Your Addiction to Wheat Products Is Making You Fat and Unhealthy

After having his patients cut wheat from their diets completely, Dr. William Davis says, they lost weight and showed improved clarity


You've seen wheat. You know what it looks like -- amber waves of grain and all that. But when Katharine Lee Bates wrote those words, part, of course, of the patriotic song "America the Beautiful," back in 1895, the wheat fields she was looking out on were far different from the ones that cover our plains today. Back then, wheat was taller, more majestic. Today, wheat plants are more than two feet shorter and "it's stockier, so it can support a much heavier seedbed," Dr. William Davis told Maclean's.

That's not a result of genetic modification, of changing the structure in a lab. Instead, it's a result of years and years of cross-breeding and hybridization designed to make our agricultural products resistant to drought and better performing. It's like picking the two fattest pigs in the pen and forcing them to breed because you really like bacon. And raising one really fat pig takes just as much work as raising one skinny pig. The problem? Bacon, as it turns out, is not so good for you.

"[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 the Canadian weekly.

That is, they haven't been tested in large-scale scientific experiments. Back home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he's a practicing preventive cardiologist when he isn't busy writing or speaking, Davis has been running his own tests. Several months after he told his pre-diabetic and diabetic patients to remove all wheat products from their diets, Davis says on his website, they had lost dozens of pounds and showed improvements in asthma, acid reflux, mental clarity, and more. Davis collected these lessons in a new book, Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, which is why he spoke with Maclean's.

Q: How does wheat make us fat, exactly?

A: It contains amylopectin A, which is more efficiently converted to blood sugar than just about any other carbohydrate, including table sugar. 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. So let's say you have an English muffin for breakfast. Two hours later you're starving, so you have a handful of crackers, and then some potato chips, and your blood sugar rises again. That cycle of highs and lows just keeps going throughout the day, so you're constantly feeling hungry and constantly eating. Dieticians have responded to this by advising that we graze throughout the day, which is just nonsense. If you eliminate wheat from your diet, you're no longer hungry between meals because you've stopped that cycle. You've cut out the appetite stimulant, and consequently you lose weight very quickly. I've seen this with thousands of patients.

Q: But I'm not overweight and I exercise regularly. So why would eating whole wheat bread be bad for me?

A: You can trigger effects you don't perceive. 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. So even if you're a slender, vigorous, healthy person, you're still triggering the formation of small LDL particles. And second, carbohydrates increase your blood sugars, which cause this process of glycation, that is, the glucose modification of proteins. If I glycate the proteins in my eyes, I get cataracts. If I glycate the cartilage of my knees and hips, I get arthritis. If I glycate small LDL, I'm more prone to atherosclerosis. So it's a twofold effect. 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. 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.

Read the full interview.

Image: REUTERS/Ilya Naymushin.