To Wheat or Not To Wheat

I recently finished reading Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD. It’s a book that I’ve been hearing about for months, but that I honestly avoided because it seemed like everyone who read it became absolutely obsessed. Now I know why.

wheat belly

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I’ve taken away a lot of good, but also still have a lot of questions. I made sure to read it with a critical eye, because I didn’t want to simply believe everything he was saying just because it was in print. I think I did that well, and over the past week or so have spent time gathering my thoughts about where I stand on the great wheat debate.

If you haven’t read the book yourself, I do strongly suggest you read it. There is some great information in the book, and even if you don’t completely eliminate wheat from your life, it’s helpful to be armed with this information to at least start making some healthy changes to your diet and lifestyle.

My biggest question after reading Wheat Belly is this: Are all of our problems actually coming from the wheat, or is it really just the overabundance of sugars in our diet? If you don’t have celiac or a gluten sensitivity, is it really the wheat that is harmful? Or is it the 60-70% of daily calories that come from carbs for many Americans?

I know that the author points to a lot of science and research regarding this, and he seems convinced that it is, in fact the wheat. And before you say “but wheat has been around for centuries, blah blah blah”, the Dr. Davis makes it very clear that the genetically modified wheat that we consume today is no where close to the wheat that was around even 100 years ago. That, to me is a scary thought, that we have genetically modified some foods so much that they practically aren’t even the same food that they once were in the wild. Creating crops that can be grown quickly, with high yield and at low cost is on one hand brilliant science, but on the other hand possibly harming our insides slowly and silently.

Another thought that I had while reading was that it seemed to me that the author was kind of using scare tactics to get his point across. Someone who believes everything they read might come away from this book believing that if they continue to eat wheat, they’re going to develop a severe neurological disorder and/or heinous skin rash. It is scary to think that wheat could play a part in many of the diseases and disorders we see today, but people also need to realize that there are many, many people who eat wheat for their whole lives and never develop these life threatening diseases. (Or are there?). It is amazing though, the amount of disorders, diseases, rashes, etc. that can potentially be exacerbated by wheat products. I’ve had mild psoriasis my entire life; could it be cleared up by simply eliminating wheat from my diet? It’s an interesting thought.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t know what I’m saying. I definitely don’t think he’s incorrect, but I’m also not positive that everyone needs to eliminate wheat completely from their lives. But should we all cut down drastically on the wheat products we consume? Probably. (See, I told you I don’t really know what I’m saying).

So what am I going to do? Am I going wheat free? Well, not completely, not for now. What I have done since I’ve started reading the book is actively eliminating most wheat products from my diet. Notice that I didn’t say grains, but wheat specifically. I’ve still been eating oats and brown rice in the grain category. I have had some wheat products here and there, but extremely sparingly. I must say that the times when I string together several completely wheat free days back to back have been great. I’m not a huge bread/pasta/cracker eater on an every day basis, so this hasn’t been too difficult for me. Dr. Davis also included some very tasty looking wheat-free recipes at the back of the book, so I’m actually looking forward to trying some of them out. Maybe when I do so I’ll let you all know how they come out!

I think my plan for the immediate future is to eliminate wheat as much as possible, but I’m not going to get crazy about it. I don’t have celiac, so if a little bit of gluten creeps into my day, I’m going to be just fine. I’ll stick with this for a little while, and then may go completely wheat free for a while, but we’ll have to see.  I don’t necessarily know if wheat is the devil, but I do know that it is not the healthy diet staple that the ADA would like you to think it is. I am in full agreement that wheat should not be the base of our entire diet, and that many people would see some great health changes if they decreased their wheat intake, and increased other parts of their diet such as veggies, eggs, and organic meats.

Maybe this is a slow transition into paleo for me, maybe not. All I know is, I still have a lot of questions, and you should too. Are there things that you are eating every day, disguised as health foods but that are really doing more harm than good? Possibly. Books like Wheat Belly may feel like brainwashing, and they may seem extreme, but to me, this information is worth looking into. Who knows, eliminating wheat may improve your life in ways that you would never expect (but maybe it wont, to be totally honest). Is it worth it to try? That’s up to you.

16 thoughts on “To Wheat or Not To Wheat

  1. I had similar misgivings about the book when I read it; I actually felt like most of the “science” he uses might apply to ALL overeaten carbs, not specifically wheat. I didn’t feel like the identified anything specific to wheat that makes it any worse than any other grain eaten in large amounts, and I found that much of what he attributed to wheat alone was not backed by any kind of study data.

    That being said, I don’t eat wheat much myself, as I find it makes me bloated and messes with my stomach. But should NO ONE eat it? Meh. That’s an individual decision and not an across the board rule.

    1. Yeah I had a hard time figuring out whether there was actually any proof that it’s the Wheat itself, and not just the sugar/grains/high carbs. I don’t eat it a ton either, but I agree that I don’t think everyone has to avoid it completely!

  2. Hmm I haven’t read it – but as far as how I feel about it I was one of the crazy Atkins Anti-Carb people and lost a ton of weight. It was one of the few times I didn’t have the bubble belly. BUT with that said… a balanced diet has made me a healthier and happier person. Do I think that all wheat should be removed, no. I think your comment about the percentage of carbs/wheat products in a diet being such a high amount is probably more of the issue. It shouldn’t overwhelm your protein/veggie/fruit – I kind of think of it as a side. I’m not a Gluten free but I do have poofy belly. So this may warrant more research – I did download the other book you reviewed The End of Overeating … I’m amazed at how being aware of eating triggers now is allowing me to modify some of my worst habits.

    1. Glad you enjoyed The End of Overeating! I’ve read it twice now, and really like that book. I’ll probably end up reading Wheat Belly again, to be honest. I also think that a “poof belly” has more to do with carbs in general than with wheat, but then again, maybe I’m wrong!

  3. I must say, I was very skeptical of the effect that cutting wheat out of my diet for a month would have (I just finished the Whole 30) but I do think that grains are a “trigger food” for me. I found out last summer that I have a sugar sensitivity and think that wheat plays into that-meaning, my body craves more wheat and sugar when ever I have those things. I’ve started working brown rice back in and have had some dairy since I stopped the Whole 30, and so far the only thing that has really messed me up has been sugar and white flours. I think that I am going to continue to follow a mostly paleo or primal diet for a while and see if I continue to feel as healthy and satisfied as I did on the Whole 30.

    1. I honestly think everyone has a “sugar sensitivity”. The insulin response to high carb foods makes your body go on a blood sugar and hormonal roller coaster that leads to more cravings and a sort of addiction. I think it’s awesome that you did the Whole 30 and loved it so much! I also tend to encourage people to add in brown rice and dairy if they can tolerate it after a Whole 30, as many people can include those in a “clean” diet and still make great progress.

  4. I haven’t read the book, but I trust your review. I cut out gluten a few years ago and felt amazing, but lo and behold it was at the same time I cut back on all forms of processed food. I later added oats and rice and the occasional bread and pasta back into my diet, to no adverse effects. I have been generally wheat-free for six months now. I have two pieces of bread on Sundays and rice or quinoa once per week, but that’s it. I follow this style of eating purely because I prefer it, not because I think there’s anything wrong with wheat. Now dairy, on the other hand – I think that’s the worst culprit! I’m actually experimenting to try to add little bits back in, but I’m sceptical given how positively my body responded when I first eliminated it.

    1. I love your approach to this! This is mostly how I do it as well — I still include some oats and brown rice in my diet, but avoid most wheat. I think it’s great for people to see that you can have a little bit of something like bread and not suffer tremendous effects, as long as you don’t have celiac. Dairy is definitely a no-no for some people too — I don’t seem to have any problem with it, thank God because I love my greek yogurt!

  5. samanthaangela May 29, 2013 — 1:45 pm

    I think this is a really good review of the book:

    I haven’t read it so I can’t really comment but I don’t intend to read it either precisely for the scare tactics that you mentioned the author uses in his writing. It might be worth a read if I were having some unexplained health issues, but since I eat wheat regularly and have no problems at all it seems unnecessary to scare myself out of eating something that might not be harmful.

    1. I was just going to reply with a link to the Freedhoff review, which I cited on my own review of Wheat Belly.

      I think Davis makes some interesting points, but an easier to read / better cited book which doesn’t just devolve into a no-sugar-no-grain point of view in order to include some recipes (it sets out all of the research that supports that as its basic premise) is It Starts With Food. That is a far more interesting discussion that builds on some of the ideas Davis presents but without losing the plot to sell books.

      1. Thanks for the link to that review!! I’ll have to check out It Starts With Food; I’ve heard a lot about it but haven’t read it yet.

  6. I tend to be really hesitant to believe any fad that takes the world by storm like this. And the fact that the author thinks he needs to resort to scare tactics makes me believe his argument isn’t as strong as it should be. I can’t really say anything either way though because I haven’t read the book and I haven’t read any studies on it. I think I would need to do a lot of research before I make up my mind! I admit I’m curious about it all though – the fact that celiac disease and gluten sensitivities have become more common these days (or maybe just more diagnosed?) makes me think that maybe there is something fishy about wheat…

    1. Yeah there are definitely some very thought provoking ideas in this book, and I really do recommend it despite some of the things I said above. Are celiac and gluten sensitivities really being diagnosed more? Or are wheat products really changing for the worse?

  7. Hm I’ve read the book, and agree on the “scare tactics” part. But shuffling through that, there were some valid points, though I love breads and pastas too much to give them up. So I’m making a conscious choice to just go ahead and eat wheat, but lesser.

    1. I agree that there were some very valid and interesting points made, and that is why I recommend that people read it so that you can think about some of these things and make the decision for yourself. I think less wheat is a good plan for many people; maybe it doesn’t have to be all or nothing!

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