Readers, a quick programming note: in two days we'll run an exclusive interview with the author of Wheat Belly, Dr. William Davis. Stay tuned!
Wheat Belly is an excellent book with striking ideas about our food supply, and I'm betting it will convince hundreds of Casual Kitchen readers to rethink their diets. We're rethinking ours.
Wheat Belly's central thesis is this: there is something fundamentally unhealthy about the chemical and genetic structure of modern wheat. And as modern wheat proliferated throughout our food supply beginning in the mid 1970s, it brought about an explosion of negative health consequences across our society--including, of course, obesity, which is a rapidly worsening pandemic in nearly every country where wheat is a staple food.
In chapter after chapter, author Dr. William Davis builds an entire edifice of allegations against wheat:
* It causes our blood sugar to spike and then plummet,
* It has a near-narcotic effect on our brains, driving food cravings,
* It drives a roller-coaster cycle of hunger/food coma/hunger, causing us to overeat,
* Our bodies convert it into visceral (belly) fat extremely efficiently.
In our parents' and grandparents' generations, obesity was relatively uncommon, and a person with extra belly fat would often be described as having a beer belly. Today, the phrase is wheat belly--and it seems like nearly everyone has one. This book's bottom line: the more wheat we eat, the more unhealthy we'll be.
Dr. Davis supports his claims about wheat with extensive evidence, and he then piles on with anecdote after acecdote from his own cardiology practice (memo to any patient who darkens Dr. Davis' door: chances are you're going on a gluten-free diet). Notably, seemingly all of his patients' health problems fade within weeks of cutting out wheat.
And therein lies a minor problem in an otherwise exceptional book. Wheat Belly is packed with evidence and anecdotes, and the author builds a persuasive case for removing wheat from your diet. But as the book progresses--and as the evidence piles up--the claims about the dangers of wheat get more and more aggressive. In fact, a naive reader, by the time he finishes the book, could easily conclude that modern wheat is the single worst thing that ever happened to the entire developed world.
This is why I want readers to keep their critical thinking skills handy as they read. Rhetorically speaking, Wheat Belly is a polemic. It gives no quarter--none--to any other side of this debate.
Admittedly, authors can use whatever rhetorical techniques they want, and I would never blame Dr. Davis for doing his best to persuade his readers. He has strong and sincerely held views, and the fact that Wheat Belly is so extraordinarily persuasive suggests he made the correct choice with his style of argument. Make no mistake: many readers will walk away from this book convinced.
But few arguments are 100% clear-cut, and when a book presents a debate as if it's already open-and-shut, some readers may find themselves less persuaded rather than more.
Further, a few of Davis' most extreme claims about the evils of wheat are, well, extreme. For example, as much as I wish it to be true, I have some stray doubts that eliminating wheat will fix my hair loss--or slow my accelerating cognitive decline. In fact, I'm curious if we can really blame obesity on wheat: after all, the French seem to function reasonably well on daily croissants and baguettes, as do the Italians with their pasta.*
However, these are minor criticisms of a striking book that will make you seriously rethink your diet. I highly, highly recommend Wheat Belly. Just keep your critical thinking skills handy as you read.
Finally, readers can draw three profoundly useful conclusions from this book:
1) If you're looking to lose weight, you'll get by far the best bang for your buck by removing as many wheat- and gluten-based foods from your diet as you possibly can. (PS: Next week, we'll discuss tips on how to manage and execute a Wheat Belly diet.)
2) The consensus dietary recommendation to reduce your fat intake and increase your intake of "heart-healthy" whole grains is exactly backwards. Instead, reduce your grain intake. Your body--and your belly--will thank you.
3) If you overeat, and if you do so with high-carb, gluten-based foods, you're going to get fat. Very fat.
If you find yourself battling food cravings, or if you're exercising and eating with discipline and still struggling to lose weight, try removing wheat from your diet and see what happens. You certainly won't starve, and you may very well show significant results. Try it for a few weeks, see how you feel, and report back.
* Programming Note: On Thursday, Casual Kitchen will run a fascinating interview with Dr. Davis. I'll ask him to explain his decision to write Wheat Belly in a polemic style, and I'll ask him to explain why he thinks wheat-dependent countries like France and Italy aren't seeing the same obesity rates present in the USA. You won't want to miss his answers. Stay tuned!
For more information on Dr. Davis, visit him at The Wheat Belly Blog and at his heart disease prevention and reversal site, Track Your Plaque.
I'd also like thank Erica Douglass for suggesting I read Wheat Belly in the first place.
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