Since the first edition of Wheat Belly was published, William Davis, MD has often had to answer questions from both inquiring minds and critics. Here, he reveals his answers to the controversial and common questions about wheat and wheat products that he hears the most often.
I thought whole grains were good for health? Is that not true?
William Davis, MD: A simple fallacy in logic led to this incorrect conclusion.
The epidemiologic studies used to argue that “healthy whole grains” are good for health did nothing of the kind. What they showed was that, when processed white flour products were replaced by whole grains, there was an apparent improvement: less weight gain, less colon cancer, less heart disease and less diabetes.
This is an example of replacing something bad – white flour products – with something less bad – whole grains – resulting in an apparent health benefit. This is true.
Studies suggest that replacing white flour with whole grains may contribute to minor reductions in weight and conditions like colon cancer, heart disease and diabetes, but it does not necessarily follow that whole grains are better than no grains.
What should have been asked in the next logical progression is: What are the effects of no grains? We have to look elsewhere for those answers.
The notion that whole grains are good for health is therefore based on a simple blunder in logic. While grains, especially wheat, do indeed provide inexpensive calories on a large scale for the world’s diet, their consumption invites compromises in health.
Why would someone lose weight by removing wheat from the diet? Isn’t it just a matter of losing the calories from wheat products?
WD: No, and in fact I encourage consumption of high-calorie foods such as fats and oils.
The weight loss effects of wheat elimination derive from the loss of the gliadin protein of wheat. According to several studies in the 1970s and 1980s, gliadin is degraded to small peptides in the gastrointestinal tract that gain access to the bloodstream, then bind to the opiate receptors of the brain, exerting an opiate-like effect. The effects of gliadin-derived opiate-like peptides can vary from individual to individual, with effects that include mind “fog,” triggering impulsive behavior, and anxiety, but most people experience appetite stimulation, causing an increase in calorie intake.
Wheat also contains a unique carbohydrate, amylopectin A, largely responsible for the high glycemic index of wheat containing products, whole grains included. Blood sugar highs are followed by precipitous blood sugar lows, a pattern that develops over an approximate two-hour cycle. Blood sugar lows are accompanied by increased appetite. This means that people experience a two-hour cycle of satiety and hunger throughout their day, having to eat to respond to the blood sugar low.
Lastly, there is another protein in wheat, wheat germ agglutinin, that may block the leptin receptor, one of the hormones of satiety, in effect turning off the normal controls over appetite.
Lose the gliadin-derived opiate effect, the two-hour cycle of hunger, and the leptin blocking effect, and appetite plummets back to a natural level designed to provide sustenance, not indulgence.
Won’t nutritional deficiencies develop if we eliminate grains like wheat, especially fiber and B vitamins?
WD: Provided we replace the lost calories of wheat with healthy foods, there is no deficiency of any nutrient that develops. If we replace wheat with vegetables, meats, eggs, nuts and other healthy foods, there is no nutrient that cannot be obtained in equal or greater measure from other foods, including riboflavin, vitamin B12, folate, magnesium, vitamin C and zinc. With the right dietary choices, fiber intake, likewise, can stay the same or can even increase with wheat elimination.
In fact, when we get rid of wheat, we also decrease our intake of a powerful “anti-nutrient” factor called phytates that can decrease absorption of several essential nutrients.
The truly beneficial fibers in food are the so-called “viscous,” or soluble, fibers that are digested by bowel flora to fatty acids, a process that enhances bowel health and may protect against colon cancer. The fibers of wheat are, in contract, insoluble fibers with a structure identical to that of wood; insoluble fibers from wheat are therefore insoluble and do not provide the same range of benefits as, say, the fibers in certain vegetables, garbanzo beans, or sweet potatoes.
What if I don’t need to lose weight? Does this way of eating still provide benefits?
WD: Yes, absolutely.
Losing weight may simply be a by-product of regaining health and control over appetite. There are many other facets of health regained minus wheat.
For instance, people who get rid of wheat may experience relief from acid reflux, the bowel urgency of irritable bowel syndrome, joint pains in the fingers and wrists, migraine headaches, anxiety, depression, disrupted sleep and low energy.
That’s just a partial list. I would classify the elimination of wheat as the most powerful tool for reclaiming health that I have ever witnessed. If there is no need to lose weight at the start, weight can be maintained simply by eating a healthy amount of calories, such as those from fats, oils, and proteins.