Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Wheat Belly

I just completed Wheat Belly by William Davis, M.D., and wanted to give my two cents about it. Many reviews have already been written in the low carb blogosphere about the book, but I do believe I have something to add. I very much enjoyed the book and learned a lot about why we should avoid wheat.

The basic premise is that wheat has been genetically modified in the past 50 years into something very unhealthy. Dr. Davis lays out the case that consumption of this genetically modified franken-wheat leads to celiac disease, skin rashes, neurological disorders, diabetes, weight gain, etc. He calls it a "super carbohydrate" and singles it out for special attention because of how it spikes blood sugars and causes a lot of other problems. This part of the book was perhaps the most interesting to me, as I did not know a lot about modern wheat, even though it has been in the scientific literature for more than 30 years. Dr. Davis also recounts experiences from his practice as a cardiologist to back up what the literature is saying.

He goes on to describe what I considered to be a rather conventional low carb diet: cut the wheat and other things that spike your blood sugar, plus avoid vegetable oils. Eat meats, nuts, cheese, vegetables, berries, etc., but avoid processed foods. But I did find myself disagreeing with some of his low carb recommendations.

Though I didn't quite realize just how bad modern wheat is, I have realized that wheat is bad and have cut it from my diet for the past seven months. But I have also cut out sugar and vegetable oils and have been convinced about the dangers of the Neolithic Agents of Disease, as Kurt Harris likes to describe the harmful parts of our diet (e.g., wheat, sugar, vegetable oils).

Many people advocate a similar philosophy of eating. Davis condemns all forms of wheat, Taubes condemns sugar, and Enig condemns seed oils and the vilification of tropical and animal fats. Most low carb/paleo types would agree with avoiding these three categories. But there are variations in Davis' low carb diet recommendation.

For example, Davis permits chocolate; Sally Fallon says we should not eat it. Davis is okay with a bit of soy products in the diet, but others suggest avoiding all forms of soy, except some fermented soy products. Like the Perfect Health and the All Vegan Archevore (!) diets, Davis is okay with a small amount of potatoes and rice, if you can handle them, while others totally avoid (and even mock the concept of) "safe starches." Davis says certain legumes, like peanuts and natural peanut butter are okay; the Jaminets counsel us to avoid peanuts. Davis says don't eat wheat but Sally Fallon tells us we can consume properly prepared wheat. Mark Sisson says properly prepared wheat is probably okay to eat, but too much trouble to bother with. It's simply easier to avoid. Davis' arguments themselves focus more on modern wheat than ancient wheat, and he does not address at all the techniques Fallon and other advocate for properly preparing wheat for consumption.

I actually found myself saying, "I wouldn't eat that!" in response to some of the foods Davis says are okay in his version of a low carb diet (e.g., soy products, artificial sweeteners). So rather than adding clarity to my search for low carb wisdom (I already knew wheat was bad and avoided it), he actually ended up by muddling the already murky waters.

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