Do you want to get rid of your “man breasts” or your “bagel butt?” How about diabetes or high cholesterol? Osteoporosis? Cataracts? Wrinkles? Neuropathies? Rashes? Psoriasis? Vitiligo? Hair loss? Schizophrenia? Easy. One simple solution to all these problems. Just eliminate wheat from your diet! And you know what else you will get rid of? The belly that hangs over your belt. Or as cardiologist William Davis calls it, your “wheat belly.”
That also happens to be the title of his best selling book. Lose the wheat and lose the weight, says Davis in “Wheat Belly.” Can this single dietary component be responsible for such a diversity of problems? Of course not. But if you are scientific minded, it is worthwhile to read this book just to see how masterfully Davis blends cherry-picked data, inflammatory hyperbole, misused science, irrelevant references and opinion masquerading as fact into a recipe for a cure-all. Some of the “science” is just absurd. He talks about how wheat DNA has been mutated by exposure to sodium azide, and then attempts to horrify people by pointing out that "the poison control people will tell you that if someone accidentally ingests sodium azide, you shouldn’t try to resuscitate the person because you could die, too, giving CPR. This is a highly toxic chemical." The fact that sodium azide is a toxic chemical has nothing to do with its use in inducing mutations in genes. There is no azide in the product and inducing mutations to achieve beneficial traits is a standard technique used by agronomists.
Davis' argument for wheat causing osteoporosis is equally ridiculous. He describes how wheat can give rise to sulphuric acid when it is metabolized. This is indeed correct. One of the amino acids in wheat protein, cysteine, does end up releasing some sulphuric acid when it is metabolized. And the body does use phosphates from bone to neutralize excess acid. But the amount of acid released into the bloodstream from wheat is trivial. Still Davis calls it an “overwhelmingly potent acid” that rapidly overcomes the neutralizing effects of alkaline bases. Poppycock. That though, isn’t the worst of it. Davis panics readers with totally irrelevant statements about putting sulphuric acid causing burns if spilled on skin. Get it in your eyes and you will go blind. True, but what does that have to do with traces formed in the blood from cysteine? Sulphuric acid in acid rain erodes monuments, kills trees and plants, Davis informs us. Yes it does. But linking this to eating wheat is an example of mental erosion.
While wheat is not the great devil responsible for the plethora of ailments claimed by Davis, it is not completely innocent either. There is no doubt that patients suffering from celiac disease must stay away from gluten, a set of proteins found in wheat, barley and rye. There is also mounting evidence for the existence of a condition being referred to as “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” in which various symptoms resolve when gluten is eliminated from the diet in spite of negative blood tests and negative biopsies for celiac disease. But at this point most of the evidence is anecdotal and you can hear about similar improvements in health from people who avoid artificial sweeteners, shun MSG, eat only raw foods, engage in “autourine therapy,” (don’t even ask) or walk barefoot to soak up the earth’s energy. Davis has a shtick and is looking to capitalize on data that he has twisted to his advantage. He uses a standard technique of such profiteers, bamboozling people with complex terms and cherry-picked data to insinuate that the corporate world is profiting by addicting the public to dangerous foods. It isn’t surprising, though, that there are testimonials galore about losing weight on a wheat-free diet. Davis’ scheme basically translates to a low carb, low calorie diet. No miracle here. Wheat Belly’s claim of having found the secret to weight loss, the secret that has evaded thousands of researchers with far more expertise than Davis, gives me a belly ache.