Quick note: Pickles & Honey is finally on Facebook! I still feel like I have no idea how to use FB, but I’m making sure to keep it updated with my latest posts (and puppy photos, of course).
As part of my Culinary Nutrition Expert program, I’m reading a handful of books and watching a few documentaries (some required, others we choose from a suggested list), and writing about my thoughts on them. Since they’re likely books and films that you’re either already familiar with or interested in learning more about, I decided I would share these thoughts with you in a series of posts. This is technically my homework, which might make it the coolest homework I’ve ever done.
The first book I selected to read was Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis. I chose it because wheat is a very hot topic right now and Wheat Belly has contributed significantly to the anti-wheat/grain/carb movement. I mostly stopped eating wheat (well, gluten) a year and a half ago, when I thought it was contributing to my eczema. Actually, I thought I might have dermatitis herpetiformis, or Celiac Disease. But I’ll address that shortly.
In Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis cites both research and personal anecdotes in stating that wheat is responsible, at least in part, to a whole host of health problems, including everything from obesity (he suggests that wheat is addictive and does not trigger satiation cues) to diabetes to heart disease and expedited aging. One of the more interesting sections of the book was when he talked about the evolution of wheat from ten thousand years ago to today, and how it has really only been in the last fifty years that it’s undergone massive genetic modifications. As he says, the wheat we’re eating today is not the wheat our grandmothers were eating when they were our age. It’s been cultivated to be higher yield and drought, disease and heat resistant, to the point where it would be unable to survive in the wild without human support via nitrate fertilization and aggressive pest control.
Dr. Davis also talks about how our image of tall fields of wheat swaying in the wind is no longer our reality – modern wheat has been cultivated to stand barely a foot tall with heavy seeds to maximize return. He claims that this has resulted in dramatic changes in gluten content and structure, and changes in enzymes and proteins too. This modern wheat, which has been selectively bred in the laboratory instead of in nature, he says, is what has caused a host of problems for many, including the large increase in the number of people who either have Celiac Disease or some form of wheat intolerance.
Dr. Davis states that perhaps the fundamental problem, however, is that wheat is high glycemic. He gives the example that two slices of wheat bread, for instance, will increase blood sugar more than two tablespoons of pure cane sugar. And it’s our constant wheat consumption (wheat is in everything!) that creates a never-ending rollercoaster of spikes and dips in blood sugar which creates inflammation and fuels disease.
What did I think of Wheat Belly?
I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I thought it was somewhat informational and I enjoyed learning about the modernization of wheat, though I took everything with a grain of salt because I think Dr. Davis oversimplifies quite a bit. The blood-sugar-spiking effects also made sense to me because having not consumed wheat or gluten regularly within the last year, when I do choose to eat it, I can feel the impact a white flour bagel, for instance, has on my body. It’s a small rush and then a small crash, and it makes me noticeably more snacky. That said, I don’t believe this is specific to wheat. The same can be said of a starchy, processed gluten-free bagel, and so I’d say this is more of a junk food thing. Not all carbs are created equal.
The parts of Wheat Belly that I really didn’t like involved what I found to be extremism – a sort of “wheat is evil for everyone, even in small, infrequent amounts.” More extreme, though, was when Dr. Davis started stating that all foods that elevate blood sugar – even fruit – are bad in anything other than the smallest of servings. We’re talking no more than two strawberries in one sitting. That seems like alarmism to me, and it’s not a mentality I want to take on for myself, nor would I wish it upon anyone else.
I went through a phase last summer when my allergies were at their peak where I engaged in a strict, exceptionally limited diet in an effort to heal my symptoms. I started to fear food, even “healthy” food like fruit because I thought it might make my rash flare or my hay fever worse, and while my fears weren’t completely unfounded (it turns out I do have cross-reactions to certain foods during pollen season), that is a terrible way to live. So no, I will not be limiting myself to three grapes or whatever Dr. Davis suggests is the threshold for sending blood sugar into a tizzy.
Gena of Choosing Raw recently wrote an excellent post, Considering Orthorexia, in which she says, “Remember that your body may be more resilient than you think it is.” I’m of the mindset that our food should (mostly) be health-promoting and make us feel good, but part of feeling good is the joy that comes from eating in a way that nourishes our bodies and our souls, giant bowls of summer strawberries included, and the occasional cupcake, too.
What are your thoughts on this whole anti-wheat, anti-gluten, low-carb movement? And if you’ve read Wheat Belly, what did you think?
Confession: I hadn’t eaten a bagel in something like eighteen months when I started reading this book, but two chapters in, I went and took one from Aaron’s stash, toasted it, smothered it in almond butter, and yes – I enjoyed every last chewy, crunchy bite while I read the next chapter. Maybe it was my own little form of rebellion.