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What is a “Wheat belly” in 10 bullet points

What is a “Wheat belly” in 10 bullet points 738 415 Janie

“As a cardiologist who sees and treats thousands of patients… I have personally observed protuberant flop-over-the-belt belly fat vanish when my patients eliminated wheat from their diet…”

~ Dr William Davis – Wheat Belly

What if the “healthy-whole-grain” of modern wheat is actually one of the major contributors to weight gain and other chronic disease?

onesmA “wheat belly” is the long term accumulation of fat – especially visceral fat – around the abdomen. This type of fat is specifically triggered by excess secretion of the hormone insulin which is one of the main hormones responsible for fat storage. Unlike fat stored in our thighs and buttocks, visceral fat around the abdominal organs causes inflammation in our bodies and leads to abnormal metabolism which in turn can lead to chronic disease.

Unfortunately wheat bellies are now extremely common and are actually being considered normal. Look around you next time you are out and about – there are not many adults without one! And even more concerning are the number of teenagers and even children who have a wheat belly. We are now seeing not just sedentary people with a wheat belly, but many active people – and even athletes. Even those cultures who have traditionally been perceived as thin like Asians now have them.

twosmWheat bellies are hard to get rid of – they usually do not budge with calorie restriction or exercise because the cause of the wheat belly is not removed – WHEAT. Wheat is everywhere – it is not just in the bread, cereals, biscuits, flour and pasta that we eat in almost 5 meals per day – but it is in just about everything. It dominates our diets. Check the labels of sauces, condiments and even ice cream – wheat is hard to escape in our modern culture. It is cheap to produce and out national economy relies on it.

Yes eating too much sugar, too many soft drinks and sweet treats also contributes to this phenomenon, but what about the people who try not to eat these? They eat healthily (a low fat diet including their 5-6 servings of healthy whole grains every day which is the current prescription for health), they go to the gym 5 days per week, and their wheat belly doesn’t budge.

What on earth is going on?

threesmwheat-diffsThe modern wheat we eat today (triticum aestivum) is very different to the traditional wheat varieties we were eating up until the 1980s in Australia (traditional wheat is called “einkorn” or “emmer”). This new wheat was developed in laboratories by forced hybridisation with other species and irradiation to produce hundreds, if not thousands, of mutations – all with the aim of developing new variants with higher yields and better drought and pest tolerance. What we have ended up with is a completely new species of “wheat” with more chromosomes – of which 5% of the proteins are brand new that our bodies have never seen before. And this new version of wheat flooded our food chain without any testing.

foursmMany of the brand new proteins in modern wheat are gluten proteins making modern wheat much higher in gluten that its parents. Gluten is that malleable sticky part of wheat that makes the dough easier to work with so was a desirable trait to increase. The problem with gluten is it is not properly digestible in the human gut and causes a “leaky gut” which allows stomach contents to enter the bloodstream – somewhere stomach contents should not go! Leaky gut has been linked to autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, cognitive issues, joint pain and general inflammation among many other seemingly unrelated symptoms.

You do not need to have Celiac Disease to be sensitive to gluten. Diagnosis of “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” is becoming more and more prevalent.

fivesmThere are also other non-gluten proteins in modern wheat that can cause issues in many people. Many of these proteins can invoke an immune response in the gut leading to cramps and diarrhoea, and in other people they can cause asthma and rashes (for many people these symptoms are induced by exercise).

The problem is that there are so many unique proteins in modern wheat that we really do not know which ones are problematic and it varies between individuals.

sixsmModern wheat has been called a “super-carbohydrate” – wholemeal bread raises the blood sugar as much as or more than table sugar. In other words, wheat causes the body to secrete a lot of insulin very quickly. Consider that a slice of wholemeal bread made from the traditional “Einkorn” wheat spikes blood sugar from 48mg/dL to about 110mg/dL in a person, whereas a slice of modern wheat wholemeal bread spikes blood sugar from 48mg/dL to 167mg/dL in that same person!

It is one of the only “complex” carbohydrates that we consume which also has an energy high – just like sugar – followed by a corresponding energy crash after the glucose drop which leads to cravings and fatigue. This is clearly not good for diabetics or people with insulin resistance or insulin resistant health issues (like PCOS, alzheimers), yet consumption of wholegrain bread is encouraged.


sevensmSpecific proteins in wheat – called exorphins – actually have the same effect on the brain as opiates, causing a euphoric feeling and addiction. These proteins cannot be broken down in the digestive system and cross the blood-brain barrier to bind with the opiate receptors in the brain. The same drug that is used to treat heroin addiction can block the wheat exorphins and prevent wheat cravings, reduce calorie consumption and lead to a better mood.

It is not uncommon for people to freak out when it is suggested they try a period without bread – “OMG I can’t eat bread!?” – and this is because of its addictive properties. Removing bread/wheat from the diet has many side effects akin to nicotine or drug withdrawal – fatigue, cravings, irritability and even depression – and can take many weeks to overcome.


eightsmThe effects of wheat on the brain are well-documented – removing wheat from a schizophrenic’s diet significantly reduce their schizophrenic symptoms. It has also been shown that a gluten-free diet can improve autistic symptoms, and there is also new research suggesting it helps those with ADHD. Consider that when wheat was introduced to an indigenous population who had never eaten wheat before their rate of schizophrenia increased 65-fold.

ninesmThe combination of the addictive properties and blood sugar spikes and crashes from eating wheat means it is also a very good appetite stimulant. People who cut out wheat usually find they spontaneously eat less calories and cravings can completely disappear.

And then they start to lose their wheat belly.

tensmThe proteins in wheat can cause many other symptoms anywhere in the body and you will not know how it affects your body until you remove it from your diet. Other health issues clear up – acid reflux, IBS, IBD, energy increases, greater focus, better sleep, arthritis pain, asthma, better performance, weight loss. You may experience clearer thinking, more energy, better digestive health, lung health, skin condition, less joint pain. And then when you eat wheat again the symptoms will return.

So it is the combination of wheat’s addictive properties and its blood sugar raising abilities that leads to the “wheat belly”. For many people this visceral fat is invisible as the fat accumulates around the organs which is extremely dangerous as the person does not realise they have it. On top of this wheat causes many other health issues and at Thrive Health we have seen hundreds of people improve their health and resolve a huge variety of health symptoms after eliminating wheat.

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