Let's get high

Some things in life are best kept to a minimum: war, crime, debt, rap music, and . . . insulin.

High levels of insulin–“hyperinsulinemia”–is among the fundamental steps that lead to so-called resistance to insulin that, in turn, leads to the cascade of events resulting in visceral fat accumulation, i.e., deep abdominal fat that encircles organs and is a virtual factory for inflammatory signals. Foods that trigger insulin to high levels thereby can be expected to contribute most to growing that belly hanging over your belt.

Below is a graph of blood insulin responses after oral glucose, white bread, whole wheat bread, and bread made from a finely-ground flour that the investigators called “ultra-fine-ground whole-grain wheat flour.” This was done by a group at the USDA to study whether the particle size of wheat made any difference on blood sugar, insulin, and other measures, but I think it demonstrates something different.

Here’s the effect of these 4 challenge foods on insulin:













From Behall et al 1999. Full text here.

Note that all 4 challenge foods increased insulin approximately four-fold–400%. That’s an awful lot. But did you notice what food increased insulin the most? Yup, whole wheat bread, even without the fine-grind.

Eat wheat-containing grains for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks and guess what? You’ll have sky-high insulin levels triggered repeatedly throughout the day. Given a few years of day-in, day-out high insulin and you will grow this collection of visceral fat I call a “wheat belly.”

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. HanaDt

    rap music….XDDD really interesting, Doc. The warning issue is that after 3 hours the glucose falls to it’s start, but not the wheat.

    • Uncle Roscoe

      It’s actually worse than that. Dr. Davis’ chart measures blood insulin, not blood glucose.

      I like Dr. Davis pointing at the sugars, because people tend to understand sugars. However, if you look deeper you’ll see that this sustained insulin response is not a response to glucose in the blood. It’s a response to gluten peptides in the blood. And that’s all the worse, because the sustained insulin concentration becomes inappropriate for the falling blood sugar concentration.

      After months or years of wheat ingestion cells become resistant to the elevated insulin. Then the sustained insulin response becomes appropriate because you also have sustained glucose concentration. ‘Course you then have type 2 diabetes and a highly elevated risk of cancer, atherosclerosis, arthritis, and a host of other terminal diseases.

      • Boundless

        Uncle Roscoe: > It’s a response to gluten peptides in the blood.
        > And that’s all the worse, because the sustained insulin
        > concentration becomes inappropriate for the falling
        > blood sugar concentration.

        Is that then a component of the appetite stimulation that wheat causes?

        • Uncle Roscoe

          Absolutely. There’s a lot being said about leptin shortage and leptin resistance causing people to still be hungry after they are full. Leptin shortage would happen appropriately if insulin is elevated inappropriately …..if insulin inappropriately stuffs fat cells and suppresses blood glucose.

          Later, after insulin causes insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, other leptin pathways take on prominence.

          • Uncle Roscoe

            I’m going to back away from my leptin theory. It doesn’t wash.

            I’ll just say that low blood sugar, the result of unsolicited insulin release, does and would cause hunger.

  2. Gut reactivity and insulin spiking- we are double whammied by wheat. I appreciate how readable your posts are… you decipher complex information and then dole it out in easy to manage slices. Slices… which brings us back to bread… substituting with almond and coconut flours avoids the double whammy; and the end result is tasty, conducive to sustained energy, and is overall more satiating. I recently bought these flours in bulk http://www.freeyourfat.net/2012/03/have-you-heard.html- I made crackers for the first time last night.

  3. Tara

    I’m curious… I am gluten free, so no wheat in my diet… but what is the effect of other non-gluten grains… is this a “grain thing” or a “wheat thing”. Hard to imagine that white and/or brown rice flour wouldn’t have a similar effect. I’d be really curious to know.

    • Dr. Davis

      Yes, they do. High blood sugars and high blood insulin.

      That’s why I say “no gluten-free junk carbohydrates.”

  4. aerobic1

    Wouldn’t this graph would make a great black-box warning on breads bags and cereals and pasta boxes?

  5. Mary

    Hi Dr. Davis,
    I am curious about using insulin therapy for type II diabetics who are still producing their own insulin. My mom fits this category, and was taking metformin previously. She was never overweight to begin with, but she lost too much weight (without trying) and now her doc has her on insulin to help her gain weight. Isn’t this going to cause many bad side effects and exacerbate her situation? I retired my diabetes status by reading your book and following your advice. I did have weight to lose and lost enough to get back to a pre-pregnancy, healthy weight. Thank You! Wouldn’t adding additional insulin or eating a diet that provokes insulin production be problematic and, if it is, why is this considered a viable option for type II people?

    • Dr. Davis

      Unless I’m in the dark about this, Mary, giving someone insulin to make them gain weight sounds like the most hair brained thing I’ve heard in a long time. It sounds downright dangerous, in fact.

      It may be time for a new doctor!

  6. Carri

    Dr. Davis:
    I just finished your book and saw my doctor today. With her blessing, my husband and I are both going wheat free tomorrow. In addition to the medical problems I have that I am hoping a wheat-free diet will correct, I am allergic to tree nuts. Is there anything that can be subsituted for the recipes in your book that call for ground almonds – or any other non-nut tips you can offer?
    Thank you!

  7. “Genetically Modified Wheat Designed to Terrify Aphids”
    “The wheat emits a pheromone which aphids release when they are under attack to create panic and prompt the insects to flee, John Pickett, scientific leader of chemical ecology at Rothamsted Research in eastern England, said on Wednesday. It also attracts tiny parasitoid wasps to provide a second line of defence for crops by laying eggs in the aphids.”

    Does that mean when you eat a lot of that wheat, the wasps will land on you and lay eggs on your skin? Someone really is NOT thinking very well in the wheat industry.


    • Dr. Davis

      If we allow it, Nina, this stuff gets worse and worse!

      I liken the current state of GM-crops to allowing drug manufacturers to release drugs into the marketplace without FDA oversight. In other words, they would release drugs willy nilly with no regard to side-effects or effectiveness. That’s what is going on in agriculture.

  8. Vicky

    Dr Davis,
    I assume that eating brown rice has the same bad result as eating
    Whole wheat bread. Correct?

  9. Terry May

    At least I can turn off the rap music. But I could never turn off the effects that wheat and grain products had on my glucose – insulin revolving door. The graph in this post clearly reveals what my glucometer indicated for years but which I did not understand.. I used to eat “healthy” whole wheat bread or whole grain cereal (following mainstream advice) only to discover that my blood sugar would rise by values such as 8.0 mmol/L (144 mg/dl) in very short order. Then would come the appetite cravings. Oh…guess what? Not any more!

    Wheatless in Canada,

  10. Ray

    Okay, I am not trying to sound like a whiney butt! But, why isn’t this diet called what it really is? A very LOW CARB diet! Eliminating wheat is NOT the only thing that you are required to give up! This should be called the Wheat, Corn, Potato, Rice, Oat, etc….. Belly Diet! I’m just saying! Call it what it is and stop pretending that all you have to do is remove wheat from your diet and you will achieve your sought after goals, whether that be weight loss or controlled blood sugar! Am I the only one out there that feels this way?

    • Dr. Davis

      I think you are confusing two things, Ray: Lose the wheat to regain health, i.e., relief from acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, reduce the inflammation of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, avoid neurological deterioration, lose the mind “fog,” lose the appetite-stimulation of wheat gliadin, stop the worsening of inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, reduce airway inflammation and asthma, and on and on.

      But if weight loss is your goal, then limiting exposure to other carbohydrates helps most people in addition to wheat elimination.

      • Ray

        Dr. Davis, thanks for your reply. Actually, I am on the “no wheat” diet and have been steady losing weight. I was just calling it what it is. The truth is, the less carbs I eat, the more weight loss. That is exactly why I feel that this diet and lifestyle is much more than just eliminating wheat. It is in essence, a low carb diet.
        I meant no disrespect!

  11. Sarah

    Question…. I did a one-hour post-prandial blood glucose check to see the effects of a non-wheat, junk food that I would really like to eat. I combined it with some eggs and good fats (olive and coconut oils) to try to dull the effects of the blood sugar rise. My first reading on my Contour device was 153. I thought that was awfully high, so I pricked again and got 116. Now that difference is greater than the 10-15% margin of error, so I tried again (washing my hands, new needle, new paper towel to dry, different fingers). The third time I got 102. These three readings were taken within about 3 minutes of each other. What’s the truth? I was completely confused (and still am!), so I pulled out my Walmart ReliOn and did the same thing, and got readings of 102 and 105. These 2 additional readings were completed just a couple of minutes later. So what I am to believe? Can my blood sugar really drop that fast within about 5 minutes? Or were the first two readings wrong? What’s going on?

    Oh, and I don’t have diabetes. I’m just trying to be healthy by controlling my blood sugar levels.

    • Dr. Davis

      There’s probably something wrong with your technique, Sarah, the most common hurdle.

      For instance, “milking” your finger can false increase readings, so don’t milk the finger. Instead, hydrate, hold your arm down at your feet for 30 seconds to encourage “pooling” of blood, and use a sufficient depth setting on your fingerstick device to obtain a large enough bloodspot.

    • Dr. Davis


      In the context of a low-fat, eat more “healthy whole grain diet,” yes.

      In the context of eating fish, free range meats higher in omega-3s, olive oil, olives, flaxseed and chia, then, no. The linoleic acid/omega-6 component remains relatively modest. Have your 3-egg omelet, salad smothered with olive oil, your salmon. Then top it off with a carrot muffin made with nuts and seeds.

      And, if we believe the epidemiologic data, you add two years to your life.

  12. I have been gluten free for 8 months now. I feel amazing and have lost weight since the change. It has really impacted my life mentally and physically. I decided to create a website full of gluten free healthy recipes, and many do not contain grains or other insulin spiking ingredients. I hope you check it out!


    P.S. the book was a great read. I have convinced my family members to also make the change to being gluten free, and they have lost weight and feel so much better!

  13. V Bailey

    I have not yet read “Wheat Belly” but am getting it today. What about organic coconut flour? And low GI coconut syrup? I have these in my pantry and want to use them more when I go wheat free.

  14. Dawn

    I accidentally found you on youtube two days ago and have not been able to stop reading about all this– I am going to buy your book for my family members! I have already started “no wheat” — are you saying that even organic wheat/grains are still bad?
    Also, my family loves cornbread, grits, etc. Do you think it’s ok to eat cornmeal as long as it is organic? THANKS–truly fascinating!!!

    • Dr. Davis

      Hi, Dawn–

      Yes, organic makes virtually no difference, as it all comes from the same dwarf strain filled with all the troubles.

      Be careful with corn. It falls into what I call “non-wheat” grains. If weight loss is your goal, it can impair your success. But it has none of the excess baggage of wheat, such as appetite stimulation.

  15. RandallB

    Dr. Davis,
    I have been wheat-free and largely grain-free for five months and have lost about 12 pounds, most of it within the first two weeks, although I am quite slender and don’t want to lose any more weight (in fact I could stand to gain a few pounds!) I am a very healthy, active 59 year-old but need to improve my blood lipids (small LDL, low HDL, etc) as well as keep my blood sugar under control. My question: While I don’t have any problems giving up wheat, I do miss my air-popped popcorn in the evening. Is any amount OK? How about something like a quarter-cup unpopped? I drizzle the popped corn with EVOO. And if it is OK to have in the first place, would having it most every night be problem in itself? Thanks for any advice! I have greatly appreciated your book and taken it to heart.

  16. Denny

    Dr. Davis,
    Would changing to a low carb diet increase fasting insulin levels? I have read that it could improve insulin sensitivity. But then I have also read that the body would become insulin resistant to space glucose for the certain areas in the brain that can only function on glucose.


    • Dr. Davis

      Reducing carbs reduces insulin levels, pure and simple.

      Never heard the part about “spacing glucose” before. Sounds nuts!

  17. Paul

    I have read in both your book and this blog about the theory that eating grains increases insulin production beyond that demanded by the carbohydrate load. How can grains cause a rise in insulin production in a C-Peptide negative type 1 diabetes? Such an individual produces no measureable endogenous insulin in response to any carbohydrate load. All insulin to cover the carbohydrate come exogenously.

    • Dr. Davis

      Not in type 1 diabetics.

      You are correct: The basic defect is inability to produce insulin.

  18. Walking Tall

    As a potential Addictions Counselor,
    This is of particular interest to me.

    The addictive pesonality–born with it, or, pick it up, as we go along in life?
    Age-old question.

    It has been suggested, and now, through the magic [science] of brain-imaging, that an addicted-brain, fires and reacts differntly than a Nomal Brain . . . . a picture says a thousand words!

    One one level, it matters. On another–it is a mute point!

    Extreme as I am, to GMO Wheat–or a novice–that may develop to the Extreme-Class . . . is it worth the risk?
    That innocent, cute little doughnut–or that adorable smiley-faced cookie? Think about it. Hard.

    Due to my injuries–to the body and head–and some things I was born with, I have experienced postive results, that even Dr. Davis has not heard of (per his comment, on another spot, on this blog)–ditto with my non-Veteran’s Administration Dr.

    It is my guess–(as the word Theory is twisted and distorted–and is used in the place of an educated guess), it is my guess, that the Genetic Modified Wheat, that I lovingly refer to as Human Pesticide, attacks weak spots in the body and brain–while, one as the added benifit–of other areas being assaulted by various types of inflammation. Lovely. It is like consumng your own Personal Bully, like having your own Personal Trainer!

    As I am not only not a Medical Dr.–ergo, not a Neurologist–but, I am a Thinker! It seems within the realm of probabiltiy, that if, GMO Wheat [human rat poison] elevates Mental Problems (per Dr. Davis), in persons with a bonified diagnosis–by a seasoned clinitions–that GMO Wheat–could make it harder for Addicts to stay clean–and could make relapse a way of life–rather than Clean Time a way of life!

    In another section, I talked of the Poppy, Co-Co and GMO Wheat Plant in the same breath . . . .

    Pancratic Hell–and organ-mind stress (if not full-blown hell, at least a nasty purgatory). . . and its realationship to the Addictive Prone . . . . something to think about, in the near future, for those with the education and skill to do so . . . .

    As for me, I am not taking any chances—as it was painful enough, for my GMO Wheat withdraw, that a social visit with friends (into my third week), at a Sub-Way–about drove me MAD! Now, going out of my 6th week, Sub-Shop–don’t even phase me–as the smell, once a “trigger,” is not a factor! My nose is like a Turkey Vulture in the sky and a Blood-Houd, on the ground–attuned to smell potential danger!

    Walking Tall

    • Dr. Davis

      Very easy, Vic: Look for foods that have a glycemic index of ZERO.

      This includes eggs, olives, meats, fish, poultry, nuts, non-starchy vegetables. If they have zero glycemic index, they do not provoke insulin.

  19. Lynn

    Am I reading this all wrong or does it look like the baseline for these subjects is a fasting insulin level of 150?!

  20. Mark B.

    Dr. Davis, the USDA statistical graph you use show that glucose is absorbed more quickly, but beyond that it shows NO statistical difference between ANY of the variable groups. They show no statistical differences. How can you rightfully claim that this graph validates your comments? Also, please cite evidence that shows that this insulin spike after consuming carbohydrates is unusual as you seem to suggest.