Do You Have A “Wheat Belly”?

A renowned cardiologist explains how eliminating wheat can shrink your belly . . . and save your health.

Cardiologist William Davis, MD, started his career repairing damaged hearts through surgical angioplasty and stents. “That’s what I was trained to do, and at first, that’s what I wanted to do,” he explains. But when his own mother died of a heart attack in 1995, despite receiving the best cardiac care, he was forced to face nagging concerns about his profession.

“I realized how silly it was,” he says. “I’d fix a patient’s heart, only to see her come back, and back and back with the same problems. It was just a band-aid, with no effort to identify the cause of the disease.”

So he sailed his practice toward highly uncharted medical territory–prevention–and spent the next 15 years examining the causes of heart disease in his own patients. The resulting discoveries are revealed in Wheat Belly, his New York Times best-selling book, which attributes many of our nation’s physical problems, including heart disease, diabetes and obesity, to our consumption of wheat.

He spoke to us this week about how exactly eliminating wheat can “transform our lives.”

  • First of all, what is a “wheat belly”?
    • I make a lot of arguments about the dangers of wheat, one of which is that it raises your blood sugar dramatically. In fact, two slices of wheat bread raise your blood sugar more than a Snickers bar. Anything that raises blood sugar to a high level will cause accumulation of abdominal fat. We’re not quite sure why high blood sugar leads to belly fat accumulation, but it does. When my patients give up wheat, I see that weight loss is substantial, especially from the abdomen. People can lose several inches in the first month.
  • ImageYou make connections in the book between wheat and a host of other health problems. How did you come up with this theory?
    • Eighty percent of my patients had diabetes or pre-diabetes. I knew that wheat spiked blood sugar more than almost anything else, so I started to say, “Let’s remove wheat from your diet and see what happens to your blood sugar.” They’d come back 3 to 6 months later, and their blood sugar would be dramatically reduced. But they also had all these other reactions: “I did this, and I lost 38 pounds.” Or, “my asthma got so much better, I threw away two of my inhalers.” Or “the migraine headaches I’ve had every day for 20 years stopped within three days.” “My acid reflux is now gone.” “My IBS is better, my ulcerative colitis, my rheumatoid arthritis, my mood, my sleep . . .” and so on, and so on.
  • So what is it about wheat that you think causes all these problems?
    • When you look at the makeup of wheat, it’s almost like a group of evil scientists got together and said, how can we create this god-awful destructive food that will ruin health?
    •      First, amylopectin A, a chemical unique to wheat, is an incredible trigger of small LDL particles in the blood–the number one cause of heart disease on the United States. When wheat is removed from the diet, these small LDL levels plummet by 80 and 90 percent.
  • I typically think of a “hearth-healthy” diet as one that is low in fat and high in whole grains.
    • That has been the common wisdom for the last 15 years or so, and in that time we’ve seen an explosion in the rates of small LDL cholesterol, obesity and heart disease in this country. We’ve had a situation where the national advice–to cut fat and eat more whole grains–is advocating a diet that causes heart disease.
  • You also talk about the “addictive” properties of wheat.
    • Wheat contains high levels of gliadin, a protein that actually stimulates appetite. Eating wheat increases the average person’s calorie intake by 400 calories a day.
    •      Gliadin also has opiate-like properties in the brain, so it’s not surprising that when some people remove wheat from their diets, they literally go through a period of withdrawal where they feel terrible. Food scientists have known this for 20 years, and they’ve used it to their advantage. If you go up and down the supermarket shelves, you’re going to see wheat flour in the most improbable places—everywhere from Campbell’s soup to granola bars.
  • Is eating a wheat-free diet the same as a gluten-free diet? I know that’s a major trend right now.
    • Gluten has negative, inflammatory properties, but it is just one component of wheat. In other words, if I took the gluten out of it, wheat will still be terrible for you since it will still have the Gliadin and the amylopectin A, as well as several other undesirable components.
  • So you don’t advocate all the “gluten free” products I see at the grocery store.
    • Unfortunately, when it comes to health, the food industry does not normally know what they’re doing. They’ve come out with all these foods that are gluten free: gluten-free multi-grain bread, gluten-free bagels, etc. Those are made with 4 basic ingredients: corn starch, rice starch, tapioca starch or potato starch. And those 4 dried, powdered starches are some of the very few foods that raise blood sugar even higher than wheat does!
  • Sounds like all the “fat free” foods that came out 10-15 years ago. People thought “these cookies are good for me because they don’t have fat.”
    • Perfect analogy. Yes, it’s the same kind of blunder. Just because it lacks one thing doesn’t make it good.
  • Is there any bread or wheat that’s okay to eat? What about the the health breads and the sprouted breads?
    • No. They still retain too much of the adverse wheat compounds–leptins, amylopectin A, gluten and gliadin. You might reduce the amount of some of the compounds, but they’re still there.
  • So what can you eat?!
    • I encourage people to return to real food: vegetables and nuts, cheese and eggs and meats in all forms, avocados and olives. Get rid of the “low-fat” notion. It’s not necessarily a diet of deprivation. I’ve been doing this for many years myself, and I’ve had cookies and cheesecake, carrot cake, chocolate biscotti–but it means recreating these food using different ingredients. I have recipes in the back of my book as well as on my wheat belly blog.
  • You advocate real food, but isn’t wheat a “real food?” People have been eating it for thousands of years, why is it suddenly such a problem?
    • Wheat really changed in the 70s and 80s due to a series of techniques used to increase yield, including hybridization and back crossings. It was bred to be shorter and sturdier and also to have more gliadin, a potent appetite stimulate. The wheat we eat today is not the wheat that was eaten 100 years ago. Wheat has also become a much more central part of the American diet.
  • What if I remove the wheat, but I’m still eating carbohydrates? So, for example, I stop eating my sandwich every day, and I start eating rice with chicken and vegetables. Will I still have the health benefits? Will I still lose weight?
    • Most do, yes. Because rice doesn’t raise blood sugar as high as wheat, and it also doesn’t have the amylopectin A or the gliadin that stimulates appetite. You won’t have the same increase in calorie intake that wheat causes. That’s part of the reason why foreign cultures that don’t consume wheat tend to be slenderer and healthier.
  • Does everyone need to stop eating wheat, or are some people more at risk for these problems than others?
    • If you ask me, everyone should stop eating wheat. This is the closest I know of to something that will transform your life. There are very few people who don’t have some physical issue that can be helped by this. The physical reach is so far and so wide, that I’m shocked when someone comes back to me and says, “I did it and nothing happened.”
  • Does that happen?
    • Very uncommon. Very, very uncommon.
Author
William Davis, MDWilliam Davis, MD, is a preventive cardiologist and the author of Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health. He is currently in private practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He writes about nutrition and health on his Wheat Belly Blog.
  • Mary in MN

    I am curious as to why so many healthcare professionals are after the public to change eating habits.
    The article states that wheat has been changed and used to addict the public “Wheat contains high levels of gliadin, a protein that actually stimulates appetite. Eating wheat increases the average person’s calorie intake by 400 calories a day.
    Gliadin also has opiate-like properties in the brain, so it’s not surprising that when some people remove wheat from their diets, they literally go through a period of withdrawal where they feel terrible. Food scientists have known this for 20 years, and they’ve used it to their advantage. If you go up and down the supermarket shelves, you’re going to see wheat flour in the most improbable places—everywhere from Campbell’s soup to granola bars.”

    My question is – why are these heathcare pros NOT going after the creators/enhancers of these addictive new strains of wheat??

    Why do they seem to prefer to tell us that we are the problem?! If I have not changed my diet, but the producers have changed the product – the major problem is with the changed product – start going after them and stop telling me that I am bad for eating what used to be good food!!!!!

    I come from a long line of long lived, healthy folk and I know why I am fat – it is lack of moving and over eating and that is true of every fat adult I know that does not have a health issue. I live in a neighborhood of kids – I rarely seem any of them playing in the park across the street. Why? – because we are scared they will be grabbed, they are inside sitting playing games or they are sitting in school taking some other course [and yes, I know not every child is in this category]. I was sent outside to play as a kid, my kids were sent outside to play when they were kids – we and they learned about nature from observing it up close, we and they learned about getting along with others by playing with others and getting told by other adults when behaviors were annoying or we/they got out of hand.

    I am tired of being told on every side that it is my fault and lack of willpower when, according to this article, the fault lies mainly with the producers of our staple foodstuffs.

  • MAMASSOC@GMAIL.COM

    I believe the elimination of wheat and all flour and sugar is essential.. but easier said than done.

  • laclay

    My friend is a Nurse Practitioner and just read this book, it makes alot of sense. Wish I could man up and stick to a diet without wheat.

  • Gyrobob

    In early October I started. Now, after 5 weeks of following the guidance in the book, I have these results:
    — Losing weight again, 7 lbs so far.
    — No more headaches (this after 40 years of several headaches per week).
    — Tinnitus is diminishing, but I’ll admit it may be from not taking aspirin anymore.
    — Bruises and cuts heal faster, but, again, this might be from no more aspirin.
    — How do I phrase this next one?,… well,.. let’s just say that after decades of inconsistent fecal combat, I now enjoy a serene, gentle, and tidy regularity.
    — Joint pain and stiffness are markedly reduced. I ride motorcycles and fly gyrocopters,.. the ability to crank my head around in traffic to look for other traffic behind me (like I did in my 30’s) is huge.
    — I’ve stopped taking allegra, since the allergy symptoms have mostly disappeared.
    — More stamina/energy. Last week, for example, I pushed a lawn vac around a acre of lawn to get up all the leaves, bagged the leaves, mowed that acre with a push mower, removed all the concrete from a mailbox post hole and installed a new mailbox post doing all the new concrete, took my current wife out for three hours of lunch and shopping, and washed two cars. In September, that amount of work would have reduced me to a quivering mass (I’m 64), assuming I would have had the mental energy to even contemplate it.
    — Appetite has diminished noticeably. Hunger pangs don’t happen anymore. The locals refer to me as “to-go-box Bob” because I get full so much sooner,.. always needing a “to go” box. It has gotten to the point where I have to eat when the schedule calls for it rather than because I feel hungry. I have skipped meals altogether a few times and not felt it at all.
    — I’ve stopped taking melatonin to help fall asleep. No more sominex, etc., either. Now when I hit the sack, a few minutes after my head touches the pillow, I am out. I can sleep in a moving car now, for decades a feat impossible for me.
    — No more caffeine required in the morning. This newfound energy level has replaced my need to get the brain started after waking up all groggy.

    It works,… it really works.

  • Mamavalveeta03

    Whoa, Doc!! Putting those warm, crusty bagels on the cover of your book is like pouring a drink for an alcoholic! Do you think that was a good idea??

  • KyleBrewer

    Just ordered the book. Will try it since it has diary products, unlike the Paleo diet. Would love to look down and see my toes instead of my tummy! :-)

  • slbennetti

    I have downloaded his book onto my Nook and read it and I am living it. I have lost 14 lbs and I can boast, I am not hungry. Dr. Davis gives great advice and I can attest to the diet actually working. Bravo, easiest diet I have ever been on.

  • karenmm58

    We have been eating somewhat paleo for a year and i can see the difference. Not just the weight loss but the energy level and beautiful skin. When i try to eat even a half a bagel, my heart races abd my stomach hurts

  • cristinag

    can we have rye bread? What kind of bread can we have? I cant live bread free

  • saynice

    Cake or Death?

  • mathmom

    ……but it is a major diet change. Getting rid of sugar was a major overhaul, but then there were many substitutes. Finding substitutes for wheat will be more challenging!

  • sonsethues

    I’ve been gluten free for years. I still haven’t lost my belly. I ‘ve lost some weight in other places but not in my stomach. I lose more weight weight by controlling all carbs. The alternatives to wheat flour and products are extremely high in carbs and calories. When I couldn’t have wheat anymore I also found I had to limit all other similar products because they either taste awful or just add empty calories. Has eliminating wheat for the last four or five years changed my life? Well I don’t see any improvements what soever in the weight department. I don’t bake much and eat little or no bread type products. I get tired of brown rice and Quinoa is okay but going wheat free is very expensive and hard on the budget. I would only go wheat free if you really think you should. Most people I know haven’t kept up with it because it’s very difficult to follow. It is for me because my other family members don’t have to go wheat free. I have given in a few times this year while traveling and had no ill effects.

  • slbennetti

    No rye bread, it allows you potatoes, rice, corn but no wheat. And in order to lose the weight you do need to watch what carb total you are eatting.

  • JunieB

    I read the article last week & cut out all wheat. I found I just wasn’t hungry so I truly believe the part about how the wheat we eat now raises blood sugar. What I am shocked about is I have lost 4 pounds !

  • JunieB

    Great ! I just love Eddie Izzard!

  • Mrs. Meowrr

    The same thing happened to me!

  • Susan S.

    Dr. Davis said that the reason wheat is no longer tolerable in our diets is because it has genetically changed since ancient times, but I was wondering about farro, since it is an ancient grain and a precursor to wheat? Also, if farro is ok to eat, I’m wondering if it could be ground into flour and used as a substitute for wheat?

  • Susan S.

    And barley flour? Are they ok?

  • maciberkeley

    Read about this just before heading out on a cruise. With so many options, it was very easy to avoid wheat and it made it less tempting to eat some of those goodies. Cream puffs were my only “oh darn” moment but I resisted! Actually returned with a smaller, not larger tummy!

  • pupplesan

    I agree that wheat is problematic, but so are all cereal grains, above maize which is converted into bird, cow and pig meat, high fructose corn syrup and lots of other real garbage.