Book Review: Wheat Belly
Davis is apparently a medical doctor who treats patients for heart disease and other ailments using a
wheat-free diet. Though this isn’t particularly revolutionary I was immediately intrigued by the first
chapter of Wheat Belly, which gives a detailed explanation of how modern wheat is different both
physically and genetically from the wheat “our grandparents grew up eating.”
He explains that selective breeding and genetic manipulation to increase wheat yield have dramatically
changed the chromosome number of modern wheat compared to earlier versions grown before the
1950s. This, he claims, fundamentally changed the molecular properties of wheat and we are
supposedly not yet adapted to the new product.
Had Wheat Belly gone on to further explore the differences between modern and traditional wheat and,
most importantly, how they affect people differently, then this could have been a groundbreaking book.
Unfortunately, that isn’t what this book is really about.
Davis doesn’t present a shred of evidence that modern wheat has a worse (or even different) impact on
human health than pre-industrial wheat. The only anecdotal case he makes is that he personally found a
farmer who grows traditional wheat, made a loaf of bread, ate it himself and seemed to be fine. This is
Instead the rest of the book focuses on how his patients have benefited from removing wheat
(presumably modern) from their diets, a premise that is much easier to swallow but brings us right back
to Dr. Atkins. Wheat is the most abundant refined carbohydrate, and refined carbohydrates are almost
certainly the biggest contributor to human health problems on the planet. Is it any wonder that
eliminating the major one—not to mention the ingredient that is most often paired with sugar—would
make people feel better?
When push comes to shove, the bulk of Davis’ argument is not about modern wheat at all, but about the
Glycemic Index (GI) of foods (he’s sure to point out that the GI of wheat is even higher than sugar). His
prescription is not just wheat elimination or even gluten elimination, but removal of all grains, sugars
and starchy foods like potatoes and even beans.
To his credit, Davis promotes a relatively healthy diet. He discourages the use of gluten-free flour
substitutes because for the most part they are just another form of unhealthy food. Though these
ingredients can obviously play a role in the lives of people with serious gluten sensitivities, I agree that
they do not qualify as health food just because they do not contain gluten. But extrapolating from
processed carbohydrates to nutritious whole foods like beans and potatoes that most of us can eat
without increasing risk of disease or obesity is less than helpful.
If you regularly struggle with any of the following issues, a temporary gluten-free experiment
may be worth it for you:
irritable bowel syndrome
attention deficit disorder
And there are probably many more. The nice thing is that while eliminating gluten for 4-8 weeks
does take some effort, it is still a relatively simple, non-invasive way to troubleshoot health
problems and potentially improve your life dramatically. If nothing improves, you can always go
back to your bagels and Cheerios. It is important to keep in mind though, that many symptoms
require an extended period without gluten before improvement is seen.
For further information on this, read the Wheat Belly review.