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In the Western world, consumption of wheat has increased over the last half-century, as have the standard of living and life expectancy. Wheat is now more desirable than rice in large populations in China and India.  However, a trend has emerged in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the US to avoid dietary wheat. The numbers are uncertain, but researchers have suggested that up to 6% of the population practices a gluten-free diet. This trend is so pronounced that the overall consumption of wheat has actually declined.

wheat-belly-book-cvrOne of the people responsible for fueling this trend is William Davis, MD.  In his best-selling diet book, Wheat Belly, cardiologist William Davis, MD recalls seeing a picture of himself from a family vacation that made him realize he was carrying about 30 extra pounds around his middle. At the same time, he noticed that he often felt sluggish after a breakfast of toast, waffles, or bagels, even after a great night’s sleep; but he felt energetic if he had eggs for breakfast. His blood work revealed high cholesterol and diabetic blood sugar levels, further convincing him that he needed to make a change.

william-davis-mdDavis started his own wheat-free experiment and asked his overweight, diabetes-prone patients to do the same. He gave them a list of foods low on the glycemic index. He asked them to eat those instead of foods made with wheat, and to come back 3 months later for a checkup. Davis reports that most of the patients lost a significant amount of weight, and their blood sugar levels dropped from the diabetic range to normal range. His patients also said they had improved energy; better focus; deeper sleep; better lung, joint, and bowel health; and more.

Davis minces no words when describing the harmful elements of modern wheat on his website:

Gluten is only one of the reasons to fear wheat, since it triggers a host of immune diseases like celiac, rheumatoid arthritis, and gluten encephalopathy (dementia from wheat).

The protein unique to wheat, gliadin, a component of gluten proteins, is odd in that it is degraded in the human gastrointestinal tract to peptides (small proteins) that have the ability to cross into the brain and bind to morphine receptors. These polypeptides have been labeled exorphins (exogenous morphine-like compounds) by National Institutes of Health researchers. Wheat exorphins cause a subtle euphoria in some people. This explains why wheat products increase appetite and cause addiction-like behaviors in susceptible people. It also explains why a drug company has made application to the FDA for the drug naltrexone, an oral opiate-blocking drug ordinarily used to keep heroine addicts drug-free, for weight loss. Block the brain morphine receptor and weight loss (about 22 pounds over 6 months) results. But there’s only one food that yields substantial morphine-like compounds: yes, wheat.

 The complex carbohydrate unique to wheat, amylopectin A, is another problem source. The branching structure of wheat’s amylopectin A is more digestible than the amylopectins B and C from rice, beans, and other starches (i.e., in their natural states, not the gluten-free dried pulverized starches). This explains why two slices of whole wheat bread increase blood sugar higher than table sugar, higher than a bowl of brown rice, higher than many candy bars. Having high blood sugars repeatedly is not good for health. It leads to accumulated visceral fat–a “wheat belly,” diabetes and pre-diabetes (defined, of course, as having higher blood sugars), not to mention cataracts, arthritis, dementia, and heart disease.

As if that wasn’t enough, there are even other components of wheat that are harmful, such as the lectins in wheat. Lectins are proteins with direct toxic effects in the human gastrointestinal tract. They also impair digestion by blocking the cholecystokinin hormone, an effect that contributes to gallstones and impaired pancreatic enzyme release.

Dr. William Davis on CBS News discussing Wheat Belly

Not surprisingly, Davis’ book has triggered a fierce debate about whether wheat should or should not be part of our diet.  However the question is resolved, his work has already started many on the road to a gluten-free nutritional regime.

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