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Books, Documentaries, Reviews: WHEAT BELLY

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Books, Documentaries, Reviews:  July 21, 2012



William Davis, MD

William Davis, MD, a preventive cardiologist in Wisconsin, published WHEAT BELLY in 2011.  The book became a New York Times best seller (No. 5) right away and continues to sell strongly.  Davis has put more than 2000 patients on a wheat-free regimen and claims he has seen “extraordinary” results in their health.  Many of these patients were really sick with a wide range of health problems, including neurological problems.

Davis defines a “wheat belly” as “the accumulation of fat that results from years of consuming foods that trigger insulin, the hormone of fat storage” (4).  This wheat belly fat is “visceral” fat that is “unique” in that “unlike fat in other body areas, it provokes inflammatory phenomena, distorts insulin responses, and issues abnormal metabolic signals to the best of the body.  In the unwitting wheat-bellied male, visceral fat also produces estrogen, creating “man breasts.”  Wheat consumption can “reach deep down into virtually every organ of the body, from the intestines, liver, heart, and thyroid gland all the way up to the brain” (4).  Wheat consumption “is the main cause of the obesity and diabetes crisis in the United States” (56).  And the fat of the wheat belly lies over organs that have, themselves, become abnormally fat, which makes the body struggle.

Davis argues that modern wheat is the root cause of much of the chronic health conditions people are experiencing today.  Modern wheat, he claims is NOT wheat at all–but “the transformed product of genetic research conducted during the latter half of the twentieth century.”  Two ancient forms of wheat were crossed hundreds of years ago, and that wheat has been eaten by humans without many of the health effects that today’s wheat produces.  (The Paleo diet folks would disagree with this premise on, I  think, good historical and medical grounds.)

Wheat has the rare, in the plant world, ability to transfer ALL of its genes when crossed–unlike other plants which might only transfer some of the genes from each parent.  When scientists started to breed wheat to increase its yields and to make it shorter (so it would not blow over as easily), they created a “law of unintended consequences”–in that they produced a product that is “hundreds, perhaps thousands, of genes apart from the original einkorn wheat that bred naturally” (22).  (Like modern corn, modern wheat cannot grow on its own in the wild.)

Assumptions were made:  “With wheat it was likewise assumed that variations in gluten content and structure, modifications of other enzymes and proteins, qualities that confer susceptibility of resistance to various plant diseases, would all make their way to humans without consequence” (25).

Modern wheat has a higher carbohydrate component than ancient wheat, which has more protein.  The specific carbohydrate in wheat is amylopectin A, which is so easily digestible in our bodies that eating “two slices of whole wheat bread is really little different ,and often worse, than drinking a can of sugar-sweetened soda or eating a sugary candy bar”–information that has been known since 1981 when the University of Toronto “launched the concept of the glycemic index” [GI] which compares “blood sugar effects of carbohydrates” (33-34).

Davis posits that many people today are dealing with what he calls “immune mediated gluten intolerance,” and celiac disease would be a subset of this condition.  Because this response can damage the gut so that it leaks food particles, the body forms antibodies that began to circulate in the blood stream.  If these antibodies lodge in particular organs, they can produce problems in that arena.  These antibodies can also breech the blood-brain barrier, so that some neurological conditions that seem like MS or Parkinson’s actually can be effects of this disorder.  This array of conditions has served to mislead doctors from the true cause of the problem:  immune mediated gluten intolerance caused by modern wheat.

Davis uses Denise Minger’s analysis of T. Colin Campbell’s THE CHINA STUDY to show the correlations between wheat and human disease.  Minger showed, by recrunching Campbell’s data, what Campbell missed because of his belief that consuming meat produces disease.  Minger’s analysis shows the “astronomical correlations wheat flour has with various diseases”–prompting Davis to ask if the “staff of life” is really the “staff of death” (160-165).

Davis discusses how addictive wheat is and how it is an appetite stimulant–along with many other seriously bad effects of wheat on the human body.  He illustrates his argument with case studies from his practice and with clinical studies.  The picture Davis draws of the downsides of wheat are much more involved, serious, and intense than I can repeat at length here.

So what grains have gluten?  Rye, barley, triticale, spelt, bulgar, and kamut share a genetic heritage with wheat.  Oats can cause some people problems as it “will cause blood sugar to skyrocket.”  Quinoa, millet, amaranth, teff, chia seed, and sorghum “are essentially carbohydrates without the immune or brain effects of wheat.  While not as undesirable as wheat, they do take a metabolic toll.”  Eat them in moderation only after weight has been normalized (212).  Avoid “gluten-free” foods as “the only other foods that have GIs as high as wheat products are dried, pulverized starches such as cornstarch, rice starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch”–all used heavily in “gluten-free” products (63).

There are critiques of WHEAT BELLY.  As near as I can tell, they are coming mostly from the Paleo folks.  The book’s cover pitches it as a “diet” book–“lose the wheat, lose the weight”–and the Paleo folks argue that cutting out wheat won’t do that trick and that eating wheat has far more dangerous implications.  The Paleo folks aren’t wrong, but Davis does a good job of showing that wheat consumption–especially in the amounts Americans are eating it–is very dangerous–and something Luise Light, who was hired by the USDA to create the 1980 food guide, cautioned against, saying we should only eat 2 to 3 servings of grains a day.  ( A serving is 1/2 cup, and women and children should only eat 2 servings.)

I can tell you that since I cut out wheat, I have lost my own “wheat belly.”  I can also tell you that like Davis, when I eat wheat, the impact on my body is immediate and not very nice.

So, do you have a “wheat belly”?  Most Americans I see out and about today do.  If so, you may want to take a longer look at what Davis has to say about losing the wheat and regaining your health.

Mainely Tipping Points 15: Rearranging Deck Chairs on theTitanic: The Proposed 2010 USDA Food Guide

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Mainely Tipping Points 15

Rearranging Deck Chairs on the Titanic:

The Proposed 2010 USDA Food Guide


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) have jointly released the proposed 2010 food guide to a fire storm of criticism.  But first, let’s review recent government food guide history.   

 The USDA presented a new food guide plan and pyramid design in 2005.  It will be considered current until the 2010 guide replaces it.  The 2005 graphic is fronted by a triangle composed of colorful triangular stripes representing five food groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, meat and beans).  Some triangles are bigger than others.  The front triangle is backed by a triangular set of steps with a stick figure climbing upwards.  A USDA web site (www.mypyramid.gov) allows an individual to enter personal information so that one of twelve personal pyramids is assigned.    

 Luise Light, hired by the USDA to design the 1980 USDA food guide, published WHAT TO EAT:  THE TEN THINGS YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW TO EAT WELL AND BE HEALTHY in 2006, which in part describes how USDA  political appointees manipulated Light’s proposed guide to favor industry.  Light warns that with the 2005 food guide the USDA is trying to please everyone, makers of junk food and proponents of nutritionally important foods.  The 2005 guide, warns Light, is built around calories, which translates that “all foods are good foods.”  One has only to count calories, even junk food calories, to be healthy. 

 But, Light explains, by shifting “the emphasis away from best food choices to a new food democracy where every food is equal,” the USDA ignored “research over the last ten years” that shows “the types of foods, ingredients, and eating patterns that are beneficial for health and weight” (85-86). 

I believe this strategy also removes responsibility from industry for producing unhealthy foods.  By emphasizing individual choice, it becomes the individual’s responsibility not to eat that which makes him or her fat or sick—even though highly processed fake foods, tainted foods, and chemically poisoned foods fill national supermarkets. 

Light explains that “more than half of all consumers in a nationwide survey” responded that they were confused by the new pyramid.  Yet, the USDA allocated no funds to promote the new guide.  Rather, the USDA planned to task industry with helping to educate Americans about food choices.  Light notes that the Idaho Potato Commission immediately announced that carbohydrates, including potatoes, are the best fuel for muscles. 

 But, Light reminds, in reality, the food guide was never meant to be “a tool for health promotion based on the latest scientific studies about healthy eating.”  And, she asks if it isn’t time that nutritional questions are “answered by knowledgeable, independent authorities without a vested interest.”  Right now, people are “told different things at every turn by physicians, teachers, dietitians, the government, and food marketers” (85-86). 

The government released the 2010 proposed food guide this spring and scheduled public hearings and organized a web site for public comments.  Criticism involves, in part, the fact that the proposed guide not only continues down the path that has produced a national obesity epidemic and chronic health problems, it ups the ante on its unscientific position regarding dietary cholesterol and saturated fats by further lowering recommended daily levels.  Under the new rules, one cannot eat an egg.  Or, cheese.  Yet eggs—nature’s perfect food–have sustained humans for thousands of years.  And, properly prepared cheese is a nutrient-dense food.              

Sally Fallon, President of the Weston A. Price Foundation (WAPF), in the winter 2009 WAPF quarterly journal WISE TRADITIONS, agrees that the 2005 guidelines were “not based on science but were designed to promote the products of commodity agriculture and—through the back door—encourage the consumption of processed foods.”  The 2010 guide, Fallon writes, is an exercise in rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic.”  Indeed, Fallon notes, “putting the USDA in charge of the dietary guidelines is like letting the devil teach Sunday school (“President’s Message,” 2-3).   (See www.westonapricefoundation.org for extended analysis.)  

Fallon notes that the “USDA-sanctioned industrialization of agriculture,” has resulted in “a huge reduction in nutrients and increase in toxins in the American diet.”  Government food guides “have caused an epidemic of suffering and disease, one so serious that it threatens to sink the ship of state.”  The 2010 proposed guide is “a recipe for infertility, learning problems in children and increased chronic disease in all age groups.”  And, Fallon notes, while a growing number of Americans are figuring out what’s wrong with government-sponsored nutritional guides, millions in hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and schools are trapped in the “Frankenstein creation” which is “a tragic and failed experiment” (2-3).   

 The American diet, Fallon notes, contains widespread deficiencies in the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, K, and E.  But, Fallon explains, “there is no way for Americans to consume sufficient quantities of these critical vitamins while confined to the low-fat, low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol, low-calorie cage of the USDA dietary guidelines” (2-3).  

The WAPF argues that dietary cholesterol is a precursor to vitamin D and that our cells need cholesterol for stiffness and stability.  And, the WAPF warns that the USDA committee is ignoring “basic biochemistry” that “shows that the human body has a very high requirement for saturated fats in all cell membranes.”  If we do not eat saturated fats, the body makes them from carbohydrates, but this process “increases blood levels of triglyceride and small, dense LDL, and compromises blood vessel function.”  Further, high carbohydrate diets do not satisfy the appetite, which leads to higher caloric intakes, bingeing, rapid weight gain and chronic disease.  This diet is “particularly dangerous for those suffering from diabetes or hypoglycemia, since fats help regulate blood sugar levels.”

The USDA committee’s solution, Fallon explains, is to “eat more `nutrient- dense’ fruits and vegetables.”  But, Fallon notes, “fruits and v”egetables are not nutrient-dense foods.”  Nutrients in plant foods do not compare with “those in eggs, whole milk, cheese, butter, meat and organ meats.”

Fallon points out that some USDA committee members are concerned with “the choline problem.”  Choline is “critical for good health and is especially necessary for growing children.  If choline intake is too low during pregnancy and growth, brain connections cannot form.  And, if choline is abundant during developmental years, the individual is protected for life from developmental decline” (2-3) 

Excellent sources of choline are egg yolks and beef and chicken liver.  Fallon notes that the National Academy of Sciences recommends amounts of choline consumption that violate the USDA’s proposed cholesterol limits.  So, she argues, “while we watch in horror the blighting of our children’s lives with failure to thrive, learning disorders, attention deficit disorder, autism and mental retardation, the committee is sticking to its anti-cholesterol guns.”  

Analysis on the WAPF web site details how the USDA committee has swept “the dangers of trans fat under the rug by lumping them with saturated fats, using the term `solid fats’ for both.”  This categorization hides the “difference between unhealthy industrial trans fats and healthy traditional saturated fats.”      

Also, notes the WAPF, the USDA committee has promoted “an increase in difficult-to-digest whole grains,” without specifying that all grains, nuts, seeds, and beans need to be soaked to remove the powerful antinutrient phytic acid.  (More on this subject later.) 

I agree with the WAPF assessment that the 2010 guide should be scrapped and that “the committee members should be replaced with individuals who have no ties to the food processing industry or to universities that accept funding from the food processing industry.”  I’ll bet Luise Light does, too.

Mainely Tipping Points 12: The 1980 USDA FOOD GUIDE

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Mainely Tipping Points 12

The 1980 USDA Food Guide



The tipping point for our current national relationship to food begins in earnest in the 1970s.  There are many facets to this fifty-year history:  massive national changes are never simple.  History shows these changes were not made for good scientific reasons.  They were made from a bubbling stew that contained, at least, potent, but unsupported beliefs; unchecked political power; the personal advancement of some; and corporatism.        

One piece of this much larger history begins when the USDA hires Luise Light, M.S., Ed.D., to produce the 1980 USDA food guide which would replace the “basic four” guide.  (The food pyramid guide arrives in1992.)  When the USDA call came, Light had just finished her graduate studies and was teaching at New York University.  Light’s book WHAT TO EAT:  THE TEN THINGS YOU REALLY NEED TO KNOW TO EAT WELL AND BE HEALTHY (2006) documents what she calls the “bizarre” something that occurred during her time at the USDA (17). 

The first USDA effort to establish national dietary guidelines came from Wilbur Olin Atwater, an agricultural chemist, in 1902.  Atwater introduced the notion that the calorie is a good means to measure the efficiency of a human diet.  Atwater calculated which foods produced which amounts of energy, and he stressed eating more proteins, beans, and vegetables and less fat, sugar, and other starchy carbohydrates (www.healthy-eating-politics.com/usda-food-pyramid.html). 

In 1917, Caroline Hunt devised the first USDA food guide.  Hunt came to the USDA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she was director of the home economics program (http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2009/12/07/how-long-have-we-known-what-to-eat/#more-2637).  Hunt ignored Atwaters advice to limit fat and sugar intake and emphasized newly discovered vitamins and minerals.  She divided foods into five groups:  meat and milk, cereals, vegetables and fruit, fats and fatty foods, and sugar and sugary foods (www.healthy-eating-politics.com/usda-food-pyramid.html). 

In 1940, the National Academy of Sciences released the first Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), and the USDA, in post-war 1946, when food is no longer under war-time restrictions, released a new guide which offered seven food groups supporting the RDA requirements.  Once past milk, meat, and grains, the categories are somewhat incoherent:  milk and milk products; protein products; cereal products; green and yellow vegetables; potatoes and sweet potatoes; citrus, tomato, cabbage, salad greens; and butter and fortified margarine (www.healthy-eating-politics.com/usda-food-pyramid.html). 

Other guides, which contained contradictory advice, existed.  So in 1956 the USDA revised its guide to the “basic four”:  milk, meat, fruits and vegetables, and grain products (www.healthy-eating-politics.com/usda-food-pyramid.html).  But, by the 1960s, writes Light, “rising rates of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes” prompted a “furious debate” among nutritionists about “whether the basic four food groups were more of a marketing tool for food commodity groups than a useful technique for improving eating practices and protecting the public’s health” (13).  In the late 1970s, the USDA decided to redo the food guide.    

 Light devised a plan for the new food guide “based on studies of population diets, research on health problems linked to food and nutrition patterns, and the newest dietary standards from the National Academy of Sciences “(15).  She convened two expert groups “representing both sides of the government’s nutrition `fence,’ agricultural scientists who studied nutritional biochemistry and medical scientists who studied diet and chronic disease.” The new guide would, for the first time, “target levels for fat, sugar, sodium, fiber, calories, and trace minerals” (15). 

The daily guide Light and her team recommended is as follows, with lower servings for women and less active men:  five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables; two to three servings of dairy; five to seven ounces of protein foods (meat, poultry , fish, eggs, nuts, and beans); two to three servings of whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, or rice; four tablespoons of good fats  (olive, flaxseed, expeller cold-pressed vegetable oils); and limited amounts of refined carbohydrates.  Fats would provide 30 percent of calories, and sugars, no more than 10 percent of calories (17). 

Light sent the new food guide, which was in the form of a pyramid, to the office of the Secretary of Agriculture (a political appointee), and it came back changed.  Servings in the whole-grain category were increased from two to three servings to six to eleven servings, and the words “whole grain” were eliminated.  Dairy was increased from two to three servings to three to four servings.  Protein foods went from five to seven ounces daily to two to three servings.  Fats and oils went from four tablespoons to “use moderately.”  And sugars went from no more than 10 percent of the diet to “use moderately” (17).  The pyramid form was gone. 

Light was horrified, furious, and feared, especially, that the whole-grain alteration would increase national risks of obesity and diabetes.  Light laments the notion that any product with wheat (white bread, Twinkies, Oreos, bagels) would now be considered equivalent to a whole-grain product with intact fiber and nutrients.  She laments the fact that when Congress later set the USDA guide into “legislative `stone,’ “ it became illegal not to serve the expanded number of grain servings—which affected all publicly funded food programs, like the food stamp program and the public school lunch programs.  She laments the plight of poor people who would now feel hungry all the time as cheap carbohydrates would not fill them up and would make them fat.  And, she laments the loss of credibility and integrity of a USDA tasked with being a source of reliable nutritional information, but which had ignored deliberately “research-based dietary advice” in order to “bolster sales of agricultural products” (17-21).     

Thus, Light notes, Americans increased their “consumption of refined grain products from record lows in the 1970s to the six to eleven servings suggested in the new guide.”  By the 1980s, Americans were consuming one hundred forty-seven pounds of wheat flour and cereal products, and by 2000, two hundred pounds, for an increase of 25 percent (21).  And, presently, two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese (3).  Additionally, “we’re continuously massaged by subtle, misleading persuasions to forget the consequences and indulge today” (5). 

Food, Light writes, is a big part of what some have called a “third industrial revolution” (4).  We are now “eating foods and ingredients unknown to our ancestors and even to our parents and grandparents.  Our foods have changed dramatically, but our nutritional requirements still mirror those of our ancient Paleolithic ancestors” (9).  Light writes that “in the past fifty years food has been transformed into packaged products designed by industrial engineers for long shelf life, profitability, and repeat purchases.”  And, “after sixty years of eating `scientifically,’ we seem to have reached the moment of truth.  The great Western experiment in reinvented food has proven itself to be a health disaster” (31). 

Additionally, as our environment has changed drastically, we struggle now with serious air, water, and soil pollution.  “Pollutants stored in our tissues,” writes Light, “cause damage to our immune and neuroendocrine systems, impairing our health and inhibiting our ability to digest, absorb, and utilize the nutrients we consume” (10).  And, “pollutants can raise nutrient requirements leading to nutritional shortfalls that interfere with growth, reproduction, bone strength, muscle tone, and body functions.”  This syndrome of “nutritional malaise,” Light assesses, is causing as many as 70 million adults to “suffer from some form of digestive malady…”—which is, in turn, producing more serious diseases, like diabetes, high blood pressure, cancers, osteoporosis, asthma, and arthritis” (10).  Worse, “genetic damage from toxic products can be passed on from one ge-neration to the next…” (241). 

Light’s ten rules for healthy eating center on not eating polluted, synthetic food, which includes industrially raised animals and eggs; on eating nutrient-dense whole foods; on eating natural fats (butter, olive oil, and nuts) and avoiding synthetic fats (highly processed vegetable oils, like soy, corn, safflower, cottonseed, and canola); and on avoiding all refined and processed foods. 

In 1992, eleven years later, the USDA issued a revised food pyramid which endorsed what Light calls “a healthy eating message” that has “never been so explicit again” since it, in turn, was altered along the lines heard in the era of the basic four food groups:  all food is good food (246-247).