Wheat stimulates the appetite, causes blood sugar to spike and leads to excessive weight gain, argues Dr. William Davis, a preventive cardiologist who practices in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in his new book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight and Find Your Path Back to Health.
"In fact, two slices of whole wheat bread increase blood sugar to a higher level than a candy bar does. And then, after about two hours, your blood sugar plunges and you get shaky, your brain feels foggy, you're hungry," Dr. William Davis told the Canadian weekly Maclean's.
Dr. Davis has tested the theory. He asked his pre-diabetic and diabetic patients to remove all wheat products from their diets in an effort to reduce their blood sugar. Several months later, they had experienced weight loss of 25 to 30 pounds, showed improvements or total relief from arthritis, showed improvement in asthma, showed complete relief from acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, and reported disappearance of leg swelling and numbness. Most reported increased mental clarity, deeper sleep and more stable moods and emotions.
"I witnessed even more incredible experiences like the 26-year old man incapacitated by full-body joint pains who started to jog again, pain-free. And the 38-year old schoolteacher who, just weeks before her surgeon scheduled colon removal and ileostomy bag, experienced cure–cure–from ulcerative colitis and intestinal hemorrhage–and stopped all medications," Dr. Davis says on his website.
Why is wheat so bad for one's health? Wheat contains amylopectin A, "which is more efficiently converted to blood sugar than just about any other carbohydrate, including table sugar," Dr. Davis told Maclean's.
While the government, nutritionists and food manufacturers have long championed substituting complex carbohydrates, like organically grown whole wheat, for processed white bread, the logic is the equivalent of ditching unfiltered cigarettes to smoke filtered cigarettes. "...[T]aking something bad and replacing it with something less bad is not the same as research that directly compares what happens to health and weight when you eliminate wheat altogether," Dr. Davis told Maclean's.
Even physically active people should eliminate wheat from their diets, Dr. Davis says. "Small low-density lipoprotein [LDL] particles form when you’re eating lots of carbohydrates, and they are responsible for atherosclerotic plaque, which in turn triggers heart disease and stroke," he says on his website.
"And if you don't start out slender and keep eating that fair trade, organically grown whole wheat bread that sounds so healthy, you're repeatedly triggering high blood sugars and are going to wind up with more visceral fat," Dr. Davis told Maclean's. "This isn't just what I call the wheat belly that you can see, flopping over your belt, but the fat around your internal organs. And as visceral fat accumulates, you risk responses like diabetes and heart disease."
Cutting wheat out of one's diet takes dedication, because consuming the grain incites an addictive response. "National Institutes of Health researchers showed that gluten-derived polypeptides can cross into the brain and bind to the brain’s opiate receptors," Dr. Davis told Maclean's. "So you get this mild euphoria after eating a product made with whole wheat. You can block that effect [in lab animals] by administering the drug naloxone. This is the same drug that you’re given if you’re a heroin addict; it’s an opiate blocker. About three months ago, a drug company applied to the FDA to commercialize naltrexone, which is an oral equivalent to naloxone. And it works, apparently, it blocks the pleasurable feelings you get from eating wheat so people stop eating so much. In clinical trials, people lost about 22.4 lb. in the first six months. Why, if you’re not a drug addict, do you need something like that? And of course there’s another option, which is to cut wheat out of your diet. However, and this is another argument for classifying wheat as addictive, people can experience some pretty unpleasant withdrawal symptoms."
The withdrawal pangs don't last very long. "Generally about five days. And once you’re through withdrawal, your cravings subside, your calorie intake decreases and your alertness and overall health improve," Dr. Davis told Maclean's.
While humans have consumed wheat for thousands of years, Dr. Davis notes the wheat plants of today differ from their predecessors due to cross-breeding and hybridization intended to make agricultural products resistant to drought and fungi and to drastically increase its yield per acre. Wheat plants grow stockier and two feet shorter than a century ago, Dr. William Davis told Maclean's.
"[W]e've created thousands of what I call Frankengrains over the past 50 years, using pretty extreme techniques, and their safety for human consumption has never been tested or even questioned," Davis told Maclean's. "New strains have been generated using what the wheat industry proudly insists are 'traditional breeding techniques,' though they involve processes like gamma irradiation and toxins such as sodium azide. The poison control people will tell you that if someone accidentally ingests sodium azide, you shouldn’t try to resuscitate the person because you could die, too, giving CPR. This is a highly toxic chemical."
Read Maclean's full interview with Dr. Davis.