Saturday, April 6, 2013

Wheat Belly Book Review

I have now existed for 6 whole days totally wheat free.

As you may have read in earlier posts, despite the fact that it didn't show up as a sensitivity via weight gain  (when I was doing the  Elimination Diet from the Six Secrets of Successful Weight Loss), my continuing reflections led me to the idea of removing wheat from my diet, just to see. For a couple of weeks I ate very little wheat, no cereal or toast in the morning, no pasta etc, but I did have little bits here and there if I was out, and when my mum brought round a pastry tart!

I felt significantly better for the wheat reduction and decided to go the whole hog and try 4 weeks of being totally wheat free, just to see what would happen.

Wheat Belly Book - cover image of stacked bagels.

I ended up buying the Wheat Belly Book and this has been occupying me for most of the week. If you ever need the motivation to try being totally wheat free then this is it. For me, the idea of never eating any wheat again is really rather an unpleasant thought. I love wheat, it's in lots of really yummy things, and living with out it sounds darn right inconvenient!

The book however has lots of compelling arguments as to why everyone should stop eating wheat,  not just people that are sensitive to it. The author, William Davis, says that he could have called his book a number of things, pretzel brain and bagel bowel being two of his options, as he claims that there is not a single organ system in your body that is unaffected by wheat.

He talks about how historically, our consumption of grains changed as we moved from a hunter-gatherer culture to the farming of grains. He then talks about how wheat itself has changed through the process of selection and genetic engineering for a better crop. The wheat we eat today has three times as many chromosomes as the wheat we ate 50 years ago, this has changed the biochemistry of the grain significantly, which Davis believes is having an effect on our health.

There are lots of reasons not to eat wheat discussed in the book. I didn't realise, but apparently whole grain bread has a higher GI that table sugar. Davis blames wheat for the accumulation of the unhealthy fat around our waists, which is a result of the good sugar spike wheat causes. Thus wheat is responsible for diabetes and insulin resistance.

He also states that wheat is addictive, that it binds to the same receptors in the human brain as heroin and other opiates, and can be blocked by the same drugs used to bring addicts down when they are hospitalised. Eating wheat gives you a kind of high, and when it wears off, you crave more wheat. People who eliminate wheat (or take the drugs that block it from binding with opiate receptors) are therefore less hungry and eat on average 300-400 calories less per day.

Wheat is also the guilty party in celiac disease. Davis claims that there are varying levels of this disease,  and the markers usually tested for may not always show the risk a person faces from wheat. Many people not diagnosed with celiac will therefore suffer from bowel and intestinal problems as a result of eating wheat.

He also talks about wheat and the formation of small particle LDL cholesterol, which is a major factor in heart disease.

And then there is the effects on the skin, and joints, and brain...

In all, the book paints a sinister picture of nasty beast that you wouldn't want anywhere near you. As I said, this was the final push I needed to at least give it a try.

It's not just about dropping wheat though. What you replace it with is also important. Davis warns against using 'gluten free' products to replace all of your current wheat consumption, as these are made from highly refined carbs and will have a similar effect on your blood sugar. Instead he recommends:

eat as much as you like of

  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • oils
  • meat
  • eggs
  • cheese
  • non sugary condiments
  • and other things like avocado, olives and cocoa
limit your consumption of
  • milk, yoghurt, butter
  • fruit
  • corn
  • other grains
  • legumes
  • soy
and eat rarely or never
  • wheat
  • hydrogenated fats
  • 'gluten free' foods
  • dried fruit
  • fried foods
  • sugary foods
So as well as cutting out wheat, this diet too says to reduce carbohydrates in general. It also says that there is no need to worry about saturated fats, that it is the carbs, specifically wheat that are the problem. Apparently dairy products, with the exception of cheese, can cause a spike in blood sugar levels, hence their different categorisation.

The last section of the book is about how to go wheat free. He talks of what to expect in terms of withdrawal and how long it may last. There is a menu plan for a week to get you going and recipes in the back. There is also an appendix in which foods containing wheat are listed.

My overall thoughts on the book?

When I was looking at purchasing it, there were a couple of shortened versions available (Wheat Belly in 30 mins and Wheat Belly - A Summary...). Having read the book I can see why it was thought a good idea to do this. It does go into a lot of detail that might be off putting to some, or simply not required by others. Though at times I wanted to hurry through certain parts, I am pleased I bought the full version as the science behind each of Davis' conclusions is very well explained (and convincing). As well as making you want to do it, the book also makes it easy in terms of ideas for meals etc. My only negative comment would be that it is obviously written for an American audience and there are lots of 'in jokes' that are a bit exclusive of the rest of the planet, but the rest of the content allows you to forgive Davis for that.

Today I adapted one of the recipes Zuchinni 'pasta' with Baby Bella Mushrooms and it really was rather scrummy. BB loved it too! On the basis of this and the other ideas in the book, like eating an avocado for a quick breakfast, I have now splashed out on the Wheat Belly Cookbook.

I terms of how I am going.

I am six days in. I have really only eliminated wheat so far, not reduced my other carbs. This was deliberate for several reasons. 

Firstly I wanted to ease myself in gently. Having gluten free bread available if I needed a bread fix during my withdrawal seemed like a sensible idea. I also had gluten free crackers to eat with cheese. We had guests coming on Thursday so I made a Wheat Free Chocolate Cake (and ate the left overs!). It was also Easter so I have eaten chocolate too. 

Secondly, a reason to keep the other carbs up was to allow me to get a realistic impression of the effects of eliminating wheat on its own. I felt I needed to do that. Giving up wheat is not something I particularly want to do, so I need to know for sure if it really is a problem for me, or if I just need to cut the carbs in general. 

Despite being up for 3 hours in the night with BB (he has been poorly and off his food for almost a week, then his appetite returned at about 1 am this morning!) I feel great today. My weight has not changed significantly, but I have lost 6cm from my waist in 6 days!   I feel loads thinner. It is most noticeable to me around my neck and breast bone. I am just less "puffy", for the want of a better word. I also have more energy, clearer skin, a clearer mind,  and less aches and pains. Its quite a convincing argument for continuing with my wheat free experiment for another 3 weeks, and I suspect, possibly beyond! 

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