What’s the problem with wheat?

August 31st, 2011  |  Published in Stumpblog  |  11 Comments

This is one of the best Robb Wolf podcasts I’ve ever heard. It’s an incredibly in-depth conversation with the author of Wheat Belly.

One thing that makes Davis’ voice unique in this milieu is that he’s not a “health nut” — he was trained as a cardiologist. It seems that cardiothoracic surgeons are really getting the connection between systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, disrupted cell signaling, and the reactive proteins (as well as the endocannabinoids) in wheat.

They see the evidence of dietary changes in real time and space, and their metrics are fairly non-negotiable: Does someone have giant fatty chunks in their arteries or not? Does someone clutch their chest and keel over or not? Does someone have X or Y particle or chemical circulating or not?

In Davis’ case, he stumbled across the wheat – cardiovascular disease connection by accident. Noticing that whole wheat bread raised blood sugar significantly, he asked his heart patients simply to remove wheat. Not change their diets. Not go “low carb”. Just take out the wheat.

Results: Vastly, measurably improved health indicators, fat loss, and surprise health bonuses such as decreased asthma, allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, skin conditions, etc.

In this podcast, Davis and Wolf explain — in clear, accessible language that nevertheless educates and informs — what the big friggin deal is with wheat, and why we “health nuts” seem to feel the need to pry bread out of everyone’s hands.

(Yes, yes, I weep for bread too. It was a great loss to me, but my bowels sure as hell don’t miss it.)

If you listen to no other Robb Wolf podcast (well, maybe the interview with me is cool too), listen to this one.

Responses

  1. Josh says:

    August 31st, 2011at 11:48 am(#)

    This book seems like a good argument for people who don’t use carbohydrate much or well (most of sedentary America).

    That recommendation, from a general perspective, is as old as the hills (see page 5123 of this book from 1885 on the “bread or potato” based diet…). Want to lose weight? Cut out starchy carbs. I can remember my grandmother saying that exact thing.

    Beyond that, I feel that I’m missing something.

    Certainly a small percentage of the population has wheat gluten allergy. And anyone allergic to anything specific should probably avoid that substance.

    But “wheat” generally as a culprit of disease generally? It’s too broad. Too many factors…(like “biochemical individuality”…see Roger Williams’ classic book by the same name)…for instance:

    What type of wheat are we talking about? Organic or biodynamically grown wheat, or petro-chemically-farmed wheat (for more on that, see http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-foods/wheaty-indiscretions)?

    “Wheat” that’s been processed to death, making it the nutritional equivalent of crack cocaine? Or whole sprouted wheat?

    And what type of consumption are we talking about? A softball-sized bagel every morning, with twinkies and white pasta sprinkled on top throughout the day?

    Or a couple of pieces of sprouted-wheat toast in the morning?

    Making broad-sweeping generalizations, and/or basing those generalizations on statistically-validated arguments (which offer mean-average data on a sample of a small population), is the “mode.” It’s the way we do knowledge in our modern world.

    But that doesn’t make it good, or right.

    The old books on diet reflected the way-of-knowing of their own time. The book I link to above references a bread or potato diet giving a false appearance of health and “plumpness” (when that was considered healthy…as opposed to our modern “ripped” physique). Books from the turn of the 20th century, for instance “Keeping the Body in Health” by John Harvey Kellogg et al., reference vegetables as “producers” and animals as “consumers” – the then-popular economic-efficiency approach to understanding complex systems.

    To me this is the most important thing. How does the type of thinking in modern diet books (merely) re-present the exact way-of-knowing that got us into this mess (the modern Western-scientific way: mechanical, zero-sum, efficiency-based, reductionist view)?

    And if it does (only) represent that same sort of thinking, how can it help us to get out of the traps inherent in that way-of-knowing? The traps that got us into this mess to begin with.

    Just my two cents…

    Josh

  2. Mistress Krista says:

    August 31st, 2011at 11:52 am(#)

    @Josh: One point I really like in the interview is that David talks about how wheat has changed, even in the last decade or so (I forget exactly the time scale, but he talks about how the clinical presentation of celiac has changed from underweight to overweight, and different symptoms). I think this is quite a salient point. We may indeed realize that it is not “wheat” per se but something more like “21st century wheat, eaten in 21st century context, within 21st century dietary habits” that is the problem.

  3. simma says:

    August 31st, 2011at 2:21 pm(#)

    After reading Denise Minger’s analysis of the China Study data, I was convinced to drastically reduce wheat consumption.

    http://rawfoodsos.com/2010/09/02/the-china-study-wheat-and-heart-disease-oh-my/

  4. anne says:

    August 31st, 2011at 5:11 pm(#)

    (FYI: in your fourth paragraph, you have the word “weight” instead of “wheat”.)

  5. Stephanie Ivy says:

    August 31st, 2011at 10:03 pm(#)

    I’ll admit — I’m not at the point of making major dietary changes in my life right now. I will own that right up front.

    But I’ve been interested in following these posts, and one of the things that has jumped out at me is how my body is in some ways, already trying to.

    I was a pretty sedentary person. For a lot of reasons, but suffice to say I was. I recently started doing social dance, which is the best form of exercise I’ve found for myself in that it provides a workout AND I keep coming back.

    One thing I noticed was that as I exercised more, my appetite changes. I would have said I’m a major carb junkie, but lately my cravings for bread, tortillas, etc. have gone way down. I find myself wanting other things more and more — still a work in progress, but trying to listen to where my body is guiding me as well. It’s an interesting thing, and fascinating to see things that back up my natural inclination.

  6. Josh says:

    August 31st, 2011at 10:36 pm(#)

    Indeed!

  7. Joyce says:

    September 1st, 2011at 4:39 am(#)

    “Noticing that whole wheat bread raised blood sugar significantly, he asked his heart patients simply to remove weight.” I think you mean “wheat”? (typo?) Interesting article! I wonder though, as a Canadian living in Scandinavia, whether the type of bread makes a difference? In Denmark and Germany they eat a lot of heavy rye breads and they don’t seem to have as many health problems..? I guess I would have to read the book!

  8. ClpX says:

    September 3rd, 2011at 2:22 am(#)

    There are some biochemical factors with regards to wheat that lend themselves to broad generalizations. (Quite well, actually!)

    Primal Blueprint guy, who reads science handily, wrote a quick-and-dirty guide: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/why-grains-are-unhealthy/

  9. Sarah says:

    October 9th, 2011at 11:12 pm(#)

    Did you read the blog entries from Melissa McEwan and Emily Deans on this? Not such Dr. Davis fans, those two…

    http://evolutionarypsychiatry.blogspot.com/2011/10/slam-dunked-and-wheat-belly.html

    http://huntgatherlove.com/content/wheat-belly

  10. Andrea says:

    November 3rd, 2011at 9:50 am(#)

    Thanks Sarah! I’m hugely interested in the counter-opinions. I don’t doubt that gluten and wheat are an issue for a lot of people, but it seems like Wheat Belly is overstepping just a bit in some of the theories and justifications.

    That being said, there is potentially nothing to be lost by doing an elimination run for a month to see what happens.

    Why only “potentially”? Well, let’s say the trial run “works” and I lose some pounds and some bloat and feel better. Now, I’m in a position of avoiding a HUGE number of food items so that I don’t have a violent reaction to something I put in my mouth, like “a canape”, as mentioned in the book. That’s a bit scary for someone who like to eat clean but has a fondness for the occasional fun/cheat/crap day.

    Similarly, I have maintained an ability to not have a bodily freak-out over dairy but continuing to consume it in small amounts. If I cut out dairy completely the physical effects of indulgence would be severe.

  11. Jenni says:

    January 6th, 2012at 4:36 am(#)

    Hi

    Interesting reading. I heard an interview recently (can’t remember the guy’s name) that suggested that the problem with bread in particular is the way that the bread is made ie fast 2-3 hours, rather than the traditional way ie overnight. Said he’d given ‘proper’ bread to those who were gluten intolerant with no side effects. Hence, Krista’s comment about 21st century wheat is probably spot on.


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