Emblazoned right there on the cover of his NY Times bestseller Wheat Belly, Dr. William Davis claims, “Lose the wheat — lose the weight, and find the path back to good health.” But is he right? Heck, he must be, he’s a doctor right?
Well hold your horses. Just because you have that MD following your name doesn’t always mean you know it all about the best medicine, remember “Doctor” Frankenstein? OK, whoa, before I hear from Dr. Davis’ attorneys, I am not saying the Good Doctor is a Mad Scientist, but some say he may have played it a little fast and loose with the science in his book. So let’s take a look at the so-called “Wheat Belly Diet.”
Like a “beer belly,” Dr. Davis, a cardiologist, coins the term “wheat belly” for the extra spare tire all too many Americans are carrying around. In other words he is blaming almost all obesity on consumption of modern industrialized wheat products. He advocates cutting out wheat entirely from your diet, and you will not only lose weight, but drastically improve your health, even prevent heart disease, and diabetes.
If that sounds like Dr. D is capitalizing on the “Gluten Free” craze, he is, to a degree.
I am all for cutting down on processed carbs and cutting out junk food, any diet that has you do that will result in weight loss and improved health. So, by that token, I really have no objection to the Wheat Belly Diet whatsoever.
However, where Dr. Davis and I part company, is his very strongly stated hypothesis throughout the book, that “modern hybridized” wheat is responsible for just about every illness that plagues modern man!
The Truth About Gluten
If you remember one of my earlier posts, Gluten-Free Fact or Fiction, and you read Wheat Belly, you will recognize some of the clinical studies that Dr. Davis points to in order to prove his hypothesis about wheat being the root – or at least the grain of all evil. The problem is all of those studies were conducted not to establish a link between cutting down on wheat and weight loss, but on the effects of cutting out gluten on patients with true celiac disease, and people that otherwise legitimately have problems with digesting gluten.
For example, In Chapter 3 of his book, Wheat Deconstructed, Davis writes “if we look only at overweight people who are not severely malnourished at the time of diagnosis who remove wheat from their diet, it becomes clear that this enables them to lose a substantial amount of weight.” He backs up this claim in the very next sentence, “A Mayo Clinic/University of Iowa study of 215 obese celiac patients showed 27.5 pounds of weight loss in the first six months of a wheat-free diet.”
That really seems to make his point… until you realize he is really totally misquoting the study. According to Pete Bronski, a well-known blogger on the Gluten Free Lifestyle, “First of all, the study didn’t examine 215 obese patients. Body Mass Index for study participants ranged from underweight to normal to overweight to obese. Secondly, only 25 of those 215 patients lost weight, and the weight loss was not restricted to the obese subset of participants,” and most importantly a little fact that Doc Davis chooses to ignore — 91 of the 215 patients actually gained weight!
Pete points out another example, “Davis makes the claim that gluten exorphins are addictive like morphine and that those addictive properties cause you to eat more calories and gain weight. He writes participants consumed 28 percent less wheat crackers, bread sticks, and pretzels with the administration of naloxone [a chemical that blocks gluten exorphins].”
Except Pete explains, that is not what really happened. According to the full published study, “while naloxone appeared to have an impact on the consumption of high fat and high sugar foods, it had no effect that correlated with gluten. In fact, while Davis claims that participants consumed 28 percent fewer wheat crackers, bread sticks, and pretzels, they actually consumed 40 percent more gluten-containing bread sticks.”
Pete goes on to cite many other discrepancies in the book. You can read his entire blog post here.
Do not get me wrong, I am not here to totally torpedo the Wheat Belly Diet. Dr. Davis makes some very good points, and if you follow his diet, you probably will lose weight. But if you cut out 400 calories a day of any food — as he claims anyone can do by eliminating wheat from their diets – you will lose weight!
There may be some value to the Wheat Belly Diet; certainly it’s a great idea for people who are known to have a Gluten Sensitivity, (although Davis also says do not substitute Gluten-Free products for wheat products). I just want my readers not to fall into the trap of taking a bestselling book as the Gospel truth, just because it is written by an MD.
How to Follow the Wheat Belly Diet
To follow the diet completely, you will need to get Dr. Davis’ book, or become a member of what has now become, since the first publication of his book in 2011, the Wheat Belly Lifestyle Institute.
Basically, the diet means entirely cutting out wheat products, and living on a menu of 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 as much as you like. The diet allows only one or two pieces of fruit a week because Davis sees the naturally occurring fructose in fruit as a simple carbohydrate. As part of this diet, you will not only cut all wheat products entirely out of your diet, you must eliminate all fast food, processed snacks, and junk foods, and drink lots of water.
Who Should Use the Wheat Belly Diet?
According to Dr. Davis, everybody in the modern world! For me, I would say if you have struggled with weight, and have tried a bunch of diets and failed, the Wheat Belly Diet may be worth a go. But do not buy into the miraculous nature of it, nor the overly ambitious and largely unsubstantiated claims Davis makes in his book, of its ability to “cure” everything from diabetes, to Alzheimer’s and Arthritis.
There is nothing bad, or unhealthy about the diet, and following it, you probably will lose some weight.
As mentioned above, Dr. Davis makes a lot of unsubstantiated claims about the benefits of cutting out wheat entirely from your diet, and skews the results of many scientific studies to back up his controversial claims.
The Bottom Line
The subtitle of Wheat Belly is “lose the wheat, lose the weight, and find your path back to health.” It’s repeated almost religiously throughout Dr. Davis’ book, and that is my biggest beef with it. There are a lot of good reasons to decrease carbs in your diet. But to pin all the evils of obesity and ill health on one single food item – modern hybridized wheat, with very little actual proof to back it up – is just scientifically unsound.
If one looks real closely at this diet, you will come to find it’s really nothing more than another take on “High Protein – Low Carbs” vis-a-vis Atkins, with the wheat-free gimmick sprinkled on top to capitalize on the growing gluten-free trend.
So, if I was inclined to use a “five star approach” to review the Wheat Belly Diet, I’d give it 3 out of 5 stars. There is certainly nothing wrong with a high-protein, low-carb diet that also encourages you to cut out junk food, fast food, and processed grains, but I cannot totally endorse it because Dr. Davis also uses a lot of junk science to back up his largely theoretical claims.
You can find the book on Amazon and draw your own conclusions.