I was recommended a book called “Wheat Belly.” I read a lot more books than I write about so it has to be remarkable. I started to remark how much I disliked it. The more I put my dislike into words and the more I looked in the book to explain what I didn’t like, the more I found to dislike it more. I’m saddened to find such a popular and recommended book so disappointing, like Quiet, which I reviewed too. (I recommend many authors and books in my Resources and Inspirations page)
I don’t find Wheat Belly compelling. On the contrary, I find it irresponsible. He keeps calling wheat unhealthy, and I get that it is for people who genetically can’t tolerate it but that’s irrelevant to people who can, and he never justifies his claims beyond generalizing from one or two questionable studies and personal anecdotes. I kept waiting for him to offer compelling evidence for people without celiac, but he never did.
Sadly, after reading the book, I still don’t know how healthy or unhealthy wheat is for me, someone with no wheat or gluten intolerance. The Wikipedia page on the book also criticizes it, but cites journals whose names “Cereal Foods World” and “Journal of Cereal Science” suggest biases but seem more credible after a quick glance.
I believe him that our culture has made wheat more sugary, less fibrous, and otherwise less healthy than ancestral wheat. I believe it’s possible that it contributes to health problems in non-celiac people though he doesn’t back up the claim. I don’t see any evidence that whole wheat isn’t healthier than wheat with the fiber removed. In no way do I find anything remotely credible in the book that wheat singularly causes the problems he associates it with. At times he says it’s worse than sugar or corn syrup. He doesn’t seem to believe himself because he cuts those things out of his recommended diet too, along with many other fiber-removed foods. If wheat is the singular culprit, why doesn’t the diet reflect this claim? If he believes his claim, why cut out other things? I don’t think he considers himself credible.
He keeps just saying wheat is bad and presenting personal anecdotes, none controlled for other obviously relevant factors. He doesn’t explain why whole grains aren’t healthier despite having extra fiber. His descriptions of wheat being addictive don’t connect with anything in my experience. He recommends a diet totally different than just cutting out wheat. When I look up glycemic index for wheat products, it shows whole wheat pasta significantly lower than bread. Okay, so bread jolts your blood sugar and insulin response — that doesn’t mean all wheat products do. Nor does it justify saying two slices of whole wheat bread are worse than a candy bar. Even if the glycemic index is greater, that’s only one nutritional aspect. Besides, what brand of whole wheat bread? Are other brands healthier? Do they vary? He says wheat is worse than corn, without justification, but then cuts corn out of his diet anyway. He talks about how much the growth and changes it wheat have affected our diet, but neglects to compare its contribution to corn’s, which we plant more area of. How can you neglect considering the contribution of something so important?
If the diet in this book is what he recommended to the people whose changes in body composition led to his writing this book, he can’t conclude wheat made the difference. If he had people cut out only wheat, his recommended diet contradicts the conclusions of his limited observations. If he did tell them to cut out only wheat, why does he recommend a yet different diet than he found worked? Why didn’t he original research on his own besides a few anecdotes, which I would not call research? Also, saying they cut out only wheat doesn’t make sense. If they didn’t replace it with anything else, then they must have decreased their total calories. If they replaced the wheat with more of everything else in equal portions, then all those variables matter. That he doesn’t describe the changes suggests he doesn’t know the changes. In fact, he says as much in most of his anecdotes where people come back after some time with remarkable changes. He doesn’t know what they did in that time. At best he knows what they told him, but what they tell him differs from what they did.
He consistently blurs lines between wheat overall, gluten, grains in general, his scare-quoted “healthy whole grains,” and amylopectin A. He talks about how bad diabetes and other diseases are, but doesn’t connect wheat to them except as one contributer among many, like sugar and lack of fiber. Many things contribute to insulin problems, not just wheat. When he talks about cranberry muffins, cinnamon buns, and many other wheat-containing products causing problems with blood sugar, he conflates so many elements you can’t say how wheat contributes, since those products use a lot of sugar, fat, and highly refined wheat.
When I first read the book I gave him the benefit of the doubt on many of his claims and his alarmist tone, anticipating he would justify it. Now that I’m writing about it, looking for problems in his logic, I find nearly every page has problems, most serious.
I don’t have time to continue my criticism. This book is garbage.
I found this criticism compelling — http://noglutennoproblem.blogspot.com/2012/03/wheat-belly-busted.html.
I also found quotes from a few one-star reviews on Amazon compelling:
First the good news – I was able to return the book.
If you’re a history buff or a science geek you may enjoy reading the history of wheat from the beginning to time until today, but if you’re interested in health save your money. This guy makes a lot of mostly unsubstantiated promises about the benefits of eliminating wheat from your diet….after slogging through 193 pages he finally says that eliminating wheat alone won’t do it!! He then takes off on his modified Atkins Plan and says that what you must do is eat unlimited nuts, oils and meats…..Pleeeze, not again.
This is a retread, save your money.
I found the read interesting but he lost me half way through. What I can’t get past is that he spends a great deal of time ‘proving’ how bad modern dwarf wheat is by pointing out how healthy pre-1950 people are compared to present-day people. But when asked (on his website) why not just go back to the traditional (heirloom) wheat that those people ate, he then says NO!! because ALL wheat is bad for you.
You can’t have it both ways. The book comes off as a thinly disguised anti-grain agenda.
and one of my favorites
I purchased the book hoping I could use the information in it to help me loose the 30 lbs. I needed to. The premise of the book seems to be that if you eliminate wheat from your diet, all kinds of miraculous things happen. You loose tons of weight, your blood pressure and blood sugar counts improve, no more arthritis pain, no more back pain, you have more energy, etc, etc. Well, not too far into the book Dr. Davis begins to hedge his bets. It seems he backs away from the “wheat is the culprit” mantra and begins in slow steady steps to tell us that it may also be corn, potatoes, rice, oats, barley, and any other starch he can think of. Ok so now we’ve moved on to the Palio diet it seems. Then, if thats not enough, Dr. Davis tells us that fruit is terrible for us. Huh, fruit ? ( Hedging his bets again.) Yes Dr. Davis says, fruit has sugar in it, and thats bad. Well, go on Dr Davis. You’ve stopped us from eating any starches, any natural sugars. I tried his diet for 5 weeks and lost an amazing 5 lbs. Yes, 5 lbs. I have to assume that it wasn’t from eliminating “wheat” from my diet but from eliminating everything that can add calories. I went to his blog on his “Wheat Belly” website and found that I wasn’t the only one who didn’t see the miraculous results from cutting “wheat” from my diet. Quite a few people had the same paltry results. Dr. Davis directs those people to another part of his website to explain to you what you’re doing wrong. He tells you you may be on some kind of medication that restricts weight loss. Or, you are eating fruit and other natural sugars. Or, and this is great, you are eating. Yes, Dr. Davis tells you to fast. If you want to loose weight you may have to fast. You know, don’t eat. Thats the biggest hedging of bets yet. Sorry Dr. Davis, you’re a sham, a joke, a charlatan. There is nothing new in your book that we haven’t known for decades. Good luck with your book and the millions its made you.
Most of the five-star reviews I read talked about their personal experience cutting out a lot more than wheat or who had sensitivities irrelevant to people without sensitivities. They accept his faulty logic. I don’t find them useful.
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