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Which makes you fat faster: whole wheat bread or white sugar? The answer might surprise you. Even what we think of as healthy whole grain wheat has been found to increase appetite and the impulse to eat more. Dr. William Davis, cardiologist and author of Wheat Belly, says if you want to lose weight and improve your health, you need to completely eliminate wheat from your diet.

He says wheat isn't even the healthy grain it used to be; it's been engineered so far beyond recognition it shouldn't even be called wheat. And it's pervasive in our processed foods. Here, Dr. Davis gives us an in-depth look at the damage wheat can cause and the healing benefits of completely eliminating it from your diet.

Boyt: Why did you write Wheat Belly? What is your goal with the book?

Dr. William Davis: After witnessing effortless weight loss and turnarounds in health in patients when I advised them to remove all wheat from the diet, it was clear that an enormous issue had been uncovered. I don't mean losing a couple of pounds or obtaining relief from some minor complaint. I've seen 30, 50, 70, 130 pounds of weight lost in a year along with life-altering transformations in health.

I've witnessed incapacitating arthritis disappear. I've seen ulcerative colitis cured. I've watched as many diabetics become non-diabetics, pre-diabetics no longer pre-diabetic. Acid reflux, joint pain and swelling, leg edema, migraine headaches, chronic sinus congestion and infections, asthma, depression, and anxiety relieved or cured with removal of wheat. I've seen decades of struggles with binge eating, bulimia, severe constipation, and panic disorder essentially evaporate with wheat removal.

When I set out to understand why such wide-ranging health effects were occurring, I also discovered that much of this had already been charted out in clinical studies - but nobody was talking about it. No one was telling people that wheat was destroying health for millions of people, or the message was being lost as "gluten sensitivity."

And the deeper I looked, the worse it got. I discovered that the original research that documented wheat's appetite-stimulating effect dated back to 1973, originating with the National Institutes of Health's research to understand why people with schizophrenia hallucinated with wheat consumption. I discovered that wheat, unlike other crops, has undergone extensive and sometimes bizarre genetic changes, mostly as part of an effort to increase yield-per-acre. And I learned that, no matter how extensive the genetic and biochemical changes introduced into a plant, there is never any question raised regarding its suitability for human consumption; it just makes its way to your supermarket and dinner table, no questions asked.

The result, I believe, is the biggest nutritional blunder ever made in the history of man on earth, the release of a high-yield plant so destructive that its removal allows cure from an incredible range of health conditions - all while being condoned, even encouraged, by "official" agencies.

Boyt: You've written that whole grains are "incredibly destructive genetic monsters." Why are grains so bad for us?

Dr. William Davis: Of all the various grains available, it's wheat that I focus on. Wheat comprises 75% of carbohydrate calories in the American diet and it is therefore the dominant grain. It's also the worst for health by a long stretch. Corn, rice, millet, quinoa and other grains occupy a lesser portion of most people's diets and don't share most of the destructive qualities of modern wheat.

A crucial point: The wheat products you are sold today are nothing like the wheat products of our grandmother's age, very different from the wheat of the early 20th century, and completely transformed from the wheat of the Bible and earlier.

The wheat of the Bible, for instance, is emmer wheat, a 4½-foot tall, 28-chromosome plant that grew wild in the plains of the Middle East. Compare this to modern wheat, a 2-foot tall, short, stocky plant with an unusually large seed head, and 42-chromosomes, a plant created by humans that is unable to grow in the wild without human support from nitrate fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Modern wheat no more resembles the wheat of Moses than a chimpanzee resembles a human - in fact, a chimpanzee is closer to a human than modern wheat is to ancient wheat. I would argue that the wheat we are being sold shouldn't even be called wheat. It is a geneticist-created artificial plant that is a far genetic and biochemical distance away from any wheat that ever existed in nature.

Modern wheat is not the product of genetic modification in the sense of the phrase as used by geneticists; it is the product of techniques that are far worse: cruder, less precise, and often bizarre. Modern wheat is the product of extensive hybridizations, i.e., crossing two strains repeatedly to winnow out certain genetic qualities such as reduced height and tolerance to drought, crossing with non-wheat grasses to introduce altogether new genes, and techniques like chemical, gamma ray, and high-dose x-ray irradiation of wheat seeds and embryos to induce mutations, a processed called chemical or radiation mutagenesis. Clearfield wheat, for instance, now grown on nearly one million acres in the Pacific Northwest and marketed by the BASF Corporation (the world's largest chemical manufacturer), was created in the genetics laboratory by exposing wheat seeds and embryos to the mutation-inducing industrial toxin, sodium azide, poisonous to humans and known to explode when mishandled (like pouring down a sink). Incidentally, in the marketing for Clearfield wheat, BASF claims that Clearfield wheat is not the product of genetic modification . . . but the product of "traditional breeding methods." Yes, "traditional breeding methods" include inducing mutations with industrial toxins, gamma radiation, and x-ray.

Among the many changes introduced into the modern, high-yield, 2-foot tall semi-dwarf strains of wheat that now dominate the wheat market is marked changes in the amino acid structure of the gluten proteins. Celiac disease researchers have proposed that these changes in the genetic and biochemical code of modern industrial wheat underlie the quadrupling of celiac disease witnessed over the past 40 years. Humans haven't changed; the wheat has changed.

This may explain the recently-described increases in rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's, and even type 1 diabetes in children.

Another problem is that the changes introduced into wheat have not been confined to gluten; the changes extend into many other of the thousand or so non-gluten proteins contained in this complex man-made plant.

Boyt: Why are we encouraged to eat whole grains? Are there any noteworthy benefits?

Dr. William Davis: Yes, there are benefits to the producers of whole grains: It permits the food industry to take commoditized, high-yield basic ingredients, often subsidized by the U.S. Government, and mass-produce products with high markup and broad consumer appeal. It takes the form of breakfast cereal, breads, convenience foods, and tens of thousands of other processed foods. Wheat also provides calories. If a population is starving or lacks sufficient calories, high-yield strains of modern wheat are a cheap means of feeding a population.

Health benefits? I don't think so. But that's not what you are told. You are told by dietitians, for instance, that "healthy whole grains" reduce risk for colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Is that true? It is true - when consumption of whole grains is compared to white flour products. But how about when compared to no grains? That's when you see not only health benefits, but health transformations: abrupt and dramatic weight loss from the visceral fat in the abdomen (what I call a "wheat belly"), as well as relief from an astounding list of health conditions. People report marked increase in mental clarity, better sleep, improved ability to concentrate in school and work.

So the whole "healthy whole grain" notion is based on false logic. Whole grains are only better for you when compared to flawed and unhealthy white flour.

Boyt: You've said that using wheat as an ingredient is pervasive in the food industry. Why is it used so much?

Dr. William Davis: Here's the formula for marketing a successful processed food product: Take several pennies worth of low-cost ingredients, like cornstarch, high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose, wheat flour, and food coloring. Turn it into clever shapes, like flakes or triangles, put some clever packaging around it complete with a sports figure, cartoon character, or other eye-catching wrapper. Now your few pennies of basic ingredients is worth $3.99, $4.99 or more. That is the formula followed by Big Food companies, allowing an explosion in revenues over the last 30 years. They didn't get rich selling green peppers, olive oil, and eggs. Revenues exploded due to the incredible markup potential of these cheap commodity ingredients. To make matters worse, we are told to eat more of these foods by our own USDA, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, American Heart Association (complete with "heart healthy" endorsements on Cheerios and Cocoa Puffs), American Dietetic Association, and the American Diabetes Association.

Add to this the appetite-stimulating effects of the gliadin protein of wheat that increases calorie intake 400 calories per day. Wheat flour is, in effect, an appetite-stimulant that increases consumption (most of carbohydrate foods) and thereby increases sales. With 400 calories per day times 365 days per day times 300 million people, that's an enormous amount of food, and an enormous amount of money. Wheat flour is used, much as nicotine was used by the tobacco industry, to increase consumption.

Boyt: What are the destructive health effects of consuming wheat?

Dr. William Davis: The adverse health effects of modern wheat consumption develop from specific components of wheat:
  • Amylopectin A - The unique "complex" carbohydrate of wheat acts more like a simple carbohydrate. In fact, the amylopectin A of wheat, unlike the amylopectins B and C in rice and beans, increases blood sugar higher and faster than table sugar. Wheat increases blood sugar higher and faster when compared to many candy bars. This is because the amylopectin A of wheat is uniquely digestible by the enzyme amylase. Higher blood sugar leads to higher blood insulin, the situation that leads to insulin resistance, diabetes, and weight gain in the abdomen, the deep visceral fat that is highly inflammatory, what I call a "wheat belly."
    Higher blood sugars cause glycation, or glucose-modification of proteins in the body. Glycated proteins in the lenses of the eyes lead to cataracts; glycated proteins in the cartilage of knees and hips leads to brittle cartilage, followed by arthritis; glycated proteins in the arteries of the body lead to hypertension and atherosclerosis. Because the amylopectin A of wheat increases blood glucose higher than nearly all other foods, it triggers repeated glycation.

  • Gliadin - Gliadin is the protein unique to wheat that acts as an appetite-stimulant. It increases calorie intake by 400 calories per day, on average. It makes you want more wheat, it makes you want more other foods, especially carbohydrates. Gliadin is the component of wheat that drives food cravings, the repetitive desire to eat more. It is also responsible for behavioral outbursts and attention difficulties in children with ADHD and autism, and hallucinations in people with paranoid schizophrenia.
  • Lectins - These proteins in wheat are indigestible in the human gastrointestinal tract. When they gain entry to the intestine, wheat lectins impair the normal ability to prevent the entry of unwanted substances from the internal intestinal contents into the bloodstream. Wheat lectins, in effect, allow all sorts of unwanted substances, including bacterial byproducts, into the human bloodstream. This is suspected to be the explanation for why people who consume wheat have more inflammatory and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, polymyalgia rheumatica, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, and others.
  • Gluten - While gluten is often focused on as a cause for "gluten sensitivity" and celiac disease, the intestinal destruction from wheat gluten, gluten is responsible for more than that. It is likely responsible for the acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, as well as many inflammatory phenomena such as arthritis (especially of the hands and wrists), skin diseases, and neurological impairment. One of the most interesting yet concerning areas of gluten research is the range of neurological diseases being identified that develop with wheat gluten consumption, including cerebellar ataxia (destruction of the cerebellum that controls coordination and bladder function), peripheral neuropathy, and gluten encephalopathy (dementia from wheat). In fact, one very active British neurological research group estimates that 50% of all cases of unexplained peripheral neuropathy are due to wheat gluten.
In other words, there is more to wheat than gluten, and there is more to wheat elimination than gluten sensitivity. Because the adverse effects of wheat are so universal, affecting so many people so profoundly, I advocate wheat elimination for everybody.

Boyt: Why do you feel that removing all wheat from the diet results in weight loss?

Dr. William Davis: If the gliadin protein of wheat increases calorie intake by 400 calories per day, removing the gliadin protein of wheat reduces calorie intake by 400 calories per day. This develops even if no calorie restrictions are introduced, no advice to reduce portion size, no pushing the plate away, no cutting fat grams, no advice to exercise - just eliminating the wheat. This typically results in weight loss of 20-30 pounds in the first six months. Overweight patients with celiac disease, for instance, are advised to eliminate all wheat and gluten from their diet, yet are often wrongly told to eat the junk carbohydrates from gluten-free foods (by gastroenterologists who have no understanding of nutrition) all they want, but still lose, on average, 22-26 pounds in the first six months of their wheat- and gluten-free diet.

Many people will report a perceived reduction in appetite: They are less hungry, sometimes missing meals inadvertently. Hunger also feels different: less rumbling, less intense, less distressful. In other words, hunger is a more natural, soft reminder that you need to eat to live. Interestingly, many people also report heightened appreciation and taste for food; foods are tastier, and sweet and salty tastes are exaggerated and you need less of them.

Boyt: Can you explain why you recommend that we not eat gluten-free foods?

Dr. William Davis: Commercially produced gluten-free foods, such as gluten-free whole grain bread or bagels, are made using rice starch, tapioca starch, potato starch, and cornstarch. While wheat increases blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods, the only other foods that trigger even higher blood sugars are dates, figs . . . and rice starch, tapioca starch, potato starch, and cornstarch. So these foods cause very high blood sugars, insulin, and therefore insulin resistance, accumulation of visceral fat, diabetes, and inflammation. It is still possible to lose weight by replacing wheat products with gluten-free products, as the experience in celiac patients demonstrates, but they are hardly ideal for health. They are, in effect, junk carbohydrates that are little better than jelly beans or candy.

Gluten-free foods explain why people who go wheat- and gluten-free experience initial weight loss, as well as relief from arthritis, acid reflux, headaches, etc., then regain weight in their abdomen long-term. Gluten-free foods, in my view, should be regarded as occasional indulgences, nothing more, no different than candy bars.

Boyt: What kinds of food do you recommend we do eat?

Dr. William Davis: Part of the message in Wheat Belly is to not replace wheat with another problem group of foods like gluten-free foods. Instead, replace wheat with whole healthy foods like eggs, cheeses, raw nuts and seeds, nut meals, plenty of vegetables, avocados, olives, olive oil and other healthy oils, fish, poultry, and beef. The majority of people do not benefit by reducing fat intake in the diet and I therefore do not advocate reducing exposure to any fat except hydrogenated and fried oils.

In Wheat Belly, I also provide recipes for muffins, cookies, cupcakes, and breads that are wheat-free with limited sugar and carbohydrate exposure. I replace wheat flour with ingredients like ground almonds and coconut flour. This allows you to have, for instance, cheesecake or cupcakes without all the adverse health effects of conventional cheesecake. It allows you to have cookies and muffins without gaining weight, without triggering high blood sugars or small LDL particles, and without all the other adverse health effects associated with consumption of modern wheat. Incidentally, I am also releasing new recipes consistent with this approach on the blog that accompanies the book, the Wheat Belly Blog.

William Davis, MD, is a preventive cardiologist whose unique approach to diet allows him to advocate reversal, not just prevention, of heart disease. He is the founder of the Track Your Plaque program. He lives in Wisconsin. Nothing here should be construed as medical advice, but only topics for further discussion with your doctor.