Wheat Belly Scientific Review: Chapter 1

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I previously reviewed Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis here.  However, because this is a dense book relying on a variety of scientific studies I wanted to give the book the analysis it deserves.  This will involve both a look at the way he structures his arguments and a look at whether the studies he cites support his argument.

His argument opens with the pretty easily accepted statement that the large belly that used to be associated with wealth is now free of any kind of socioeconomic markers.  Basically we are all fat, and as a fat person I find it hard to disagree.

Dr. William Davis then gives the thesis of this book, that wheat in our diet causes the hormones in our body to change in order to cause this now democratized belly.  In general I agree with him that foods have an obvious effect on our bodies hormones and that we should definitely consider whether or not they may be contributing to our obesity epidemic.  However, we will have to wait to consider his evidence to see if he has adequately proved wheat is a primary contributor to this.

The next thrust of his argument is in my opinion one of the most important takeaways from this book.

“The national trend to reduce fat and cholesterol intake and increase carbohydrate calories has created a peculiar situation in which products made from wheat have not just increased their presence in our diets; they have come to dominate our diets.”(5).

This change in our diet can be obviously observed and has not been fully considered in its ramifications.  Even if after reading the entire book we still feel wheat is a safe component of our diet, we can still recognize how any single change will inherently change other things.

What follows are several personal anecdotes that highlight why he came to the conclusion that this change was one he try in his own life.  Namely that his blood work seemed awful despite centering his diet around healthy whole grains.

Now we come to the part that so many people fail to realize, “whole wheat bread (glycemic index 72) increases blood sugar as much or more than table sugar, or sucrose (glycemic index 59).  Now for my aside on my personal opinion on the value of this knowledge.  It is generally accepted that elevated blood glucose levels are not healthy, and that they can contribute to multiple diseases, including diabetes and metabolic syndrome.  However, whole wheat bread is still touted as a dietary essential despite the scientific evidence that clearly shows that it can contribute to your likelihood of getting any of these diseases.  This boggles my mind. Aside over.  He has clear and peer-reviewed evidence for this part. It’s legit.

He then references his clinical practice and talks about how elimination of wheat from their diet many of his patients noticed other benefits, including: weight loss, acid reflux disappeared, irritable bowel syndrome disappeared, energy improved, rashes disappeared, arthritis improved, asthma symptoms improved, and athletic performance improved.  This makes this sound like a miracle cure, which always makes me nervous.  What I’ve studied so far suggests that there is no single magic cure for health.  And I’m worried he’s lending too much  support to this obviously anecdotal evidence.

Finally he admits what is obvious to all of the rest of us.  Eating wheat is almost universal in our modern diet, and removing it is a terrifying thought.  This is one of the most important things to realize, especially for anyone who writes about nutrition.  These are  not easy changes that people are looking to change, they are fighting their psychology, years of ingrained habit, and ingrained societal functioning.  Any dietary change truly is a lifestyle change, and it will likely have both benefits and problems.  This introductory chapter lays out the argument that we are going to analyze in depth.

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