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Dietitians' Book Review: Wheat Belly
09, May 2014 1:33 PM

This diet book throws the baby out with the bath water. At least that's what my book club of registered dietitian nutritionists thinks. We recently met to discuss Wheat Belly by William Davis, MD. We all agree that many people should cut back on carbs and that would likely mean eating less wheat.

We also agree that if a person thought they might have celiac disease or gluten intolerance, they need to get tested by their health care provider before going on self- imposed elimination diet.

Exaggerated Claims

Club members thought the author overstates the scientific research against wheat. This passage from the preface is an example, “a wide range of diseases results from the consumption of wheat, celiac disease…to an assortment of neurological disorders, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, rashes, paralyzing delusions of schizophrenia." Scientific evidence does not support a simple cause and effect from wheat consumption.

The author asserts that genetic modifications to wheat have made it more harmful to health. None of us felt qualified to agree or disagree with this statement. Since we had our book club meeting, I have listened to Julie Miller Jones, Professor Emerita from St. Catherine University state that wheat is not produced with GMOs - anywhere on our planet! However, as with all foods, wheat has been bred over the years and these changes may have resulted in more intolerance in people with a genetic predisposition.

It is too simplistic to assume that changes in wheat production causes celiac disease and gluten intolerance. There are many other possible explanations, including the increased use of antacids or the changes in the gut microbiome with 1/3 of all births delivered by Cesarean section. The reason(s) behind the increased incidence of celiac disease is not known.

Why the Diet Works

The book states that removing wheat from the diet generally reduces total calorie intake by 350 – 400 calories -- that generally gets the job done for weight loss regardless of what is omitted from the diet!

Some people feel less bloated if they remove wheat from the diet (again, maybe they are just eating less). It is important to note that a healthy gut requires fiber and this can result in flatus (fancy word for gas)! Gas lowers the pH of the colon which helps produce a healthy gut. It seems unlikely that eliminating an entire food group leads to improved gut health (except of course for people who have celiac disease or a proven gluten intolerance - which is less than 6% of the population).

How the Diet is Applied

The dietitians in our club said they often see clients apply the recommendations in the book very simplistically. For instance, they eliminate bread and chow down on highly processed gluten-free foods or candy. If the goal is weight control, at the end of the day, calories do matter.

The Bottom Line

The book states that complex carbohydrates are as bad for you as sugar. Clearly complex carbs are more nutrient-rich than sugar, so our group did not agree with this claim. Eating a diet rich in whole grains is well documented to enhance health1. Eliminating whole grains in the same way as sugar is truly throwing the baby out with the bath water.

In June our club is reading the Inside Tract by Gerald Mullin and Kathie Madonna Swift (an MD and registered dietitian team). I'll post my review in July.

Maureen Bligh, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

References:

1. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015-scientific-report/




Tags: celiac Dietitians Book Review Healthy eating Maureen Bligh wheat belly
Categories: categoryNutrition Education

6 Comments


  • Chet Scerra 1 years 191 days ago
    I'm reading Wheat Belly now and must say that the author's condemnation of wheat is quite broad. He does make a strong, rational argument. But I do wonder if it's as one-sided as he makes it out to be. He makes a big deal over glycemic index and states that two slices of whole wheat bread actually raise the BS higher than a candy bar. I've wondered if this is true. Also, there seems to be more and more people talking about the bad rap that fat has gotten, stating that maybe fat is not as bad as everyone has thought. Is this true? There is so much info out there...much of it from "established medical people" whom we assume are giving us the real word. But then we read counter claims from other "experts". It's all so confusing...what are we to believe.

    Reply
    • Maureen Bligh 1 years 191 days ago
      Please don't give up on nutrition science! Here is a good blog that addresses the dietary fat issue and clarifies some of the confusion.

      http://www.healthyeating.org/Blog/Article/2034/Is-Saturated-Fat-Bad-For-You-Maybe-Not-As-Much-As-Previously-Thought.aspx

      Reply
  • Sandra 2 years 190 days ago
    More than two years ago i took wheat from my diet and the effects have been amazing. I not only eliminated the bloating effects but also eliminated the effects of appetite acceleration brought on by wheat. What i did do was fill my diet w/ more produce rich in fiber; more nuts, seeds and good grains that are not wheat or gluten based.

    I'm not at all confused nor am i controlled by an industry that still tries to convince the public their product is necessary for good health.

    I am astonished however that dietitians are not willing to break from the old Con Agra notions.

    Reply
  • Safiya 3 years 93 days ago
    Thank you for posting this.It's amazing how misguided people are when it comes to food. Sadly the general public "eats"( pun intended) this kind of information up, meaning that we Registered Dietitians have to work even harder to discredit those with no background in dietetics.

    Reply
  • Steve Shapiro 3 years 231 days ago
    Maureen,
    Actually wheat is completely GMO in the whole world. It just cannot be called that because a gene was not spliced open when the world decided to alter wheat as we knew it before the 50's. If you chemically alter the genes etc it does not have to be called GMO. The health benefits of removing wheat maybe to removing the many thousands of proteins that are in the new wheat. The author is a little extreme but the point would be that many people have sensitivities to the proteins and have symptoms from it. They do not have to be Celiac to have this. I for one suffered from Migraines weekly until I removed wheat from my diet. Fiber is important in a diet but you certainly do not need any of it from wheat. Fruits and vegetables provide plenty of that. I completely disagree with your statement that a person should be tested before going wheat free. Why? What are you testing for? Celiac is a small percentage of the population and even if you are not the wheat free diet is still good for you. Wheat is mostly junk food, crackers cakes etc. Not eating those may be not fun but certainly is good for you.

    Reply
  • LeAnne Ruzzamenti 3 years 256 days ago
    A friend works at a pizza place and is always amazed when people order gluten-free pizza and a beer, not realizing the role that wheat plays in the production of beer. It seems that many people are jumping on a wheat-free bandwagon without really understanding it and certainly not thinking through any potential consequences.

    Thanks for helping to clear up some of the confusion!

    Reply

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