Wheat Belly Book Review

It seems like all of a sudden everyone was asking me if I’d read Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, with a knowing wink or rolled eyes.

Wheat Belly

Wheat Belly

So I put it on hold at the library, and waited… and waited… and waited some more. Clearly, this book was something hot!

I can see why people either love or hate this book. If it’s the first time you’ve come across the concept that wheat (and other grains) can cause damage to all sorts of systems in the body – for all kinds of people – then you are in for an eye opening experience.

I think this book would also be an excellent starting place for your average SAD diet eating, fat-loathing, gluten-free fad diet mocking friends and relatives.

Wheat Belly is a light, quick read, full of personal stories of weight loss and recovery from arthritis, diabetes, colitis, hair loss, and other problems. Its simplicity and relatability is persuasive.

But if you have already done much research on the issues, you’ll find hugely important facts glossed over, and be frustrated by how sketchy an overview it provides. (Footnotes to actual research are included throughout the book for those who want to delve deeper.) I got the impression that while Davis has a deeper understanding, he was striving to be the guy who piques your interest rather than the definitive source of facts and recommendations. In that, I think he succeeds.

The book attempts to be funnier and more clever than it actually is. Silly chapter titles and subheadings sometimes hit “Dropping Acid: Wheat as the Great pH Disrupter” and sometimes miss “Schedule Your Radical Wheat-Ectomy.” Puns and analogies are a bit overdone. Davis also has the same tendency I do to the super-long sentence. I presume that he, unlike me, had an actual editor who probably should have done something about that.

Davis makes some sound recommendations, including:

  • Don’t replace gluten with “gluten-free” packaged foods.
  • Avoid starchy foods and other sugars as well, especially if you have diabetes.
  • If you have celiac disease, completely avoid all gluten.
  • Eat real food – organic, pasture raised meats, loads of vegetables, dairy aged with live cultures, and nuts

But I also found his approach to the recommendations a bit confusing, and potentially damaging to folks who just read this book and don’t research further before making dietary changes. For instance:

  • He consistently refers to the gluten that celiacs must remove from their diets as “wheat gluten.” While he does specify early on that he includes barly, spelt, kamut, and rye in this categorization, that doesn’t remain all-together clear (he does also mention contaminated oats). People may get confused about what it means to be gluten-free.
  • He mistakenly reports that there is FDA regulation of gluten-free foods.
  • While he talks a lot about the non-digestive symptoms gluten can cause, he doesn’t talk about the importance of completely eliminating trace gluten in order to get the benefits for even these symptoms.
  • He is very focused on the blood sugar, diabetes, and cholesterol connection of eating high glycemic index foods. This is a great thing – more people need to be aware of this aspect of wheat’s effects. But in doing so he glosses over the importance of complete elimination of gluten for neurological, arthritic, hormone, skin, and other manifestations of gluten sensitivity.

Another major beef I have with Wheat Belly is its overreaching focus on fat. It draws people in by focusing on the seemingly universal hatred of fat, referring to it as grotesque and giving disgusted descriptions of it. Davis does redeem himself a bit by pointing out that fat people are not lazy slobs who don’t take care of themselves. To the contrary, he holds out examples of fat athletes with the “healthy” diets and portion control recommended by the American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association.

Davis says repeatedly in the book “I call it wheat belly, though I could have just as easily called this condition pretzel brain or bagel bowel or biscuit face since thereโ€™s not an organ system unaffected by wheat.”

I guess Davis has faced the fact that most people are more motivated to make dietary changes based on how they look than how they feel, and that focusing on weight loss sells books. I think that’s a sad state of affairs, and I wish he hadn’t played into it.

Have you read Wheat Belly? What did you think?

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15 comments to Wheat Belly Book Review

  • I looked for this book at the library this past week, but they don’t have it. I’m glad to see your review, and it strengthens my thought that I’d like to read it before purchasing it!

    • Good luck finding a library copy. I waited months to get my hands on it. There were over 100 holds! Having read it, I don’t feel the need to own it for ongoing reference. However, it would be nice to have around to lend out to friends who want to know what the big deal is!

      If you do end up buying it, I’m sure it would be easy to sell back on Amazon for close to the same price you bought it at. It’s in high demand!

  • Mia

    I Couldn’t get around to what is wrong in the book, but you frame it pretty well. I feel he leaves out many parts of the picture, particularly the issues about gut bacteria etc.
    BUT, this book is massive in its spread and message and it gets people to think. We need this book in order to get sensibilized on the amount of wheat everywhere in our foods today.

  • Loren

    I’m not that impressed with the book. I’d say it’s fine for people who have health problems, but eliminating all wheat from a healthy person’s diet is unnecessary. I think it is important to talk about people’s eating habits, eating in moderation and avoiding processed/restaurant foods or foods not cooked from scratch than eliminating any particular food item. If snacking, desserts and processed foods were never a habit among families in the first place, there would be fewer problems in our society today.

  • Sherri

    I was actually very impressed with the book because finally after 25 years plus the medical community is finally catching on to the brain washing we have all be subjected to is totally wrong. Though this was elementary for those of us that have been on the right track for a while about nutritionally dense foods, healthy fats, gut bacteria, this will be eye opening for the general public. Plus being that he is a MD he will be received by many that would otherwise turn a deaf ear to an alternative or naturapath. I did buy it after getting it from the library because I have many family members and friends that will not listen to me but will listen to a Dr.
    As for the many references to wheat belly, bagel face, etc. some of those were used to describe the different problems people have because of wheat/gluten. And though he was rough on fat, you aren’t healthy if you are so he was trying to drive that point home. We have become so used to almost everyone being overweight that it looks normal and thin people are thought to be weird. Just my thoughts.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I do agree that coming from a doctor in an easily digested format, these ideas will reach people who otherwise wouldn’t have listened. (Sorry for the pun, I couldn’t resist!)

      I’d love to hear how your family and friends react to the book.
      -Mama

  • Rachel

    I haven’t finished reading the book yet – working through it ๐Ÿ™‚ I think the biggest thing Davis has overlooked is Sprouting, Soaking and Sourdough. These three methods change wheat and wheat gluten drastically and the effects that they have on the body. They all pretty much eliminate the blood sugar issue that wheat causes and also makes the wheat digestible and healthy. So, for that reason I am not putting TOO much into what I’m reading. If he had done more research and included all the information about wheat the book could have been a lot better and not just a diet book, like you said. Actually, I didn’t really think of it that way until I read this review and it totally reads like a diet book!

    I think for the person who doesn’t know about sprouting, soaking, sourdough or is unwilling to put the effort in to that, cutting out wheat would be ideal for helping health issues and weight issues.

    On the flip side, I’ve read a many anectodal accounts on different blogs as well and a large number of people appear to not do well on zero grains for an extended period of time and it can actually cause them to become unhealthy and put on weight. So, I wonder if following ‘Wheat Bellies’ advice is going to end up just being another thing a lot of people try, then stop because they gain the weight back anyways……..it will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

    • Rebecca

      Hi Rachel
      I think you’re right, in that traditional methods of preparing foods are best for health; but the point that Davis makes in his book is that the wheat itself we have available now is dramatically different to the wheat everyone consumed even 50 years back. This due to cross-breeding/hybridisation for significantly greater yields for farmers – think heavy heads and short stalks compared with tall fields yielding far less a couple of generations ago) resulting in drastic changes to the wheat’s genetic structure. It’s these changes to the genetic structure that seem to have such a profound effect on health.

      If einkorn and emmer (the original ancient wheat grains) were readily available the traditional preparation methods would be perfect, but no amount of soaking, sprouting or souring will change modern wheat’s genetic make up, nor mitigate the harm caused by this. Einkorn and emmer can still be sourced with a fair bit of effort, but so few farmers opt for the traditional grains with far lower wheat yields in such a competitive time. Davis, who professes to be noticeably sensitive to wheat himself, experimented with these original grains and did not have the same negative response as with modern wheat.

      Traditional preparation methods for traditional grains. It makes sense ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Sorry for the delay in approving your post! It was lost in cyber-land. I agree that modern wheat is problematic, and personally I wouldn’t take my chances with the ancient wheats at this point, either. But I do think that traditional preparation methods for modern wheat would be better than just eating it without soaking, fermenting, etc. You won’t catch me trying, though!

  • Ana s

    I always find it fascinating that we always have to find an enemy and just vilify it to death. For a while it was fat, now of course fat is our friend, then dairy, now also our friend, and so on. Now it’s grains, mostly wheat. The funny thing is that in Europe where vilifying food is not a common practice, people have been eating whole grains as a staple for thousands of years and still do. The French are well known for being balanced and thin and still enjoying grains. It’s all in the qualitity and quantity!

  • Terry Duncan

    I am sad that you gave a less than favorable response to the book Wheat Belly. I have read and re-read his book, have his cookbook and read his blog and facebook pages. I don’t think several thousand people commenting about the difference this way of eating has made in their lives can be compared to the way they were eating prior to reading his book. I am healthier and feel better than I have in 64 years of living. Dr. Davis is enlightening the public to wheat and its contaminates. I look forward to following your blog and using information to further my health. Thank you for the work you are doing and sharing your life. Terry Duncan

    • Hi Terry,
      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad Wheat Belly has set you on the path to a better life! I agree with so much of what is in the book, and I’m sure it is a force for good. I was just disappointed that he didn’t do more to explain the importance of screening for celiac disease before cutting out wheat, and completely eliminating gluten for some people. It’s kind of a touchy issue for me thanks to our family’s experiences. Thanks for sticking around & checking out the site!
      Mama

  • JEANMARIE

    I enjoyed Wheat Belly and learned a lot. I was not new to WAPF or traditional foods, and I had read some Paleo books but nothing specifically on celiac previously (no books that is, but various articles). To be fair, I don’t think Dr. Davis was targeting celiacs in particular, at least not ones who already are knowledgeable about the condition. And he wasn’t only targeting gluten, which is a mistaken assumption many people seem to have made about the book. Various Real Food bloggers and commenters have gotten a bit defensive about Wheat Belly, as though Dr. Davis is going to come and take their sprouted grain bread away from them. What was eye-opening to me is all the problems with wheat *aside* from gluten.

    I agree that some of his puns fell flat but that wasn’t a big deal for me. My only disappointment was the use of some low-fat or nonfat foods in the recipes at the end. Based on that, I wouldn’t buy his cookbook without a chance to examine it first.

    Someone said sprouting and souring wheat makes up for any problems. I find that statement highly doubtful. I don’t remember whether Dr. Davis addressed that, specifically, but other Paleo authors have said that soaking and sprouting wheat won’t make it digestible for someone with celiac, and others with sensitivity to gluten or other parts of the wheat kernel. I love sprouted-grain bread but it caused the same problems for me that regular wheat bread does, so I’m inclined to agree with that viewpoint. I would like to see this addressed scientifically more than it has been. A lot of people want to dismiss going grain-free or Paleo by saying you just have to prepare the grains properly. I’ve spent years soaking and sprouting grains but they still caused me problems, so based on my experience alone I’d have to say that advice won’t work for everyone.

    • Thanks for your comment. I totally agree that sprouting grains doesn’t automatically make them good for you!

      I loved all the points the book made & would have loved it *if* he had made the point that it makes sense to get screened for celiac before cutting out wheat, and that cutting out gluten entirely can be very important for many people who have a problem with wheat.

      The fact that he wasn’t targeting celiacs is exactly why it makes so much sense to tell people these simple facts. I’m pretty bitter about our own experience of going gluten free for reasons other than classic celiac disease before becoming informed about the necessity of continuing to eat gluten for testing purposes.

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