That whole wheat sandwich on your desk isn’t as innocent as it looks.
According to William Davis, M.D., author of “Wheat Belly” and his latest book, “Wheat Belly Total Health” (September 16, 2014), foods that contain wheat—even the whole grain variety—are the sneaky culprits behind a host of health issues, from autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and rheumatoid arthritis to gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Dr. Davis’ solution: Cut out wheat altogether.Talk about going against the grain.Grain-Related Health RisksAccording to Davis, grains trigger body-wide inflammation that contributes to disease. YouBeauty Nutrition Expert Kristin Kirkpatrick, R.D., says this isn’t so far-fetched for certain populations: “Some research indicates that in individuals who are genetically predisposed, such as those with celiac disease or in individuals with gluten intolerance, an inflammatory response may occur in the gut when these individuals consume foods with gluten.”Davis adds that grains are not only not good for gastrointestinal health, but they are actually poisonous when consumed chronically, leading to problems including diarrhea, constipation and inflammatory bowel disease. He says that grain’s ingredients, including the gliadin protein in wheat, are “bowel toxins,” and that in people who eat grains and then experience an urgent need to go to the bathroom, it’s your body’s way of telling you that it’s trying to get rid of a toxin causing irritation.What’s more, Davis argues that munching on grains only triggers your brain to crave more, which is why, after eating carbs, you’re hungry two hours later. He claims that eating wheat releases grain-derived exorphins—opiate-like peptides. “But they don’t make us high or give us pain relief,” he notes. “They stimulate appetite.” Davis says this causes people to take in an additional 400 calories per day every day, on average. “With grain consumption,” he says, “your appetite is specifically stimulated for carbohydrates, such as pretzels, corn chips and cookies.”But saying goodbye to wheat, if you’re prepared to do it, isn’t exactly easy. That’s because Davis says wheat is addictive. Half of people who give up wheat will go through withdrawal symptoms, including nausea, headache, fatigue and even depression for up to a week, according to Davis.
Bye-Bye, Wheat BellyOnce you’re past that, Davis says there are many upsides to a wheat-free lifestyle: He claims that in the first week of eliminating wheat from your diet, your energy levels surge, bowel urgency goes away, eczema and seborrhea dermatitis clear up, and joint pain in the wrists and elbows disappear. Over the first two weeks, Davis makes the bold claim that people can shed up to 10 pounds and shrink their muffin tops or, as Davis calls it, their “wheat belly.” Of course, it must be said that anytime you cut out an entire food group—especially, one that dominates your plate like grains do—you will lose weight. Overtime, Davis says, you can expect more weight loss, as well as an improvement in blood sugar and blood pressure, a better night’s sleep and less anxiety.Giving up wheat doesn’t mean you’ll never have a slice of pizza again either. Thanks to a variety of alternative flours on the market, such as almond flour (or even using cauliflower), you can make pizza crust at home, allowing you to nosh on wheat-free versions of your favorite cravings. And in the meantime, the Wheat Belly plan lets you eat your fill of fish, meat, eggs, vegetables, healthy fats such as avocados, healthy oils such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and the occasional fruit.
As far as wheat’s star nutrient, fiber, which is good for your heart and helps you eat less all day, Davis notes you can easily get it from healthy, whole food sources, such as vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds instead. While Elisa Zied, R.D., points out that whole grain intake has been linked with disease reduction, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as increased fiber intake, she agrees that you can get essential fiber from the non-wheat, healthy sources above. And you won’t fall apart—at least not nutritionally—if you don’t eat wheat. “It’s not critical to consume whole grains specifically,” says Zied.Bottom line: We’re not fans of extreme measures like cutting out an entire food group, unless of course someone has a health issue, such as celiac disease, that necessitates it. That said, you don’t have to eat grains. And if easing up on them means nixing processed foods, such as cookies and muffins, and upping your intake of nutrient-dense vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts instead, we’re all for it.