Book Review: Wheat Belly


Wheat Belly

I started reading “Wheat Belly” with the assumption that I would agree with most of what the author said, and that it would reinforce some opinions about wheat that had already formed in my mind. Still, since skepticism is the keystone of this blog, I tried to read with a mind free from outside influence. As I sifted through the book, (get it? sifted? there’s some wheat humor for you.) I started to feel like I was reading propaganda.

Dr. William Davis practices preventative cardiology. I try not to assume that every doctor who writes a book is the ultimate authority on that subject; after all, Dr. Davis is not a nutritionist and he hasn’t performed his own clinical trials.

As I started reading the introductory chapter, I was immediately struck by the author’s tone, which was horribly fat-shaming. The further I read, the more irritated I became by his apparent disdain for overweight people, not to mention his egregious use of the word “man-breasts,” and the implied sexism behind his discussion of them. So…okay. I officially disliked this guy. Davis later mentioned his own struggles with weight, so I guess he knows what it feels like to be fat. That still doesn’t excuse him from projecting his insecurities on to other people. We also know that there are myriad possible causes of obesity, which include poor diet, lack of exercise, genetics, thyroid issues, eating disorders, etc, and that shaming a huge population of people for a complex issue that isn’t completely understood is not productive. All that aside, I wasn’t here to review Dr. Davis’ attitude.

I understood most of his arguments–that wheat and other carbohydrates raise glucose levels in the body; that visceral fat storage around the belly may be tied to insulin resistance; and that wheat as we consume it today is different than the original genetic varietal. I saw where he was coming from. Still, I found that Davis’ phrasing provoked me into wanting to agree with him, while at the same time, I still felt like he wasn’t presenting enough evidence to support his claims. I’ve said it before: I’m no nutritionist or dietitian. I can’t critique each and every one of his ideas, but I did make a list of the pieces of his argument, which I found to be questionable:

1. Davis focuses mainly on wheat, but later goes off on  a tangent about other grains. So maybe he should have called it “Grain Belly.” Though I suspect he just wanted to use a sensational title.

2. He never mentions sprouting grains and legumes for easier digestion. Much of the other literature I’ve read speaks about the digestive benefits of sprouting. Davis goes for the all-or-nothing approach, while neglecting to examine the complexities of digestion. In Davis’ chapter on skin again focuses mainly on insulin reactions to wheat, but he also writes a brief aside about milk. He doesn’t mention the nutritional differences between conventional milk and unpasteurized, non-homogenized, grass-fed, organic milk…which only serves to make his argument reductive and simplistic. He also completely skips over discussing the fermentation processes that lend cheese and yogurt, which also drastically change the nutrient structure of milk.

3. Maybe I’m harping here, but in his recipe section, Davis suggests eating more than the recommended weekly amount of tuna, which is dangerous because of its high mercury content. Like, really. An adult shouldn’t eat more than one can of tuna per week. He also doesn’t know anything about good chocolate, but that’s just me being a snob.

Overall, I found the whole book to be hyperbolic and sloppy. While Davis is probably on the right track with some of his claims, (for example, citing and disparaging the high consumption of refined grains in the Standard American Diet) he needs help dispensing and backing up his information. I’m not really equipped to delve into the nuances of his poor research, but I did find a few reviews that are helpful:

Weighty Matters

Intestinal Gardener

Hunter Gather Love

I’m going to rescind my earlier (and flippantly made; I apologize) claim that humans need carbohydrates such as grains. Since writing that, I’ve learned that there are no nutrients present in grains that cannot be obtained from other sources. Still, that doesn’t mean that grains are inherently unhealthy. I find this to be a more helpful and reasoned guide for understanding grain interaction in the body. HOWEVER, there are no citations in this post, which is problematic.

So, are sprouted grains better? Are older varietals easier to digest? Is wheat a prime contributor to the obesity epidemic? These questions are difficult to answer. I’m personally floating around in the Weston A. Price camp, but I’m trying not to let any one group of people influence me. Personally? I mostly eat Ezekiel bread, and I don’t eat much of it. I occasionally eat pasta, and the other day I tried Einkorn for the first time and thought it was delicious. I’m not a big pastry person, but I do like homemade baked goods, especially pies. I love pizza, but I don’t eat it more than two or three times a month, usually. I don’t think I have any particular gluten intolerance, though I do often feel lethargic (though that could be caused by a variety of things). There just aren’t enough reliable studies (that I’ve read) to show that I should give up grains, so I mostly forgo the refined stuff and try not to worry too much about the rest. I’ll let you know if anything changes after I’ve finished reading Weston A. Price’s book. And readers, please feel free to call me out if I’ve made some egregious error, or if you’ve read something or had an experience that has given you some enlightenment on the subject of grains.


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