Could giving up wheat help you to lose weight, feel better, and have more energy? What if a doctor told you it could?
Wheat Belly comes from cardiologist William Davis, MD. In his best-selling diet book, Davis 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.
Davis 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.
That informal experiment doesn’t prove that wheat alone made the difference, but it inspired Davis to write the book. In fact, a review published in the Journal of Cereal Science found that there isn't enough evidence to support many of Davis's claims about wheat, including the link to the obesity epidemic.
What You Can Eat and What You Can't
You eliminate all wheat, including bread, pasta, cereal, pretzels, doughnuts, etc. You may not eat anything made with wheat, barley, rye, spelt, or certain oats.
This may sound like a typical gluten-free diet, but Davis cautions against simply replacing these items with “gluten-free” versions, which often contain cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, or tapioca starch and will not aid in weight loss. Davis says they trigger the same blood sugar response as gluten from wheat.
Davis also suggests cutting out high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, salt, sugary foods, rice, potatoes, soda, fruit juice, dried fruit, legumes, and more. You should also avoid trans fats, fried foods, and cured meats on this plan.
You can eat:
- Some fruit (namely berries, apples, oranges), but much less of "sugary fruit" (pineapple, papaya, mango, banana)
- Unlimited raw nuts, plant-based oils such as olive, avocado, coconut, and cocoa butter
- Grass-fed, humanely raised meat and eggs
- Full-fat cheese
- Ground flaxseed
You can also eat limited quantities of:
- Full-fat, unsweetened cottage cheese, yogurt, milk, and butter
- Soy in its fermented forms: tofu, tempeh, miso, and natto
- Olives, avocados, pickled vegetables, and raw seeds
After you've transitioned off wheat, you may eat limited quantities of other whole grains, such as quinoa, millet, amaranth, and chia, as well as beans.
As far as alcohol goes, wheat-brewed beers are definitely off the list, but Davis does support red wine for its heart-healthy benefits.
Level of Effort: Medium to High
Limitations: Giving up everything that has wheat in it knocks out a lot of foods, and Davis doesn't recommend some gluten-free products. In some cases, there are other options you can use in their place.
Cooking and shopping: You may need to cook and shop much more than usual on the Wheat Belly diet, since you'll be eating a lot more vegetables. You can’t rely on most convenience foods, so even your most basic meals will require more prep work.
Packaged foods or meals: No.
In-person meetings: No.
Exercise: Davis encourages regular exercise but doesn’t offer specific suggestions.
Does It Allow for Dietary Restrictions or Preferences?
Vegetarian and vegan: It should be fairly easy for vegetarians to adapt this diet to fit their needs. If you're on a vegan diet, you will have a much more restricted list of foods and will have to rely heavily on nuts, seeds, nut butters, olives, and avocados.
Gluten-free diet: Gluten is in wheat, but it's also in other items that aren't made with wheat, so you'll need to check food labels for possible sources of gluten.
What Else You Should Know
Cost: Just your groceries. Some items, like grass-fed meats, could add to your food bill.
Support: You do this diet on your own, but you will find lots of tips on the Wheat Belly blog.
What Dr. Melinda Ratini Says:
Does It Work?
If you lose weight on the Wheat Belly diet, it will likely be from making healthy food choices and not because you shunned gluten. There is no scientific evidence that foods with gluten cause more weight gain than other foods.
But the Wheat Belly diet doesn’t only take away gluten. It also bans a whole host of other foods, including high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, sugary foods, rice, potatoes, soda, fruit juice, dried fruit, and legumes.
It is obvious that some of these, like high-fructose corn syrup, soda, trans fats, fried foods, and sugary foods, can quickly pack on the pounds. Getting them out of your diet is sure to help you lose weight. Legumes, however, are a powerhouse of protein and nutrients and can rightfully be a part of any healthy diet plan.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
Losing any extra weight will put you on the road to heart health and can help prevent diabetes. Cutting out the salt is great for your blood pressure.
But if you have high cholesterol or heart disease, you might want to avoid the high-fat dairy and the red meat that are allowed in the Wheat Belly Diet.
Davis encourages exercise, but the actual type and amount is left up to you. If you are out of shape or have health problems, talk to your doctor before ramping up your workout.
The Wheat Belly Diet may be a good alternative for the small percentage of people who actually are sensitive to gluten. Very often they can fall into the trap of choosing gluten-free foods that have a lot of extra calories. This plan gives them some healthier options.
The Final Word
The Wheat Belly Diet is not particularly easy to follow. You will have to change your shopping patterns, read labels, and get used to preparing many different foods.
Your food costs are likely to go up because you may be choosing more expensive meats and some gluten-free products.
Most nutrition experts agree that the best way to lose weight is to eat a healthy, balanced diet that has fewer calories and be more active. Banishing food groups is not recommended unless there is scientific evidence to back that decision up. And there is no proof that gluten is the bad guy in the obesity epidemic.