vitamin C per day for these two weeks will ensure that you have enough on board to help reduce the inflammation, restore proper hormonal balance and also help your body dispose of that stored fat. You see, Vitamin C is one of the main components your body uses to create l-carnitine, a wonderful little compound that acts like a shuttle bus for stored fat.
When your brain signals the body that it’s okay to get rid of stored fat, l-carnitine transports those stored fat cells to the liver, where they’re converted into glycogen and burned as fuel. So you need plenty of Vitamin C on board during these two weeks.
If you follow these five steps, I promise that you can reverse the effects of wheat belly and break your wheat addiction in fourteen days. You will also lose a significant amount of that troublesome stored fat you’ve been carrying around.
It will also help you a great deal if you exercise at least fifteen minutes each day, especially when cravings are at their worst the first week. Endorphins released by exercise will help replace the opiate effects of gliadin and the temporary feel-good of eating sugary, floury snacks.
Just remember, the first few days are the hardest. After Day 3, it gets much easier and the rewards are huge, so stick with it. You can do anything for two weeks.
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In the world of wheat, are some foods bigger culprits than others?
We don’t want to fall into the same trap that the dietary and nutrition communities have fallen into. They believe that if you replace something bad with something less-bad that there’s a health benefit from that change.
By that logic, a whole bunch of less-bad things must be good for you!
But there are grades of bad within the wheat world. The worst is probably wheat germ, and the least bad, though very destructive, is pasta.
What’s the hardest part about cutting out wheat?
The addictive potential of wheat! The gliadin protein has opiate-like effects, so wheat is truly addicting.
For many, it causes addictive relationships and the stimulation of appetite. For binge-eaters or bulimics, they experience 24-hours-a-day food obsessions. So lots of people know intuitively that they have this addictive potential because if they’ve had eight hours in which they didn’t have anything made of wheat, they’ve had insatiable cravings, nausea, nervousness, anxiety, headache, paranoia… Some people grab things out of the trash or eat food off of their kid’s plate. People know intuitively that it’s very unpleasant to not have wheat because it’s an opiate withdrawal.
Is wheat an all-or-nothing proposition? Can we dabble in wheat, or do we need to remove it entirely from our diet?
Just cutting back on our wheat intake doesn’t really work. The effects of the components of wheat are too overwhelming. For many people, the gliadin protein in wheat stimulates their appetite for five days. It’s not just a matter of calories or carbs; it’s all the other mind effects.
Plus, the drug industry has persuaded the public that high cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease, which is untrue. Wheat is a flagrant trigger of heart disease.
What makes people most successful in quitting wheat?
Understanding what they’re going through. When you eat pizza, you provoke the formation of small LDL particles in your liver. One indulgence can pose heart disease risk, on average, for 7 days. That little bit of wheat can provoke small LDL formation in the body. And then you get all of the opiate and other mind effects, so it’s very uncommon for someone to successfully navigate this diet if they only cut back on wheat.
Many people are reluctant to accept that everything they’ve been told about wheat and whole grains is nonsense, and that the exact opposite is true. It’s very unsettling.
Are there foods that people think are gluten-free and they’re actually not?
Our mission is to educate people that wheat does not equal gluten, and vice-versa. Wheat is the whole thing. People who think that wheat is nothing more than a vehicle for gluten tend to go down that misleading path of gluten-free foods.
People are surprised that wheat is in so many processed foods, and that it’s very difficult to find processed foods that don’t contain wheat. Wheat is in virtually everything: canned foods, instant soups, frozen dinners, candy bars, licorice, salad dressings … So I think that’s what surprises people.
What are your thoughts on the Paleo diet?
The Paleo diet is a good diet, thought it has been oversimplified. The diet of homo sapiens through the millennia in varied climates and terrains has never meant one thing. The Paleo diet of the Pacific Northwest and the Intuits is very different from the Paleo diet of the people who traversed Sub-Saharan Africa, and so on.
What do you think about veganism?
I was a vegetarian 24 years ago. I don’t like what’s happening with factory farms and all the antibiotics used to stimulate growth. But I tried vegetarianism and probably became diabetic. I had fasting blood sugars in the 160-range even though I was jogging three to five miles a day. I became diabetic while I was jogging because all I was eating was grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Vegetarians say that we don’t have the tools of carnivory, like claws or large canine teeth. But we’re the only species that came to carnivory by wit. We watched the true predators and carnivores, such as hyenas, cheetahs, and lions, and became much more skilled. We also began to group hunt, so we had to learn language to communicate with each other. That’s what increased our brain size. We’re the only creatures that came at the consumption of animals by our brains, not our brawn. So it’s a confusing history.
How do we deal with the fact that vegetarians become deficient in Vitamin B12, taurine, omega-3 fatty acid, and vitamin K2? Vegetarianism is not the way humans have evolved.
When we take the whole picture of the evolution and adaptation of humans, there’s no way we can conclude that humans were meant to be vegetarian. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be vegetarian, it just means to do so for humanitarian reasons, not because that’s the way humans were meant to be.
What are your thoughts on the recent NYT piece about the chemical TMAO rising in our blood when we eat meat?
The NYT botched the interpretation. Stan Hazen led the study, and I helped him go through his data. The data did not show that meat and carnitine cause heart disease; that was a misinterpretation by the NYT.
But Hazen’s findings are very disturbing. If I take his data at face value, then fish consumption is the most heart disease-causing food of all, far worse than red meat.
His data are the first to attempt to identify the metabolic consequences of what we put in our mouths and how they’re handled by bowel flora. So I’m not sure what to do with his data because it’s so contrary to everything else we’ve seen. I think he’s looking at people with distorted bowel flora. If you look at a diseased population, you may come to false conclusions. He has thrown a wrench in the works, but I don’t think we should take what the NYT said as the conclusion of Hazen’s data.
What’s your take on corn?
Corn is next in line after wheat! Corn has become a bastardized, corrupt product in the hands of genetic modification. But corn pales in comparison to wheat.
Corn does not have an appetite stimulant, cause abnormal bowel activity, lead to autoimmune disease and food obsession, behavioral outbursts, bipolar illness, or inflammatory changes in the arteries. Corn is bad, but it doesn’t have the full range of effects that wheat does. Corn is bad because of its carbohydrate content, glyphosate residues, or the unintended effects of the Bt toxin. Corn is a very concerning thing now, particularly with the advent of genetic modification, but it’s still not as bad as wheat.
How do you feel about sugar and dairy?
Sugar is a big problem, but no one’s saying sugar should be a part of your diet the way they do for wheat. Dairy is a problem, too: 20% of people are sensitive to whey protein. I also have problems with the estrogen content and bovine growth hormone in dairy products. And there’s the new issue of varying forms of casein. I picked on wheat because it has everyone’s blessing; it’s accepted by everyone and viewed as healthy. But that’s not to say that dairy and sugar aren’t problems.
What do you eat?
My philosophy is a return to real ingredients. Eggs, vegetables, some fruit, avocados. We should eat regular food and get rid of this notion of processed foods for breakfast. I understand that we have kids and we have people we need to entertain. So I try to recreate foods that are familiar to people. I show people how to make pizza, muffins, cookies, chocolate éclairs. We use benign ingredients. We don’t use wheat, gluten-free carbohydrates, or sugar. You can turn something like coffee cake into something that’s benign and healthy. Life is good without wheat.
Have you been surprised by any of the reactions to Wheat Belly?
Well, the good stuff is great — I get so many comments on my blog about success stories. People who’ve lost a lot of weight, children who don’t have asthma anymore. A mom sent me a story about her son who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She made him wheat-free, and now he’s no longer diabetic. Life-changing stuff.
The negatives have been easy. Whenever I’ve had to debate nutritionists, it’s like parrying with a child. I’ve been surprised how little they know about their own crop. Nutritionists are shocked to hear what I’ve found about wheat. They have these empty criticisms, such as that I say that gluten has changed and they don’t believe it has. I don’t know how they can deny the thousands of research papers that have demonstrated the biochemical changes in the gluten protein due to the efforts of agro business and genetics research.
Or they say that wheat has been a part of our diet for thousands of years, why should we change now? Well the key issue is that, wheat has been changed. So I have yet to hear any legitimate criticisms.
What’s next for you?
My 30-minute meal cookbook is due out Jan 2014. The thing that really excites me is a follow-up to Wheat Belly. There’s so much more to talk about. There’s so much to know and understand because we have to backpeddle on all the nonsense we’ve been given. So there’s so much more information needs to get out there. We’ve also formed a Wheat Belly Lifestyle Institute for people who really want to be shown exactly what to do.
This interview was edited and condensed. To learn more about Wheat Belly or Dr. William Davis, connect with him on Facebook, at his website, WheatBellyBlog.com, and on Twitter, @WilliamDavisMD. His bestselling book Wheat Belly is available for sale on Amazon.com.
Why sugar free?
When we eat any type of carbohydrate it is converted by the body to glucose which stimulates insulin to be released (or it may have to be injected). It doesn’t matter whether it is a fizzy drink, sweets, table sugar or a complex carbohydrate such as wholegrain bread, pasta, rice or potatoes.
It also doesn’t matter if it is ‘natural’ or ‘processed’. Honey, raw sugar, medjool dates, fruit etc all raise your blood glucose levels equally as processed sugars. Saying that, if you are able to tolerate carbohydrates then your choice should always be natural, unprocessed carbs.
Always go for nutrient dense, real food, whole food such as berries, non starchy vegetables etc. Choose complex colourful carbs where possible. They are absorbed slower and are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Eat a rainbow!
By maintaining a lower blood sugar level, you require lower insulin levels. Insulin is the major regulator of metabolism and by controlling insulin you stop fat from being stored, lose weight, allow fat to be utilized as fuel, improve your blood lipid profile, increased energy, reduce hunger, reduce risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and most importantly reduce inflammation that leads to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, cancer.
The modern problem with sugar is that it lurks everywhere. It is found in canned tuna, roasted chicken, peanut butter, baked beans, cereals, meats, healthy fruit yoghurts as well as the obvious places such as biscuits, cakes and fizzy drinks.
Marketing gurus have led us to believe many foods are healthy when they are not, this is called the “healthy halo”. Foods that appear to be healthy but are actually laden with carbs and sugar – cereals, fruit yogurts, dried fruit, muesli bars, low fat products, gluten free products. We are also eating more than we ever used to.
Cakes were once eaten for a special occasion but are now an everyday food for many. It is seen as the norm to have sugary snacks, high carb treats, fizzy drinks, after sports energy drinks. It is seen as restrictive if you politely say no. We need to change this around as see handing out sugar to our children as the exception, not the norm.
So by eating low carbohydrate, high fat and moderate protein, you will lose weight, stabilize hunger and improve health.
Eat whole food, real food.
The problem today is that after many years of eating a high carb diet, the body can become insulin resistant . The insulin receptors are becoming damaged due to the constant high levels of insulin and the receptors now require higher amounts of insulin to be able to respond. The pancreas has to produce higher and higher amounts of insulin until it becomes damaged and exhausted leading to Type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetics (which is an auto immune condition) who inject high amounts of insulin to cover high carbohydrate meals also can become insulin resistant.
The complications of diabetes Type 1 or 2 (blood glucose is too high and cannot be reduced without medication)
- fat metabolism changes and plaques start to develop in arteries. Atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease with raised bad cholesterol, raised triglycerides, mineral and fat deficiencies.
- diabetic neuropathy – nerve damage mainly in the micro vessels in hands, feet and eyes become damaged from the high glucose
- weight gain
- constant fatigue
- poor circulation
- increased urination and thirst as the bay tries to excrete the high levels of glucose via the urine
- increased inflammation, especially in the small blood vessels, leading to circulation problems and tingling in the fingers and toes
Why wheat and grain free?
Since reading Wheat Belly, by William Davis MD (cardiologist), we have stopped eating any wheat or grains. Please read this and Dr David Perlmutter’s book Grain Brain, which is another eye opener. Eliminate the wheat, eliminate the belly!
I think Dr Davis sensationalises many aspects, but what is clear is that by eliminating wheat from your diet, it immediately puts a stop on eating processed foods such as bread, cakes, pasta, rice, biscuits etc, reduces the carb intake of your diet, reduces insulin levels, and stops a leaky gut (which most people have with/out symptoms) causing malabsorption of vitamins and minerals, and stops hunger.
The “Wheat Belly” or “Muffin Top”, is the result of the glucose-insulin-fat deposition on the abdomen.
Modern wheat and grains have “been genetically altered to provide processed food manufacturers the greatest yield at the lowest cost; consequently, this once benign grain has been transformed into a nutritionally empty ingredient which causes blood sugar to spike more rapidly than eating pure table sugar and has addictive properties that cause hunger, overeating and fatigue. ”
The Diet Doctor has discussed Wheat Belly on his site.
This new modern wheat is also linked to immunological diseases such as dementia, rheumatoid arthritis and celiac disease.
Being a cardiologist, he has first hand experience of using the current dietary guidelines of reduced fat, high carb diet. He put “over 2000 of his at risk patients on a wheat free regime and seeing extraordinary results”. Patients returned with huge weight loss, energy improved, acid reflux gone, skin conditions gone, rheumatoid arthritis pain improved, better sleep, improved mood and concentration ……
Sadly wheat is found in so many foods we wouldn’t consider it to be and so many new products and new types of bread are being introduced. We have come to feel wheat is a necessary part of any meal. Eggs and toast, cereal, sandwich, pitta bread, hamburgers with buns, crackers for a snack, pies etc. It is eaten in greater quantities year on year. Add on top the increased sugar consumption and its not a pretty picture.
Modern wheat contains –
- amylopectin A which is efficiently digested to glucose rapidly giving blood sugar spikes followed by insulin spikes. Amylopectin C found in legumes is the least digestible (beans, beans good for your heart, beans, beans make you …). Amylopectin A in wheat causes you blood glucose to rise more than simple carbohydrates such as table sugar. The GI (glycaemic index) for white bread 70, whole grain bread, 71, fruit loops 69 oats 66, snickers 55!
- an apetitie stimulant
- gluten in wheat contains the family of proteins called gliadens and gluten ins. Gliadens (αβγ) are the proteins that triggers the immune response in celiac disease.
- Genetic modification has added anti fungal enzymes to aid texture and leavening.
- in conclusion, wheat is a rapidly absorbed carbohydrate with a high GI full of reactive proteins causing a leaky gut.
We have all been told to eat healthy, whole grains, and there is no disputing the science that when whole grain flour is substituted for white flour, there is a reduction in colon cancer, heart disease and diabetes. But by increasing your vegetable intake when eating LCHF, you far exceed any loss of fibre of Vitamin B group from not eating whole grain bread. Dr Davis explains that by replacing something bad (white flour) with something not so bad (whole grain) then it must be good for you, this theory should also work for cigarettes. If high tar cigarettes are bad for you, then low tar should be great!
A sandwich might have a little salad inside but the bulk of what you are eating comes from the bread, but by removing the bread and eating instead a huge salad with a variety of ingredients, you will be better nourished and more able to absorb the vitamins minerals it contains.
Do not eat gluten free products unless they are wheat free and grain free. By removing gluten from wheat, it is usually replaced with rice starch, corn starch, tapioca starch etc. Although they are now gluten free and may cause the same immunological response, the carbs (mainly the amylopectin A it still contains) will still break down to glucose and still cause an insulin spike and still cause hunger, fat storage, and gain weight (and the muffin top).
So by eating low carb, by removing wheat and grains, you remove the biggest source of carbs and processed food. Eliminating wheat and grains are an excellent strategy for rapid weight loss, appetite control, and blood sugar control.
The Wheat Belly Diet
Forget your beer belly — William Davis, MD, a preventive cardiologist in Milwaukee, Wisc., says your wheat belly is the real health hazard. Davis’ prescription for a whittled middle is simple: Cut all wheat from your diet. Better yet, Davis argues in his book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, that eating wheat-free will both prevent and reverse health problems such as acne, cataracts, diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
The Wheat Belly Diet suggests we get back to eating more like our ancestors who existed solely on foods found in nature, not those grown for production or manufactured for sale. In that way, the diet is similar to another popular diet, the Paleo or hunter-gatherer diet, says Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, a Boston nutritionist, author of Nutrition & You: Core Concepts for Good Health, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Here’s how to find out if going wheat-free is right for you.
The Wheat Belly Diet: What Is It?
Your menu choices on this eating plan include natural foods such as eggs, nuts, vegetables, fish, poultry, and other meats. You can use herbs and spices freely and healthy oils, such as olive and walnut, liberally. Eat fruit occasionally — just one or two pieces a week — because the naturally occurring fructose in fruit is a simple carbohydrate. As part of this diet, you’re required to eliminate all fast food, processed snacks, and junk foods, and drink lots of water.
The Wheat Belly Diet is in fact gluten-free, but Davis doesn’t advocate eating packaged gluten-free foods. His reasoning: These products often simply substitute brown rice, potato starch, rice starch, tapioca starch, or cornstarch for wheat flour, and those substitutes can raise your blood sugar or glucose higher than wheat.
The Wheat Belly Diet: How Does It Work?
Cut wheat from your diet, and you’ll eat about 400 fewer calories a day than you normally would, Davis says. This calorie deficit alone is almost enough to add up to a pound of weight loss per week. “Anything that is going to cut calories is going to work because losing weight is a numbers game,” Blake says. “Eat fewer calories than you burn, and you’ll lose weight. Likewise, eat more than you burn, and you’ll gain weight.” Another reason the diet works, Davis says, is that wheat contains a unique protein, gliadin, which stimulates your appetite — so when you eat wheat, your body just wants more wheat. Eliminate wheat and your appetite diminishes on its own. Wheat also causes blood sugar spikes, and elevated blood-sugar levels can cause your body to store calories as fat. Lower your blood sugar by eliminating wheat, and it can contribute to weight loss.
The Wheat Belly Diet: Sample Menu
Breakfast: Plain yogurt with berries and almonds
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with salsa, 1/2 cup brown rice, steamed vegetables sprinkled with extra-virgin olive oil
Dinner: Baked eggplant topped with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, mixed green salad spritzed with extra-virgin olive oil
Snacks: Black-bean dip and raw vegetables
The Wheat Belly Diet: Pros
- If you adhere strictly to the diet, you will lose weight. Over three to six months, you can lose 25 to 30 pounds depending on your age, gender, and physical activity, Davis says.
- The diet is simple. There’s no need to count calories, limit portions, or calculate fat grams. All you have to do is eliminate foods that contain wheat.
- The diet is rich in vegetables, which are full of vitamins and fiber. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and reduce the inflammation that can cause conditions from acne to arthritis.
The Wheat Belly Diet: Cons
- The diet is restrictive, and it may be hard to maintain for the long-term, especially if foods such as bread, cookies, and pasta are among your favorites. “Losing weight doesn’t have to be this challenging,” Blake says. “Do you really need to go to this extreme?”
- Wheat is in a huge number of packaged foods. You have to read food labels carefully because it can be hidden in everything from chewing gum to granola as an emulsifier or leavening agent.
- When you remove all wheat from your diet, if you “cheat” and eat a slice of whole-wheat toast or half a bagel, the wheat could cause digestive problems, such as stomach cramps and gas.
- You could be missing out on some important nutrients. “Whenever you limit whole types of foods, you have to make sure you’re eating healthfully,” Blake says. “This isn’t a well-balanced diet. You should sit down with a registered dietitian to be sure you’re meeting all your nutrient needs if you choose this diet.”
- Although you can lose weight with this diet, it will be lost from all over your body, not just your “wheat belly” or love handles, Blake says. Weight loss doesn’t work that way — you don’t lose from a specific area.
The Wheat Belly Diet: Short-Term and Long-Term Effects
The foods you can eat on the Wheat Belly Diet are healthy, and you should lose weight rapidly if you stick to the plan. Weight loss can affect more than just your appearance: Study after study has shown it can boost heart health, reduce pain, improve your energy levels, and more. For example, someone who is prediabetic and loses just 15 pounds can reduce the risk for diabetes over three years by 58 percent, Blake says.
Because the diet is so new, not much is known about the long-term effects, Blake says, but serious health consequences are not anticipated. Overall, Blake remains skeptical.
“There’s nothing wrong with wheat,” she says. “It isn’t wheat that’s causing you to gain weight; it’s the calories you’re eating. Just eat more fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet, and you can cut calories and lose weight while still occasionally eating foods that contain wheat.”
Photo by Krzysztof Puszczyński
Most of us probably know someone who’s tried going gluten-free in the name of weight loss, better health or fewer tummy troubles. But as that fad has gained steam, so has another trend — going entirely grain-free.
That’s the premise behind The Wheat Belly 10-Day Grain Detox, which criticizes the gluten-free movement for limited thinking. Instead, author William Davis, MD, posits that anybody and everybody can lose weight, feel great, and maybe even ease health problems by completely eliminating all grains (not just gluten) from their diet. That means saying sayonara to rice, cornstarch and most gluten-free desserts, too.
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The work is the latest in the best-selling Wheat Belly franchise, which has inspired millions of people to cut grains out of their lives. Or at least, it’s inspired them to try — eliminating all grains is no easy feat, since wheat, rice, corn and other grain products can be found in everything from soy sauce, to salad dressing, to most of America’s favorite breakfast foods. (Yep, according to Davis, even whole-grain toast and gluten-free oatmeal need to go).
The latest Wheat Belly book, which comes out November 10, 2015, attempts to make the switch to grain-free living a little easier by offering shopping lists, recipes and tips for what to expect during the transition — and beyond. After all, this is no one-and-done elimination diet. Instead, Davis maintains that people should undertake the detox and then remain grain-free for the rest of their lives — no cheat days allowed. (Read about the pros and cons of cheat days here.)
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The Rationale Behind Grain-Free Living
If going grain-free sounds a little extreme, that’s because it is. But Davis maintains that it will be worth it in the long run. For starters, in evolutionary terms, humans only began eating grains a short time ago, he says. “We’ve had insufficient time to adapt to consumption of this food,” Davis says.
Then there’s the theory that the gliadin protein in wheat, and similar proteins in other grains, have an opioid effect on our brains. Davis posits that these proteins actually trigger an addictive response that increases appetite and may eventually lead to weight gain. Not only that, but Davis points to research that suggests grains may be linked to inflammation, autoimmunity, digestive issues, high blood sugar and poor nutrient absorption. Even whole grains may contribute to inflammation. (Here’s how to know if inflammation is harming your health.)
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For these reasons, The Wheat Belly 10-Day Detox proposes that literally everyone can benefit from trying a grain-free lifestyle, whether through weight loss, the resolution of health issues, or both. But in order to reap these positive rewards, says Davis, people need to make a strict commitment to being 100 percent grain-free.
Inside the 10-Day Detox
That brings us to the question: What should you expect if you want to give grain-free living a go?
The 10-Day Grain Detox “is meant to be a day by day, meal by meal guide that tells you how to eliminate grains from your life,” says Davis. “I tried to make it as easy as possible.” To that end, the book walks readers through the entire process of adopting a grain-free lifestyle, from purging their kitchens of grains, to shopping for wholesome foods, to making grain-free recipes.
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The book includes a clear-cut 10-Day Menu Plan in addition to full recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Lest detoxers worry that nothing but raw celery makes the list, the recipes in the book sound surprisingly tasty. Buffalo Chicken Wings, Pork Thai Stir Fry, Key Lime Truffles, Eggplant Lasagna, Cream of Broccoli Soup and Apricot Ginger “Granola” (made with nuts instead of oats) all make the cut.
In lieu of calorie counting, the plan advocates consuming whole foods such as organic vegetables, meats, and eggs, raw or dry-roasted nuts and seeds, oils, and limited amounts of dairy products, legumes, dark chocolate and safe sweeteners (like stevia or xylitol). Even baked goods aren’t off the table, as the plan allows for the use of almond meal, coconut flour, chickpea flour, walnut meal and other replacements for traditional flour.
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Davis is up front about the fact that the detoxification process can be uncomfortable — and the real-life testimonials featured throughout the book bear this out. The transition may be especially frustrating for athletes, as performance is likely to drop for up to six weeks while people’s bodies adjust to deriving energy from fats instead of grain-based carbohydrates, says Davis. He recommends nixing workouts for the first 10 days of the detox before gradually adding them back in.
Despite the unappealing aspects of the detox, devotees of the diet testify that eliminating grains helped them lose weight and reduce cravings. Near the end of the detox, Davis says those who follow the strict elimination diet should also start to have more energy and may notice improvements in their mood, skin, digestion and quality of sleep.
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More than anything else, Davis hopes that readers will want to stick with a grain-free diet because of how good it makes them feel. He wants people to walk away from the book feeling empowered to make changes that benefit their own well-being. “Know that you are capable of an astounding amount of great things in health,” says Davis. “You can do this on your own, and you can accomplish a lot more than you thought.”
According to research conducted by the the United States Department of Agriculture, people in the U.S. consume about 500 more calories today than they did 40 years ago — and a whopping 92 percent of the increased per capita caloric intake is attributable to processed grains, oils and other fats dominating most Americans’ diets.
Surveys show that today adults in the U.S. spend almost three times the amount of money on refined grain products (like bread, cereal and pasta) compared to national recommendations. This has led to something call “wheat belly,” prompting the creation of the wheat belly diet.
According to a publication featured in the Washington Post, the reason for this is because “the two food groups Americans are eating more and more of — added fats and oils, plus flour and cereal products — are the same ones that are found in most processed and fast foods.” (1)
The wheat belly diet has a lot in common with the popular Paleo diet and other types of moderate- to low-carb diet plans, such as the ketogenic diet. Although some skeptics of the wheat belly diet plan wouldn’t agree that avoiding all wheat is necessary for most people, others are convinced that removal of wheat could reduce or relieve symptoms like blood sugar fluctuations, cravings for sweets, weight gain or obesity, and heart disease risk factors significantly or even entirely.
What Is the Wheat Belly Diet?
The wheat belly diet is a dietary plan created by cardiologist William Davis, M.D., that excludes all sources of wheat — which means the majority of high-calorie, packaged foods are off-limits.
Haven’t people been eating wheat for thousands of years, you might be wondering? And aren’t “whole wheat” products supposed to be healthy?
Davis writes in his book “Wheat Belly” that what most people think of as wheat or whole wheat is not really wheat at all, but actually more like a type of transformed grain product that’s the result of genetic research conducted during the latter half of the 20th century. He argues that eating lots of modern-day wheat is one of the main causes of health problems, including:
- Increased appetite stimulation, overeating and cravings.
- Exaggerated blood sugar surges that trigger cycles of energy spikes and dips. Fluctuating blood sugar levels also contribute to problems involving the hormone insulin and are a main risk factor for diabetes.
- Higher risk for metabolic syndrome and heart disease risk factors, including high cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
- Problems regarding the process of glycation that underlies disease and aging.
- Negative effects on gut health, including leaky gut syndrome, which triggers inflammatory reactions and digestive issues like bloating or constipation.
- Alterations in the body’s pH level.
- Fatigue, weakness and lack of mental focus.
- Degeneration of cartilage and higher risk for problems like arthritis or joint pain.
Excluding wheat from your diet also means that most (or even all) of the gluten in your diet is removed, which according to some research can be beneficial for things like improving digestive health and in some cases reducing inflammation levels and boosting immunity.
Gluten is a type of protein found in grains, including all varieties of wheat (like kamut or wheat berries), plus barley and rye. (2) It makes up about 80 percent of the amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) found in these grains and is believed to contribute to a variety of symptoms of gluten intolerance or food allergies that might affect millions of people.
What types of people would want to follow a wheat belly diet most? Those who are looking to lose excess weight (anyone who’s currently obese or overweight), who have sensitivities or any type of allergy to gluten, or who want to eat whole foods much more often and decrease intake of processed foods all make good candidates for the wheat belly diet. (3)
Considering two-thirds of the American population is now considered to be overweight, plus many who are at a “normal weight” could still afford to improve their eating habits, some version of this diet can be beneficial for just about everyone.
1. May Help You Lose Weight or Prevent Weight Gain and Obesity
According to research conducted at Harvard Medical School in conjunction with the Obesity Society, one of the primary reasons that avoiding all wheat may be beneficial for both children and adults is because it causes people to abstain from eating most packaged, processed, high-sugar, high-sodium foods. Today, wheat, in one form of another, is found in the vast majority of nutrient-deficient foods lining grocery store shelves.
Business Insider and Harvard Medical School have both published findings revealing the top 10 sources of calories in the U.S. diet, showing that the No. 1 and No. 2 food groups contributing to Americans’ high calorie intakes are: (4, 5)
- Grain-based desserts: cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers and granola bars
- Yeast breads (presumably made with wheat flour)
Also included on the top 10 list are pasta dishes and pizza, two significant sources of wheat and mostly empty calories. By following a wheat belly diet and avoiding these foods, you can treat obesity naturally and potentially lose weight.
2. Encourages Healthier Habits and Reduces Cravings
Studies have also shown that consuming refined grain products that spike blood sugar levels quickly can impact release of certain brain-active endorphins, including dopamine, which makes these foods essentially “addictive.”
While it’s difficult to overeat things like vegetables and other bulky, whole foods, it’s very easy to consume too many cookies, cakes and pieces of bread. And the more often you give in to these cravings, the more you keep wanting them. (6)
3. Requires Cooking at Home More and Reading Food Labels
By choosing to eliminate all sources of wheat from the diet, people are forced to start looking at food labels and ingredient lists more carefully, eat more fresh foods, cook at home much more often, and thereby usually reduce their overall calorie intake as well.
Harvard researchers note, “As we work to address the issue, we also need to think about calorie (or energy) density in foods. Foods that are high in sugars and fats and lower in water content provide excess calories per unit of weight — they are referred to as energy dense foods.” So decreasing consumption of energy-dense, but low-nutrient, packaged foods that contain hidden or not-so-hidden wheat encourages a healthier food environment in general.
4. May Help Improve Digestive and Gut Health
Today, a good deal of evidence suggests that it’s possible to have gluten intolerance symptoms without having celiac disease, a serious condition characterized by an allergy to gluten. When someone reacts poorly to eating any grains that contain gluten, especially “modern” wheat that some believe has higher levels of gluten than wheat strains of the past, this condition is called non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). (7)
Experts don’t entirely agree on what percentage of the population may be negatively impacted by eating gluten, but many believe that the prevalence of gluten intolerance is high and that gluten may actually cause significant changes in the gut microbiota of most people consuming substantial amounts. This is a big problem considering that our overall health depends heavily on the health of our guts — including vital processes like nutrient absorption and strong immunity.
Depending on the specific person, some of the consequences of gluten sensitivity (triggered from eating wheat) can include digestive and IBS symptoms, such as abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, constipation or diarrhea; trouble metabolizing certain nutrients, which can lead to deficiencies, including anemia (iron deficiency); low energy levels; skin issues, including dermatitis, eczema or rosacea; and many other symptoms tied to increased inflammation.
- All varieties of fresh vegetables, especially those that are non-starchy and low in calories. These include things like cruciferous veggies (broccoli or Brussels sprouts, for example), leafy greens, peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, artichoke, etc.
- Fresh fruit (but not processed juices), including berries, apples, melon, and citrus fruits like grapefruit or oranges. Some people prefer to eat mostly low-sugar fruits but avoid those higher in sugar like pineapple, papaya, mango or banana.
- Healthy fats like coconut oil or olive oil, raw nuts and seeds, avocado, coconut milk, olives, cocoa butter, and grass-fed butter or ghee.
- Grass-fed, humanely raised meat and eggs, plus wild-caught fish.
- Full-fat cheeses (ideally made from raw, organic milk).
- Fermented foods like unsweetened kefir or yogurt, pickled or cultured vegetables, and in moderation tofu, tempeh, miso and natto.
- If they’re well-tolerated, unprocessed grains in moderation, including quinoa, millet, buckwheat (not actually a type of wheat), brown rice and amaranth.
Foods to Avoid
Eating a wheat belly diet means avoiding anything made with the grains wheat, barley, rye, spelt or certain oats. Additionally, Davis recommends avoiding added sugar, condiments that include synthetic or chemically altered ingredients, sugary drinks and other processed foods as much as possible. Below are the main foods to exclude from your diet if you choose to try following this dietary plan:
- Grain-based desserts, including both packaged or homemade cakes, cookies, donuts, pies, crisps, cobblers, and granola bars
- Breads, especially those made with refined wheat flour. Even many “gluten-free breads” or packaged products should not contribute many calories to your diet. While products made from grains other than wheat (like corn or rice) might be free of gluten, they’re still usually not very nutrient-dense and are inferior to eating whole, sprouted ancient grains like oats, quinoa, wild rice or teff, for example. Plus, modern food-processing techniques usually contaminate these foods with gluten since they’re processed using the same equipment that wheat is.
- Most cereals
- Pasta and noodles
- Chips and crackers
- Wheat tortillas, wraps, burritos and tacos
- Fast food
- Take-out, including most Mexican or Italian dishes, burgers and deli sandwiches
- Breaded proteins like chicken cutlets, processed meats, hot dogs and frozen veggie burgers
- Added sugar, including high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, dried fruit, juices and sugary beverage
- Processed rice and potato products
- Trans fats, fried foods and cured meats
Meal Plan Tips
- When grocery shopping, check ingredients carefully and look for products made without wheat, rye and barley. This might mean choosing certified “gluten-free” items in some cases, although even these can be highly processed. The most substantial sources of wheat in your diet are likely bread or baked products made with wheat flour (like pizza, pasta at restaurants, bread, etc.), so unless specifically noted that these are grain- or gluten-free, assume they contain wheat.
- If you are going to buy bread, look for sourdough or sprouted grain breads (like Ezekiel bread), which are usually better tolerated than ordinary wheat-flour breads.
- When it comes to baking or using flour in recipes, try some of these naturally gluten-free flour alternatives over wheat flour: brown rice, quinoa, chickpea, almond and coconut flour.
- Remember that wheat is hiding in many condiments, sauces, dressings, etc. Avoid any that contain flour or added sugar, sticking with basic condiments or flavor enhancers like vinegar, herbs, spices and real bone broth.
- Many types of alcohol, including beer, also contain wheat. Hard liquor and wine are better options, however watch the amount you consume and what you mix these with.
You might find that even when you remove wheat from your diet, even all sources of gluten, you still don’t see a big improvement in symptoms you’re trying to overcome. Keep in mind that gluten isn’t the only thing that can cause digestive issues or weight gain. Other inflammatory foods or habits can contribute to things like digestive troubles, obesity, brain fog and fatigue.
Other common allergen foods besides wheat to try reducing or excluding — such as during an elimination diet — include conventional dairy products, nuts, shellfish and eggs. For some people foods containing FODMAPs can also trigger digestive issues, including IBS symptoms. In fact, certain experts even suspect that for some people, FODMAPs are the real culprit component for NCGS in wheat products, instead of simply gluten. (8, 9)
There’s also some evidence that certain people may experience better health improvements when focusing more on eating a high-vegetable, moderate-carb diet that does include some wheat but limits things like too much meat, refined oils, cheeses and sugar. For example, the 2010 Annals of Internal Medicine published the article “Low-Carbohydrate Diets and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality” showing that low-carbohydrate diets that are high in animal foods and fats may be associated with higher risk for cardiovascular disease and other causes of mortality. (10)
So whether you choose to exclude or include some wheat in your diet, first and foremost remember that eating whole, real foods is the key to lasting health.
With wheat out of the picture, focus on including more anti-inflammatory foods in your diet to repair your digestive system. This helps you keep your focus on the positive rather than feeling deprived of what you’re giving up. To keep things interesting, explore new ways to prepare organic animal products or wild fish, raw dairy products, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and probiotic foods.
Most low-carb recipes that you already like making at home and enjoy are suitable for the wheat belly diet. These include things like omelettes, stir-fries, soups, stews, grilled fish or chicken dishes, burgers, and much more. Some ideas below for gluten-free, wheat-free, low-carb recipes can help get you started on the wheat belly diet:
- Low-carb breakfasts like green smoothies, eggs with veggies or protein shakes.
- For lunch, big salads with protein and a healthy fat, such as avocado, lettuce cups, or a “collard wrap” filled with things like veggies and shredded chicken, or pizza made with “cauliflower crust.”
- For dinner, crockpot chicken or beef, fajitas, lettuce wrap tacos, or mixed veggies with salmon, or grass-fed burgers.
- Snacks, as as one or two cage-free hard-boiled eggs, protein smoothies, a handful of nuts with a fruit, or newer varieties of grass-fed beef jerky.
- Low-carb desserts made from things like chia seeds, coconut or almond flour.
- The wheat belly diet, written about by cardiologist Dr. William Davis, claims that excluding all sources of wheat from your diet can help reduce your risk for health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes or becoming overweight.
- Some benefits of the wheat belly diet can include easier weight management, eating more whole foods, cooking more at home, reducing sugar intake, having more energy, and better managing blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- To eat a wheat belly diet in a healthy way, focus on eating more fresh veggies, fruit, healthy fats like coconut oil or olive oil, nuts, seeds, ancient gluten-free grains in moderation, wild fish, and grass-fed meat.
The Smoke and Mirrors Behind Wheat Belly and Grain Brain
The Atkins Diet lives on in the current bestselling books Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD and Grain Brain by David Perlmutter, MD.
Robert Atkins, MD, creator of the Atkins Diet, was upfront with his recommendations to eat a diet almost exclusively made up of meat, poultry, cheese, butter, fish, and eggs, with very little plant-foods. The first Atkins Diet book was published in 1972; since then well-informed people have come to understand (through their own readings and personal experiences) that eating an animal-based, high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet is wrong. They have learned that following this eating pattern causes epidemic diseases, including type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and common cancers; and that the livestock industry is at the root of climate change. Many people are also wrestling with their conscience as they deal with the moral issues of animals being killed unnecessarily for food, supporting the horrors of factory farming, and depleting our oceans. Therefore, a diet book titled Eat More Animals to Lose Weight would meet a mostly unfriendly audience.
Wheat Belly and Grain Brain take a backdoor approach to the Atkins low-carbohydrate method. As the titles of these books suggest, wheat causes a big belly and grains damage the brain. Within their pages you learn that all starchy foods, including rice, corn, and potatoes—the traditional foods consumed by billions of people throughout human history—are now unhealthy and must be minimized or, better yet, avoided altogether. If you believe these authors, then what is left to eat in order to meet your energy requirements? Meat, dairy, fish, and eggs (the original Atkins Diet).*
In order for the authors of these two books to pull off the monumental task of luring otherwise intelligent people into inherently dangerous diet plans, they have had to (1) ignore the bulk of the science, (2) exaggerate the truth, and (3) make false associations.
Ignoring the Science: Low-Carbohydrate Diets Contribute to a Higher Risk of Death and Disease
Low-carbohydrate diets can cause weight loss, but weight loss should not be the primary goal of individuals, medical doctors, dietitians, insurance companies, or governments. The goal is to live longer and stay healthy. Three major scientific reviews show that low-carbohydrate diets increase the risk of sickness and death.
1) The 2010 Annals of Internal Medicine published the article “Low-Carbohydrate Diets and All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality.” Their conclusion: A low-carbohydrate diet based on animal sources was associated with higher all-cause mortality in both men and women, whereas a vegetable-based, low-carbohydrate diet was associated with lower all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality rates.
2) The 2012 British Medical Journal published the article “Low-Carbohydrate, High-Protein Diet and Incidence of Cardiovascular Diseases in Swedish Women: Prospective Cohort Study.” Their conclusion: Low-carbohydrate, high-protein diets, used on a regular basis and without consideration of the nature of carbohydrates or the source of proteins, are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
3) The 2013 Public Library of Science journal published the article “Low-Carbohydrate Diets and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.” Their conclusion: Low-carbohydrate diets were associated with a significantly higher risk of all-cause mortality and they were not significantly associated with a risk of CVD mortality and incidence.
There are no comparable studies suggesting high-carbohydrate (starch-based) diets increase mortality, cardiovascular disease, or other common diseases. (Any negative references to carbohydrates in these articles apply to simple sugars, not starches.)**
Exaggerating the Truth about Inflammation
Promoters of low-carbohydrate diets, those high in meat, dairy, fish, and eggs, claim dietary carbohydrates are packed with inflammatory ingredients, and that inflammation is at the heart of virtually every disorder and disease. The evidence linking carbohydrates to inflammation is convoluted, theoretical, and largely limited to an uncommon condition, Celiac disease.
Inflammation is the consequence of injury, such as from a cut, burn, or infection. The pain, redness, swelling, and heat that follow are natural, necessary processes for healing. These symptoms and signs of inflammation resolve after the single event. However, with repetitive injury, inflammation can become long-standing, referred to as “chronic inflammation.” One common example of chronic inflammation is bronchitis from inhaling cigarette smoke 20 times a day. Stop smoking and the inflammation stops, and the lungs heal (scar tissues and other residuals of the damage can be left behind).
For dietary diseases, including atherosclerosis, primary sources of repetitive injury are meat, cheese, and eggs. Once the injury is stopped, then healing occurs and the inflammation resolves. Reversal of coronary heart disease is seen on follow up examinations.
Research does not support the theory that carbohydrates from wheat, other grains, or starchy vegetables are the source of injury that leads to chronic inflammation. In contrast, scientific research does solidly support that the source of injury leading to chronic inflammation is animal foods.
Animal Foods, Not Plant Foods, Cause Inflammation
The 2013 European Journal of Nutrition published the article “Consumption of Red Meat and Whole-Grain Bread in Relation to Biomarkers of Obesity, Inflammation, Glucose Metabolism, and Oxidative Stress.” Their conclusion: The results of this study suggest that high consumption of whole-grain bread is related to lower levels of GGT, ALT, and hs-CRP, whereas high consumption of red meat is associated with higher circulating levels of GGT and hs-CRP. (Lower inflammatory markers, like CRP, are associated with better health.)
The 2013 Nutrition Reviews published the article “Dietary Pattern Analysis and Biomarkers of Low-Grade Inflammation: a Systematic Literature Review.” A major conclusion: Patterns identified by reduced rank regression as being statistically and significantly associated with biomarkers of inflammation were almost all meat-based or due to “Western” eating patterns.
The 2014 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition published the article “Associations Between Red Meat Intake and Biomarkers of Inflammation and Glucose Metabolism in Women.” Their conclusion: Greater red meat intake is associated with unfavorable plasma concentrations of inflammatory and glucose metabolic biomarkers in diabetes-free women.
Grains (Including Wheat) Do Not Increase Inflammation
The 2010 Journal of Nutrition published the article “Whole Grains Are Associated with Serum Concentrations of High Sensitivity C-reactive Protein among Premenopausal Women.” Their conclusion: Women who consumed >or= 1 serving/d of whole grains had a lower probability of having moderate (P = 0.008) or elevated (P = 0.001) hs-CRP, according to the AHA criteria, compared with non-consumers.
The 2012 Nutrition Reviews published the article “Effect of Whole grains on Markers of Subclinical Inflammation.” Their findings: Epidemiological studies provide reasonable support for an association between diets high in whole grains and lower C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations. After adjusting for other dietary factors, each serving of whole grains is estimated to reduce CRP concentrations by approximately 7%.
The 2013 Nutrition Journal published the article “The Potential Role of Phytochemicals in Whole-Grain Cereals for the Prevention of Type-2 Diabetes.” Their findings: Diets high in whole grains are associated with a 20-30% reduction in risk of developing type-2 diabetes… biomarkers of systemic inflammation tend to be reduced in people consuming high intakes of whole grains.
There are no comparable studies suggesting meat decreases inflammation or that whole grains, including wheat, increase inflammation. (CRP is a reliable marker of inflammation.)
Several mechanisms have been proposed to explain how animal foods injure our bodies. For example, atherosclerosis (chronic inflammatory artery disease) has been explained by the “cholesterol hypothesis” and by the “TMAO hypothesis.” Another sound mechanism identifies cow’s milk as the culprit. Most important for the consumer to understand is that these mechanisms consistently blame meat, dairy, and/or eggs as the source of the repeated injury and chronic inflammation. No debate here.
Relevant to the argument that inflammation is not the underlying cause of obesity and disease is the fact that treating inflammation with powerful anti-inflammatory medications does not favorably change the course and progression of the disease. To quote respected researchers, “In fact, to our knowledge, no anti-inflammatory therapy cures the majority of patients with a disease in which inflammation plays a major contributory role…” To repeat, inflammation is the result of injury, not the cause of disease.
Making False Associations: Using Celiac Disease to Demonize All Carbohydrates for All People
The main take-away that readers will get from Wheat Belly is that wheat is the major cause of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and almost all other major health problems that people suffer from. Wheat can be very troublesome for a small percentage of the population. Celiac disease is a condition that affects fewer than one in one hundred people following the Western diet. These people must avoid gluten, found in high concentrations in wheat, barley, and rye. However, to put this real concern into a global, historical perspective, consider the importance of these three grains: they have served to fuel the development of civilizations throughout human history and still are a major source of calories, protein, vitamins, and minerals for billions of people. People without celiac disease, or the few other conditions that warrant elimination of these three specific grains, will find them an excellent source of nutrition.
Whole Grains Are Consistently Found to Be Healthy
A recent review of 45 prospective cohort studies and 21 randomized-controlled trials (RCT) compared people who rarely or never consume whole grains with those reporting an average consumption of three to five servings per day and found by comprehensive meta-analysis that those consuming the grains had a 26% reduction in the risk of type-2 diabetes and a 21% reduction in the risk of heart disease (independent of known CVD risk factors). Furthermore, there is an inverse relationship between whole grain intake and weight gain. Examples of whole grains included whole wheat, dark bread, oats, brown rice, rye, barley, and bulgur.
Even those few people intolerant of gluten (wheat, barley, and rye) can healthfully consume non-gluten rice, corn, oats, and other grains. Low-carbohydrate promoters enthusiastically demonize these grains too.
Making False Associations about Diabetes and Carbohydrates
The main take-away that readers will get from Grain Brain is that grains and other starchy foods are the cause of type-2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, and most of the other chronic health problems suffered in the Western world. The truth is that people with type-2 diabetes are ill with many disorders of the body and brain. But grains and other starchy vegetables do not cause type-2 diabetes. The Western diet, loaded with meat, fat, and empty calories, makes people overweight and diabetic.
Type-2 diabetes is cured by a starch-based, high-carbohydrate diet. To take this point to the extreme, the Rice Diet, consisting of white rice, fruit, fruit juice, and table sugar (more than 90% of the calories are from carbohydrate) has been shown to cause profound weight losses in the severely obese, cure type-2 diabetes, and reverse heart disease. Dietary fat increases blood sugar levels and causes people with type-1 diabetes to require more insulin.
Regardless of the effects on blood sugar, the underlying animal-based, low-grain, low-starchy-vegetable diet consisting of those very foods recommended in the books Wheat Belly and Grain Brain, is the major reason people with type-2 diabetes are so sick with heart and other diseases.
Looking Beyond the Smoke and Mirrors
The truth is that the rich Western diet makes people fat and sick. Steering people away from the few healthy components of our diet (grains and other starchy vegetables) and toward the unhealthy foods (meat, dairy, fish, and eggs) makes matters worse. People are desperate for a solution to their weight and health problems, and many of them are easily deceived. Especially when told that prime rib and cheddar cheese are good for them—people love to hear good news about their bad habits. Just as important for the rising popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, books like Wheat Belly and Grain Brain enhance the profits of the meat, dairy, egg, and fish industries.
Although these industries spend hundreds of millions of US dollars advertising “their science” and influencing national nutrition and health policies, the truth is simple and easy to understand: All large successful trim healthy populations of people throughout human history have obtained the bulk of their calories from grains and other starchy vegetables. Consumption of meats along with other rich foods in any significant quantity has been limited to the diets of fat, sick aristocrats (kings and queens)—until recently. To regain our lost health and save planet Earth, the smoke and mirrors behind popular diet books must be exposed.
*In an effort to partially compensate for important nutritional deficiencies, like dietary fiber, vitamin C, and thousands of other phytochemicals found only in plants, non-starchy green, red, and yellow vegetables (for example, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, celery, kale, lettuce, parsley, peppers, and zucchini), and a few fruits are commonly added to these low-carbohydrate diets, including newer versions of the Atkins Diet. Only plants make carbohydrates, thus “low-carbohydrate” is in practical terms synonymous with meat, poultry, cheese, butter, fish, and eggs.
**Simple sugars, like glucose and fructose, are refined ingredients found in sodas, cakes, cookies, and table sugar. Starches (sometimes referred to as complex carbohydrates) are foods with “natural sugars,” such as, barley, corn, millet, oats, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, and wheat.
Originally published in a McDougall Newsletter and republished with permission. to sign-up for the McDougall Newsletter for free.
7-Day Gluten-Free Vegetarian Meal Plan – Free to Download
So you’ve decided to try out the gluten-free diet and are looking for a convenient way to get going – vegetarian style? I can say with confidence you have found the right page. Our meal plan includes only tried and tested recipes that are all gluten-free, delicious and easy to make.
And if you are looking for even more inspiration, you can check out all our gluten-free veggie pages right here.
Though, since we don’t know what your motives are (do you have celiac disease, for example? Did you read somewhere gluten is dangerous?), I’d like to give you a quick overview on the current discussion on the gluten-free diet.
The Gluten-Free Diet – A Quick Intro
I’m sure by now we’ve all met someone who claims how good he or she felt after going gluten-free. But is there an actual science behind it, or is it just a fad?
The gluten-free diet was primarily a treatment for celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity, but now more and more people are adopting this diet in the hopes of living a healthier lifestyle.
So, should you go gluten-free or not? I’ll try to give some clarification.
First you’ll find the main arguments in favour of a gluten-free diet. Most of these arguments come from the New York Times bestseller “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis, who says “modern wheat” is the “perfect, chronic poison” (1).
Then it’s also time for the pro grain camp to speak, led by the Health School of Harvard. As you may have guessed, they rather think the gluten-free diet is a fad. And lastly I’ll tie it all together in my conclusion. Sound ok? Good, let’s start.
The Basics: What is Gluten?
Gluten is a term for a family of proteins that can be found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. When you add water to wheat flour for example, you’ll get an elastic dough with the ability to rise nicely. Also, its good taste and low price make it very popular for baked goods and pasta products (wiki).
Gluten became problematic due to genetic modification and modern processing.
The wheat people ate about 70 years ago is very different from the wheat you’re eating today.
New processing techniques now make it possible to produce refined wheat at a very low cost. At first sight that seems a great improvement. But the downside is that refined wheat has the nutritious parts of the grain stripped off (bran and germ), leaving only the most starchy bit, the endosperm (wiki).
In the 1960s new crossbreeds of wheat were introduced to improve harvests (wiki).
Unfortunately, these genetic modifications also changed the protein and nutrient composition, making it a much worse option than traditional wheat. For example the amount of minerals like zinc, copper, iron and magnesium has decreased by 19-28% (6).
2. Pro gluten-free (Dr. Davis + Followers): Wheat makes you fat and causes many other serious diseases
“A Gluten-Free Diet can be effective for losing weight.”
According to Dr. William Davis modern wheat is not just less nutritious but it can also cause many uncomfortable effects in your body. The most interesting effect of all is being overweight. Dr. Davis states wheat is the main cause of obesity in modern society. He especially makes wheat responsible for belly fat (the reason why he called his book “Wheat Belly”).
According to him, certain compounds in wheat cause appetite stimulation and the release of chemicals similar to endorphins that get you addicted to bread and pasta products.
On top of that, wheat, even whole grain, leads to exaggerated rises in blood sugar. Constantly having high blood sugar can lead to major diseases and also to a lot of belly fat Davis says.
Davis states by removing grain and substituting it with healthy whole foods he helped thousands of his patients to significantly lose weight (Book, chapter 5).
“There are more dangers to a wheat based diet than just obesity.”
Going gluten-free could also help to fix or ease these symptoms:
- Digestive issues
- High blood pressure
- Stool inconsistency
- Stomach pain
- Fatigue, tiredness
The list is basically created by the findings of Dr. Davis. He states that gluten doesn’t necessarily have to be the cause, but that processed wheat can be problematic for many reasons not connected to gluten.
What about whole grains?
Davis mentions studies from the 80s that show replacing white processed wheat with whole wheat led to a reduction of colon cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
He criticizes that government authorities concluded from these results whole grain is good for you. Instead what happened was that a very bad product (white flour) was replaced by a less bad product (whole wheat) which just reduces the problem, but doesn’t eliminate it.
So, according to Dr. Davis it doesn’t matter what kind of whole grain wheat you eat, be it home-baked, stone-ground or organic. Since it’s still wheat it still triggers high blood sugar, belly fat, bad cholesterol particles in the blood, inflammation and so on. Listening to him, you’ll probably die very soon if you keep eating grain (Book, chapter 5).
3. Contra Gluten-Free (Harvard + Followers): Whole Grains are healthy
Surely there are many studies and other dieticians supporting Dr. Davis. However, at the same time the camp supporting whole grains (not processed wheat!) is still big, eg. the Harvard School of Public Health (1).
In 2011 Harvard created the Healthy Eating Plate, “a specific guide to healthy eating based on the best science available,” according to Dr. Anthony Komaroff, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. This guideline reserves one quarter of your daily intake for whole grains (Harvard).
Is whole grain really unhealthy?
Harvard mentions in various articles that good quality whole grain foods, eaten in reasonable amounts, had significant health benefits like:
- reduced risks for type 2 diabetes
- reduced risk of heart disease
- reduced risk of cancer
- better digestion
- healthy long term weight management (1, 2)
It is very obvious that the people from Harvard believe in the beneficial effect of whole grain on health, which is why they recommend you to make whole grains a constant staple in your diet.
Is it true that people lose 10, 20 or even 50 or more pounds by eliminating wheat from the diet?
Julie Jones from the St. Catherine University thoroughly checked the arguments made by Dr. Davis his book “Wheat Belly” (pdf). She says that studies and testimonials document rapid weight loss, especially when diets are low in carbohydrates.
By suggesting eliminating wheat and keeping your daily carb intake at around 20%, the gluten-free diet by Dr. Davis is a classic plan low in carbohydrates and high in whole foods (like Paleo and Atkins for example). These kinds of diets have been proven to promote rapid weight loss in the medium term. Still, in the long run they’re difficult to maintain, Jones says.
So, according to Jones the reason for weight loss success is likely not the elimination of gluten, but reducing carbohydrates and increasing whole foods. (pdf).
Is gluten-free a fad?
Dr. Daniel Leffler, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School says
“Yes, it’s a popular diet of the moment, but it really does seem to provide some improvement in gastrointestinal problems for a segment of the population” (Harvard).
In other words, yes it makes sense for people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But eating good quality whole grain is beneficial for the rest of the population and therefore not necessary to go gluten-free (Harvard).
Here is what I think
If you want to know for sure if you have a gluten intolerance (celiac disease or gluten sensitivity), it’s best to see a doctor and get tested. That should be obvious.
There is a lot of fighting between the camps, with both citing their favourite studies, and this makes it virtually impossible for a normal person to take a decision based on evidence. There’s just too much out there.
If you have any of the symptoms mentioned by Dr. Davis and you don’t know what else to do to get rid of them, you could try going gluten-free for 30 days and see what happens. Our meal plan can be a great start.
Still, even if those symptoms go away, you can’t be certain it was the gluten that caused it. Products with gluten also contain so many other nutrients that might have an effect on you. Likewise the foods that you eat instead of bread and pasta can have a positive impact, especially if you eat more veggies. Please keep this in mind before taking rash decisions.
Alright, I’ve done the best I can to inform you about the gluten-free diet. Now it’s up to you! If you want to do it vegetarian style, our 7 day meal plan can definitely help you out with that.
And lastly, what about the gluten-free – weight loss connection?
A healthy gluten-free diet plan surely can help you to lose weight. Again: probably not because wheat is the problem, but more because you’re restricting your diet and because of its replacements:
- You cannot eat most high calorie junk foods anymore, because many of them contain gluten.
- You’ll very likely eat less calories, because you can’t eat many of your staple carbs anymore: no pasta, no bread, no cereal.
- The easiest replacements have less calories – such as fruits, vegetables and many meats.
So, if you don’t start eating processed gluten-free junk food, then you are automatically forced to eat mostly natural, one ingredient foods.
There is no harm in avoiding gluten since you can get all the necessary nutrients in other foods. Still, that’s the trick: if you go gluten-free you need to make sure that you switch to a well balanced diet and not just cut out wheat (both camps can agree on this by the way). That’s why we created this meal plan.
The Wheat-Free/Gluten-Free Diet
Modern, high-gluten strains of wheat are making you fat.
- No wheat or gluten; say good-bye to some of your favorite baked products
- No more processed sugar
- Unprocessed, real foods are the focus
- Flagship flavors: All the meat you can eat, nuts, fresh fruits and vegetables, quinoa and other gluten-free grains
This Is Your Diet If…
- You’re looking for a high-protein diet
- You have celiac disease or are gluten-intolerant
- You enjoy eating teff, amaranth, and quinoa
- You’re a diligent label reader
Probably Not for You If…
- You love pasta
- You’re looking for a carefree regimen
- You can’t keep your hands out of the bread basket
Like most crops grown for food, wheat has changed over the last century as farmers develop strains that improve flavor, heartiness, yields, or other desirable traits. For example, today’s wheat is substantially higher in protein than heirloom varieties. While a high-protein content is usually seen as a nutritional boon, wheat protein (a.k.a. gluten) enjoys no such health halo. Rather, many are starting to suspect that all that gluten is wreaking havoc on our health.
While nutritionists debate the data, consumers have jumped onto the gluten-free bandwagon in a big way. With so many people insisting that ditching gluten has changed their lives for the better, even wheat-eaters without any mysterious ailments or complaints are starting to wonder how much better they might feel on a wheat-free diet.
If you’ve been tempted to experiment, you couldn’t have picked a better time. Wheat- and gluten-free products and restaurant menu options (even entire restaurants, for that matter) are popping up like mushrooms (which, thank heaven, are gluten-free). Even if gluten is not a problem for you, avoiding wheat often leads to reduced sugar and fat intake.