What's wrong with that banana?

This post initiates a series of conversations about how to manage carbohydrates in the diet once you’ve eliminated the ugliest, smelliest, rottenest, most foul carbohydrate of all: wheat.

Wheat Belly, of course, exposes the disastrous effects of widespread consumption of this genetically-altered grain. Remove all modern wheat from the diet and weight plummets, blood sugar drops, arthritis reverses in many people, chronic sinus infections improve, asthma improves, acid reflux disappears, cramps and diarrhea of irritable bowel syndrome are gone . . . on and on.

So why bother to limit carbohydrates after wheat?

Because the overwhelming likelihood is that, if you live in the U.S., you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, or what I call pre-pre-diabetic. That includes just about everybody. Only rare exceptions fall outside of this group . . . and they are mostly slender, pre-menopausal females who exercise at high levels.

This situation results from a lifetime of excessive carbohydrate consumption, wheat and otherwise. It leaves us with high blood sugars and HbA1cs (long-term blood sugar), small LDL particles, and high triglycerides. It also leaves us with beaten-up, tired pancreases that have reduced numbers of functioning, intact beta cells that produce insulin. It means the vast majority of us are heading straight for full-blown diabetes and a need for insulin injections. Surely you’ve seen the headlines: 1 in 2 Americans expected to be diabetic; 336 million diabetics worldwide. This is not the exception; it’s the rule.

The drug industry, of course, celebrates diabetes, since the diabetes drug market is enjoying double-digit annual growth. The American Diabetes Association advocates a high-carbohydrate diet. And the Board Members of wheat trade groups have very close ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

I limit carbohydrates because your burned-out, tired, overworked pancreas has limited life left before it poops out and you become diabetic. For many of us, all it takes is an apple or a banana and we have diabetic or near-diabetic range sugars.

But there’s more to it than that. Ask John Q. Primary Care doctor and he or she will tell you that, if your after-eating blood sugar is 200 mg/dl or less, you don’t “need” insulin or diabetes medications and you’re okay. Is that true?

No, it is the farthest thing from the truth. The truth of it is that any blood glucose of 90 mg/dl or more triggers glycation. (See the Dowager’s Hump chapter in Wheat Belly.) A blood glucose, say, of 153 mg/dl that results after a bowl of organic, stone ground oatmeal triggers accelerated glycation of the proteins in:

the lenses of your eyes–cataracts
the cartilage cells of your joints–brittle cartilage, then arthritis
the cells lining your arteries–atherosclerosis
the cells of skin–wrinkles

We live in The Age of Carbohydrate Excess, thanks to the revenue-seeking practices of Big Food seeking high markup foods (how else can you convert a nickel’s worth of wheat flour, cornstarch, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, and food coloring into a $3.99 product, complete with sports figure, cartoon character, or “heart healthy” claim?) and to the misguided advice of “official” agencies all advising us to . . . eat more “healthy whole grains.” Elimination of wheat followed by limiting other carbohydrates allows us to enjoy more time as non-diabetics and non-pre-diabetics with better eyesight, healthier joints, fewer heart attacks, and smoother skin.

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94 Responses to What's wrong with that banana?

  1. Darleen says:

    I just wanted to point out that if your oatmeal is “zoned” it’ll have low impact on blood glucose. I tested myself the other morning. Prebreakfast was 97 (it hadn’t been a full 12 hour fast), 20 minutes after eating it was 110 and 2 hours later was 82.

    I prepared 1/2 cup rolled oats with 1 cup water, then mixed with 1/2 cup 4% Daisy cottage cheese and 1TBS sliced almonds and a dollop of SF maple syrup and 1 put of splenda.

    But that’s just me. It could be that other’s will see a major spike in blood glucose no matter what.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      That’s great, Darleen.

      You make a crucial point: There are variations in individual responsiveness, sometimes wild variation.

      Also, note that I advocate keeping postprandial (1 hour after-eating) blood glucose 100 mg/dl or less. While this might be viewed by some as extreme, you will be surprised how much better metabolic and weight control emerges when you do this.

  2. Helen says:

    I was meant to watch you on Fox this morning. Thank you. Downloaded the book to my reader. My concern is for my whole family, however more specifically for my 12 year old daughter. She was diagnosed with high cholesterol and has a belly. The kid doesn’t eat much. She is always tired and sick to her stomach and does not feel good. This has been going on since she was 6ish. When we removed milk, that seemed to help some. She underwent an endoscopy of her intestines and came back with GERD and Gastritis. This still did not explain the belly that came outta nowhere, and she’s had since she was 6? She does not sit in front of the TV much at all, or the computer for that matter. She has PE everyday and she is an equestrian. Her chiropractor, is having her take mineral supplements for the thyroid and he told her no bread. Could not really figure out the bread part, but now totally makes sense. I now know that it goes way beyond the bread intake. Good place to start though.
    Will be praying through this transition for her. 12 year olds don’t like to have their menu messed with!
    My husband has suffered for years from migrains. He is a sugar-a-holic and he is Canadian, and by golly they love thier bread and toast! He is not overweight, but starting to get that belly! Gonna pray on that course correction too!

  3. Denise says:

    What’s wrong with steal cut oats?

    • Boundless says:

      > What’s wrong with steal cut oats?
      They’re stolen :)
      The problem with oats, steel cut or otherwise, is that they spike blood sugar.
      Steel cut might be a little less spiky than refined.
      Dr. Davis has recommended oats in only small amounts.
      I still use oats in a cereal mix that is largely flax.

      • Boundless says:

        Lest anyone wandering in the archives encounters the above, I should add that shortly after posting that I ditched oats entirely.

  4. Philippa says:

    Hi Dr. Davis,

    Last year we became more health concious and gave up meat (still enjoy all seafood), and then we read your book and also went wheat free. My sore joints got better within two weeks, but now if I have the slightest bit of wheat (e.g. I had some Maggi sauce) I get a severe arthritis attack. Is there a way to flush it out or counter balance, it or does one have to just wait? I had to get out the Advil again :(

    And as for the vegetarian aspect, are lentils, beans etc OK? My husband has actually gained weight.


    Meat free wheat free Philippa

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Hi, Phillippa–

      No, sorry, there is no way to “flush out” the wheat, nor to undo the inflammation provoked. It just proves to you that you shouldn’t ever consume it again!

      I am not a fan of legumes except in very small portions, certainly no more than 1/2 cup servings, mostly because of carbohydrate exposure.

  5. Bill says:

    Okay, I admit I haven’t bought your book yet (I found out about it only yesterday) so I may be asking something that is fully covered in it.
    No wheat, very low carbs (I love beans!), no apples, no bananas (which I already gave up because of the sugar). Does your book talk about the many (I hope!) things I CAN eat? If so, then I’ll buy it/

    • Boundless says:

      Have a look at this article for a quick WB diet summary.

      I also posted a response there lately that is a sky view of why the future of human nutrition looks veri different from where we are today.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      I did not want it to, Bill, as I saw Wheat Belly as the Omnivore’s Dilemma of wheat.

      But my editor was worried that pointing my finger at the problem without offering a solution was an unsatisfying read. So I was compelled to add a diet and recipes, including what to eat, what not to eat.

  6. Joan Carey says:

    How much is too much? Now that we have successfully given up all grains, we’ve shifted to using things like almond meal, coconut flour and flax meal. Beside the high caloric count, is there a concern, for example, with too much almonds, of oxalate issues? Does too much flax meal cause trouble? After being blindsided by the food industry for so long, I sure don’t want to go overboard in another wrong direction.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Almost never issues, Joan.

      An occasional person does indeed develop calcium oxalate kidney stones, particularly if they are not good at hydrating. But this is exceptional.

      Flaxseed, I don’t think so.

      • Samantha West says:

        I have eaten 30 grams of flax seed a day since having end-stage renal failure in late 2005. I refused dialysis and a kidney transplant and began eating wheat, sugar and mostly carb free, my kidneys were near normal in 7 months and now my blood work is perfect every year. The flax seed goes into my blueberry/flax seed/non-denatured whey protein/ceylon cinnamon/organic cocoa shake I drink every day. Some of the wonderful effects of flax seed are 1) no joint pain any more 2) silky soft beautiful skin.

  7. Louise says:

    Dear Dr. Davis,
    I have been taking in alot of info on your blog …first I like to say that I am 51 year old woman and had no problems with diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure. Actually pretty healthy I am on a anti-drepressant for about a year and hope to get off soon. I have been wheat free for one week and feel great — since I never had the above problems could I still have the apple. I usually have an small apple for snack around 10:30 every morning I have been doing this as a routine. I bought the Paleo cookbook since your book will not be out until Dec 18 here in Canada. I really want this lifestyle change to work for me since I feel I have all this energy and got my daughter following it with me – she is 15 and has struggled with her weight and body image and I need to plan meals and snacks that she would like and not get discouraged.
    It is almost like a need a list of yes foods and no foods or moderation/portion size foods to follow. I have been going out any buying herbs and spices, etc Just trying to eat healthy is costly but I feel once we have this downpat and have most of the items we need to prepare foods this will ease up. I love the book and I love this new way of eating. Thank you

  8. Sedena says:

    The quick and dirty list is really all you need to get started on your wheat-free way: keep it fresh, not processed, and eat fresh protein with fresh/frozen vegetables and fat at every meal. I know that flies in the face of every diet every one of us has ever been on, but it really is that simple. Clean out your pantry, refrigerator and freezer of everything processed (the ingredients in the simplest things are astonishing). Frozen vegetables should contain one ingredient – that vegetable! Less is truly more.

    And once you give up the wheat/grains and starch as recommended by Dr. Davis, portion control is no longer an issue, because you feel full when you’ve had enough, even if it’s half (or less) of what you usually eat! I find myself chewing my food longer and longer as I get full, which I now realize means “I’m done”. Weird but true -

  9. Scott says:

    As an endurance athlete (armature tri-athlete) I am concerned about the removal of most carbohydrates. In a simple training ride/swim/run I can easily burn through more than 1500 calories. My concern is how best to fuel both for training and for race day. Conventional wisdom is rampant with easily digested foods (simple sugars) for prior to exercise, and post-exercise 4 carbs to 1 protein ratio for proper recovery.

    I am sorely trying to cut my weight to accommodate a faster pace for race day, so how do I accomplish both the fueling for the endurance training/racing and reducing the amount of mass I am moving around?

    Sports Nutrition is very confusing and there is a whole lot of conflicting information out there.

    • Bob says:

      I too am wondering about this. I weightlift three times a week and run six. I’m not a triathelete but I do run in half marathons (did a 10 mile race a few days ago). Dr. Davis’ wife does triathalons as well IIRC so I would be interested in her diet approach in regards to carbs and fueling. Dr. Davis listed a general daily carb range of 50-100g per day with an allowance of more for long distance atheletes but nothing specific.

  10. VibeRadiant says:

    Hi Dr Davis,
    what about people who eat a high raw fruit based diet like the 80-10-10 diet, 80% calories from fruits, 10% from protein and 10% from fats (only vegan fats). Some eat 30 bananas a day ( google 30 bananas a day) and they are thin and vibrant looking. Are they setting themselves up for diabetes and dementia?

    • Boundless says:

      > … what about people who eat a high raw fruit based diet like …

      Well, on that, let’s ask the most celebrated fruitarian of recent times, Steve Jobs.

      Net carbs is net carbs, regardless of the source.

      Net carbs from fruit are going to be higher in fructose than other foods with a similar carb load.
      See: http://www.wheatbellyblog.com/2011/11/goodbye-fructose/

      > Are they setting themselves up for diabetes and dementia?

      Or worse. Glucose feeds cancer (and can even initiate it). Pure speculation, of course, but had Steve switched to a calorie-restricted ketogenic diet (lower carbs than even WB) at his first cancer diagnosis, he might still be with us.

      • VibeRadiant says:

        <Well, on that, let’s ask the most celebrated fruitarian of recent times, Steve Jobs.

        Oh this made me laugh out loud snort!

        • Boundless says:

          > Oh this made me laugh out loud snort!

          It’s actually kind of sad. Steve Jobs was legendary for extreme dietary practices (which included fasting, so it wasn’t all completely nutso), so it’s hard to know what contribution diet made in his demise.

          But people need to be alert to the hazards of the fruitarian thing. Was it a coincidence that Ashton Kumar, who played Jobs in the movie) ended up in the hospital after going fruitarian to get into character?

          I understand that Jobs also consulted with Dean Ornish right up until the end. I suppose it might be another Ornish Diet “success” story. You might die as soon, or faster, but won’t be of heart disease.

      • al says:

        Not true. It’s well-known that Steve Jobs merely tried the raw lifestyle for a a very short period. He ate anything he wanted, which included much cooked food and meats and seafood, etc.

    • Dr. Davis says:

      Very destructive. These people are going to have problems like cataracts, arthritis, cancer, etc. in short order.

  11. La Frite says:

    OK, I hope this board is open-minded.
    I am not advocating a high carb or low carb diet. I am advocating for real foods.
    Bananas are real foods, and unless you have to watch your blood sugar or have a metabolic disorder /allergy / anything contra-indicated, a banana is a mega-healthy food to eat.

    A banana starts very green (starch only) and ripens by degrading the starch into glucose / fructose / sucrose. So if you are scared of the sucrose / glucose / fructose content, prefer green to yellow bananas. The starch is very healthy (a lot of it is resistant starch anyway which will improve your glucose tolerance) and the little degraded starch will make it taste sweet enough. That’s the way I prefer my bananas, I couldn’t care less for ripe ones, and I think I get the best out of it (nutrition and enjoyment).

    To scare people away from fruits, when your metabolism is healthy, sounds irrelevant to me. But that is just my opinion.

    • Boundless says:

      > OK, I hope this board is open-minded.

      Well, this isn’t a “board”. It’s Dr.Davis’ Wheat Belly Blog. I don’t speak for the blog, or Dr.D., but I’m generally open minded. Since WB was published, I’ve learned a lot more about nutrition than I’d planned. :)

      > I am not advocating a high carb or low carb diet.

      WB advocates a very low carb macronutrient profile with specific cautions about fructose. Anyone proposing higher carb intake may expect to raise eyebrows here.

      A typical medium-to-large Cavendish banana is about 25 net grams of carb, of which 15 are sugars, including 6 grams of fructose. The net carbs alone is 167% of WB guidelines for carb consumption as a single meal or 6-hour period.

      That banana is not a meal, and is likely to NOT be all you consume in that 6 hour period, as it has zero fat and deminimus protein.

      It’s way far from an ideal LCHF profile.
      It’s quite likely to be appetite-stimulating.

      > I am advocating for real foods. Bananas are real foods, …

      Bananas are a high-sugar fruit, domesticated, hybridized and selectively bred for maximum palette appeal. They were also not commonly available to most of the human race for most of human history.

      > …and unless you have to watch your blood sugar or have a
      > metabolic disorder /allergy / anything contra-indicated,

      The goal is to avoid those entirely optional ailments, and the data are indicating that the way to do that is LCHF, grain-free, low-fructose. Fruit consumption requires caution.

      > … a banana is a mega-healthy food to eat.

      You may need to define “healthy”. I’m not sure we’d agree.

      > A banana starts very green (starch only) and ripens by
      > degrading the starch into glucose / fructose / sucrose.
      > So if you are scared of the sucrose / glucose / fructose
      > content, prefer green to yellow bananas.

      This is the cliche:
      If you have to ask “can eat a banana”, the answer is: no.
      If you don’t have to ask, it’s because you know the answer is: maybe.

      Part of a banana can be made to fall within the 15 grams net carbs guideline. If you’re advocating more than 15 net grams, then you’re advocating a different diet (possibly a full-time glycemic diet, which is the root of our problems, in my view).

      > The starch is very healthy (a lot of it is resistant
      > starch anyway which will improve your glucose tolerance)

      How does that work?

      > To scare people away from fruits, …

      The consensus diets advocate lots of fruit, and provide zero cautions about that. People need a bit of alarm about this. Fruits vary wildly in their carb and fructose content, and people need to be cautious about fruit consumption until they know what each fruit’s profile is.

      > … when your metabolism is healthy, …

      You want to keep it that way by avoiding metabolic syndrome.

      Have you measured actual blood sugar response subsequent to consuming a whole banana? I’d expect a ripe to spike, and a green to elevate. The goal is no-change.

      Modern humans are adapted to pack on the pounds when fructose is available, which historically was seasonal fruit. This is the “Fat Switch” hypothesis (Johnson). We would then burn that fat off in ketosis in unwanted deep winter fasting. This allowed a small population to survive prehistoric environmental catastrophies, perhaps more than once. Dr. Permutter speculates in his recent “Grain Brain” book that neanderthals vanished because they lacked this glycemic-ketotic adaptation.

      Today, metabolic summer never ends, and metabolic winter never comes.
      Metabolic syndrome comes instead.

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  13. Bette Roebuck says:

    I am 70, was born in the tropics, and have been eating boiled green bananas all my life as is the custom in my country. Banana’s cousin, the plantain, is also a staple that is eaten both green and ripe over there. Nobody thinks about the deleterious dietary effects of either of these foods. Fried half-ripe plantains are very filling and are eaten like you guys eat potato chips (without the cotton seed oil). They are called “patacones” and are eaten hot off the stove. I’m not saying we don’t have hospitals because we do; but I do think you are making too much out of the banana thing. I am not fat. I rarely see fat people or people with distended banana-caused bellies in my country. Maybe it is because of perspiring from the heat and more walking (exercise) than may occur in the U.S. Please don’t take away my grains and bananas. One of the main dishes is rice and beans, which of course, are both grains, which when combined, comprise a full protein. Other than a Chinese restaurant, if somebody offers you white or brown rice without the beans, you feel insulted down there.. The rice has to have some kind of beans in it. To me, moderation is the key to successful health. It is better to grow your own foods so you know what is in it. My rule is: A plant-based diet is best. I am vegan and my motto is: “If it has a face or came from something that has a face, don’t eat it.”

  14. Boundless says:

    Seen today on DietDoctor

    “Monkeys Can No Longer Have Bananas”
    “An English zoo has stopped serving bananas to monkeys, as modern fruit is much sweeter and lacking in fiber – compared to the fruit that monkeys eat in nature. The result? Monkeys eating too much unnaturally sweet bananas risk diabetes, stomach problems and bad teeth. Also they become anxious and aggressive. Like humans?”