It’s a Grain, Grain, Grain, Grain World

Worldwide, 20% of all human calories come from wheat products. 50% of all calories come from the Big 3 grains: wheat, corn, and soy. Of all the food choices in the world, from mongongo nuts in western Africa, to seafood in coastal areas, to coconut in the South Pacific, the Big 3 grains now comprise half of the human diet.

At what other time in human history has such a situation occurred?

None. Just as we’ve never seen the likes of Honey Boo Boo take center stage on broadcast media before, there is NO evolutionary precedent for such a grain-based lifestyle. Not in the 1800s, not in the Middle Ages, not in the time of the Bible, not in pre-Biblical Rome, Greece, or Egypt, not during the transition from scavenging-hunting-gathering to agriculture, not 50,000 years ago, not 100,000 years ago, not during the appearance of the first Homo sapiens, not during the very first Homo species nor pre-human predecessors Australopithecus . . . NO species of hominids has EVER existed on a diet that looks like the modern human diet.

Our own USDA argues, via the Food Plate and Food Pyramid, that we should increase intake of grains further to comprise 60% of human calories. In other words, they suggest that, not only should we consume “healthy whole grains,” but that we should allow them to dominate diet.

Odd fact: The Big 3 grains that now dominate worldwide diets are also the recipients of most of the attention of geneticists to increase yield using techniques such as genetic modification (e.g., Bt toxin corn) and chemical mutagenesis, i.e., the intentional provocation of mutations (e.g., Clearfield wheat sold by BASF). Branded and patented forms of these monocrop grains therefore dominate the fields of farmers, who are also obliged (sometimes virtually forced) to purchase the herbicides or pesticides that specific strains are tied to, such as glyphosate-resistant corn that requires use of glyphosate, or imazamox-resistant wheat that requires imizamox. Note that these strains have to be purchased every season, disallowing (genetically or legally) a farmer from saving seed at the time of harvest to use next season (as traditional farmers did for thousands of years). Such seed strains essentially “lock” a farmer into repeated purchase of seed and the herbicide tied to it.

Compare this system with that of locally produced, small scale farming, in which small private operations with several dozen or several hundred heads of livestock or chickens, smaller plots of land to produce a variety of vegetables and fruit, many of them perennial. Scattered, independent food production is not amenable to centralized control.

What we have in our modern food system is a world increasingly dependent on monocultures of 3 grains, largely commanded by Big Agribusiness, that yields control over the producers (farmers) and the consumers (grain-eaters).

Is this a form of economic domination? Or is it just a response to the increasing demands of an overpopulated world?

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Steve

    Thanks for staying on top of this — as countless others have said, my life has been positively transformed through the elimination of wheat and most other grains/sugars.

    However, I’m still waiting for some substantive information about wheat as a possible cause of erectile dysfunction (and the subsequent improvement of sexual performance/pleasure after wheat removal). For me, at least, it has been quite profound and is literally saving my marriage.

    Food for thought, anyway.


  2. gene

    what if you are vegateran and what about pop corn i do not eat wheat and not much soy but i do love pop corn but not corn

    • Nobelly

      The fact that you dont want to give up popcorn tells you that it s addictive. Exhchange it for nuts for a month and see what happens.

    • Boundless

      > what if you are vegateran …

      Why are you a vegetarian? If it’s purely because you think it’s healthier, prepare to be mistaken.

      >… and what about pop corn …

      What brand and variety of popcorn?
      How popped? (air? and if oil, what kind?)
      What kind of flavorings or toppings?
      How much consumed in a 6-hour period?

      Corn is very high glycemic. Three cups (post-popping) of plain air-popped just goes over your 6-hour net carb limit, provides little protein and no fat to speak of. It is likely to leave you wanting more.

      Oil-popped popcorn adds fat, but often not desirable fat. Flavored popcorn can have a multitude of hazards.

      And then there’s the GMO issue. Unless the popcorn claims non-GMO, you may assume it is GMO. Not only does it contain the frankengenes, like Bt, and whatever unrevealed long-term hazards they bring, the corn may also have some uptake of the herbicides and pesticides it was engineered to be resistant to.

      • Karen

        My special treat is popcorn. We buy organic , non gmo, local popcorn. I pop it in coconut oil and season with black pepper and turmeric – a worthwhile indulgence for those who love a bowl of popcorn with a movie!

  3. Thomas Dill

    Your question: Is this a form of economic domination? reminds me of the book “Seeds of Destruction: The Hidden Agenda of Genetic Manipulation by William F. Engdahl.” It seems there is an even broader and more sinister agenda. I encourage everyone to read this expose of the GMO movement.

  4. Graham

    In your next to bottom paragraph I believe your intended meaning is wields control rather than yields control. If I am correct, I suggest you emend it.

  5. I’ve been on your grain-free plan for 6 weeks and my Creatine Kinase that is a measure of inflammation in your body, has dropped 114 points. Over the past 4 years it has gone from 60 to 220 (normal is 29-143) on a steady climb. After 6 weeks wheat free and grain free, it is down to 106, in the center of the normal range. Definitely something to celebrate.

    Thank you for all your work.

  6. Deborah

    It never actually occurred to me that soy is a grain. Will a tall soy latte from Starbucks once a week hurt my weight loss attempts?

  7. Sue

    Dr Davis your last sentence sent a shiver down my spine because it’s something I was thinking.

    “Or is it just a response to the increasing demands of an overpopulated world?”

    We have a problem Huston. We can’t feed everyone on the planet, we certainly can’t feed them all on meat and veg and fish is out due to over fishing and stupid quota regulations which mean tons of fish is killed and tipped back into the sea. Besides we are polluting the seas so badly that the fish coming out of them is fast becoming poison. The only possible way is with high-yield grain. Yet we seem to have this idea that everyone alive has the right to reproduce, and if nature doesn’t do it for us our health services (UK anyway and I’m sure other Western countries do this) are bending over backwards to force it to happen with artificial, drug induced, insemination and pregnancy carried out in test tubes and hospital wards.

    It’s wrong. We are so over-populated that we can’t feed ourselves a healthful diet and we keep reproducing. I want to eat meat and veg and at the moment I can do that. But for how much longer? Before the food police outlaw meat production?

    • JillOz

      Calm yourself – population in many countries is actually decreasing and the agricultural possibilites of this wordl are hadly fully utilised.

      The UN however wants everyone on wheat and vegetables – New world order stuff.

      Chuck ’em out.

      • JillOz

        I meant:
        “…possibilities of this world are hardly fully utilised!!”

        Cannot wait til my new keyboard arrives!!

  8. Deb

    I love the explanation as to how we got from “there” to “here”. I’ve also been reading other materials and blogs. One more recent book, is Stop the Thyroid Madness and the same information keeps coming up about the damage being done to our bodies. On one of the blogs, there was mention of a “clean” diet, which I gathered was gluten-free, soy-free,and dairy-free. Have you heard of the “clean diet”, if so, what is that?

    • Heather Ann

      Hi Deb,
      I came across a very interesting book: Eating Clean for Dummies by Jonathan Wright, MD and Linda Larsen, a nutritionist. This book gives a very good overview of the “clean” diet, and I found it to be very useful.

  9. Kate N.

    “What we have in our modern food system is a world increasingly dependent on monocultures of 3 grains, largely COMMANDED by Big Agribusiness” — I’d say a better word is commandeered!

    • David MacPhail

      But you have to admit that it’s a very effective business model. First you overpopulate the earth. Then you present grains as the solution to feeding the world. It gets even better if you are diversified into health care, pharmaceuticals and mortuaries. It is just one big revenue stream.

  10. Galina L.

    I don’t know numbers, but I remember reading that Ancient Egyptians consumed a lot of wheat, they were even called by Greeks “bread-eaters”, also wheat bread was a staple food in the Ancient Rome.

  11. Didn’t I hear once about a peanut-based nutrition bar that is a great help to hungry malnourished children?
    I just looked it up, yes, it’s called Plumpy’nut. This would be a far better way to quell worldwide starvation!
    Nuts & (healthy) oils & milk. If we can’t supply everyone with high quality meats & veggies right now…. and we get smarter about the dangers of a high grain dependent diet…..

    Dr. Davis: THANK YOU for your part in this progress!

    Off topic: I am having SPLENDID results with the 50 billion “Critical Care” Probiotic you recommend. I’ve been taking them only 2 weeks now and am very very happy with the turn around in my gut & elimination situation. WOW.
    It was the 1st week of January when my body started acting like it had IBS….. and I strongly suspected wheat. Then the NYTimes mention of your cookbook popped out at me and I just knew this was my path. The 1st month off wheat I continued to have IBS like symptoms, but now I am better than ever!! Thx again : )

  12. theresa we

    I think they are killing several birds with one stone:
    1) weaken us so we get sick (remember, they told us not to breastfeed our children which brings their immunity down)
    2) then they can hook us into drugs and treatments which will make them more money
    3) if that fails, they can do more surgery making more money
    4) If all fails, kill us with chemo and Xrays
    5) eventually, if this pesticide tainted food continues we will die out – more space for them, the richest.

    I have studied World history intensly for 1.5 years and I can clearly see a connective thread through mankind with wars not to defend your border, but wars to go out and eliminate others. Therefore, I conclude they have no love and respect for human beeings, so why would they care about us Americans. Either you care for all human beings or non. It’s not possible any other way to care. I realize I’m one of only about 5% who think this. But I know in my heart that it is true. They hate us! We are just a slob of biomass.

  13. Cate

    Excellent post, Dr. Davis. Thank you for the ongoing education, as disturbing as it is. It’s so important that we know the truth.

    • Sheila

      Thank you Martyn for this post. Great article. I know a few vegetarians and never know how to talk to them about this wheat belly way of life I think I’ll just send them this link.

  14. Loekie

    Questioen: is corn from biologic agriculture not good eather? Since I don’t eat wheat anymore, I like to eat corn cakes with, for instance avocadodip, lovely!

  15. Geoffrey

    Being on a grain/sugar free diet, and eating only meats and veggies, does not seem possible for a world population that has passed 7 billion people. Sad but true. I feel excessively privileged that I have the means, knowledge, and access to a grain/sugar free diet, certainly not everyone can at this point, and I really don’t see how 7 plus billion people could be on this diet. The planet cannot support that, which brings up major ethical issues related to our species and what’s important. In some ways big agribusiness is supporting the planet’s population growth, but I think most of us have the gut intuition that the planet’s human population can only grow so much, we can only support so many people, whether on grains or not, and that at some point “nature” will step in and level things out. Disease/plagues or such will happen, biology will not support it all. Moving the human diet toward grains is one such way to temporarily support all of these stomachs. But again it’s only temporary. In the long run, none of it will be sustainable. So in some ways, I feel very selfish, in a healthy/positive way, for just taking care of myself right now and my own dietary needs. I am not going to continue to suffer if I don’t have to or suffer more because others still are. It’s not that I don’t care about other people, I certainly do and wish for them to have everything that I now have, however, my diet is expensive and it requires a lot of resources. I can’t imagine what the meat/animal industry would have to look like if it had to support everyone in our country, let alone the world, on a grain/sugar free diet. Could there really be enough for everyone? Maybe. Could it be affordable? Maybe. But I’m not sure and don’t have these economic and environmental answers, but my gut intuition, says it’s not possible with this current population. That we need these grains to presently support all of these people, regardless of the long-term effects.

  16. Lory T

    Every time you come up with a new post I can’t help but admire you for being so informed about how our food system has gone wrong. I am so pro-locally-sourced food and sustainable farming. Our family teams up with the family of relatives so that among us, we are able to produce vegetables (which we can or freeze), have our own eggs from pasture-raised hens, and our own quality meats (grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chickens and pork). We also get raw milk and heavy cream from our grass-fed cows, and I make our own butter (and currently making ice cream using Ben & Jerry’s recipes to avoid crappy ingredients; had several attempts at soft cheeses as well). I am eyeing getting into aquaponics to raise our own organic fish and fresh veggies year-round indoors. Right now I still buy some food items from the grocery store, but probably only about 30% of our food consumption. I am hoping to bring that down to 10% or less.

    I believe in individual responsibility when it comes to feeding and nourishing ourselves. Joel Salatin’s model of sustainable farming is ideal. The way the government wants to take control of the food system is unsustainable, especially that they obviously don’t understand the principles of ecology and so can’t see the bigger picture. Blinded by greed, perhaps?

  17. Boundless

    > Is this a form of economic domination?

    Whether intentional or accidental, it’s the situation we’re in.

    > Or is it just a response to the increasing demands of an overpopulated world?

    Throwing more food at “world hunger” is treating the symptom (and creating new symptoms to treat by other means). Increasing food production is doing nothing to solve the underlying problems, is growing the population, and throwing these 3 grains at the problem is saddling that population with novel health problems they can ill afford.

    Humans are rarely poor and hungry because they chose to be. When they would prefer not to be, they are usually not at liberty to do anything about it: to produce (turn raw materials into wealth), trade freely or migrate to someplace where they aren’t legislatively enslaved, geographically hampered or both.

    Reproductive irresponsibility is inversely correlated with affluence. In many cultures, abundant offspring are seen as a support structure for old age, and needed due to the economic uncertainty of the culture. It is said that wealth is the most effective form of birth control. Throwing alleged food at the poor, whilst doing nothing about why they are poor, is apt to do nothing but foster a growing population of sick people.

    So what am I advocating here (other than a sane diet and increased liberty and affluence)? Well, that would be beyond the scope of this blog. But it’s a problem that needs to be solved while it’s still possible to feed everyone.

  18. Bea Pullar

    Just read a wonderful – but very long – article in the NY Times The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food. Although wheat is not mentioned it provides an insight into the development and marketing of junk foods. It’s based on the book “Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us’ by Michael Moss. He tells how suggestions that the processed food industry should be considered a public health menace, and comparisons with the efforts of the tobacco industry were countered. It certainly strengthened my resolve to keep talking to people about going wheatless, and avoiding processed foods.

    • Dr. Davis

      Ah, I love the notion that the processed food industry be regarded as a “public health menace,” Bea. Couldn’t have said it better myself!

    • > Is Black rice allowed on the Wheat Belly Diet?

      Only in condiment amounts, as whole grain. For a total net carbs of 15 grams per meal, that doesn’t allow much rice.

    • > Are ‘Spelt’ & ‘Kamut’ allowed on the wheat belly diet?

      No. They are wheat. They are gluten-bearing grains. They are high glycemic. They may or may not actually be heirloom genetics, and may or may not present the other toxic hazards of modern wheat, but they have always been a problem in the human diet.

    • Dr. Davis

      Wheat Belly is not a diet, but an articulation of the problems exaggerated by the genetics manipulations introduced into wheat. But if you start with that premise, you can craft a wonderfully effective and healthy diet. A perfect diet does not contains the seeds of grasses, such as oats, because they send blood sugar sky-high.

  19. Nancy

    I’ve only been wheat free for 42 days and have lost 8 lbs but had a couple of handfuls of microwave popcorn last night (no wheat) and it acted like a sleeping pill! I fell asleep hard and when I woke on the couch felt like I was in a fog nearly having to drag myself to bed. Do you think that was just from the carbs in the popcorn or something else??

    • > … just from the carbs in the popcorn or something else??

      If you’ve been low-carbing, the blood sugar spike, and later crash, could easily do that.

      We’d need the ingredients list to rule out “something else”.

  20. Katrina

    Hi Dr. David,
    I am most of the way through the Wheat Belly book. The quick and dirty guide to the diet on this blog suggests giving up “prepared or processed” corn starch and corn meal products. I am wondering if homemade corn tortillas made with Masa flour are ok occasionally, if I went grain free most of the time? I don’t really understand yet why it is suggested here to give up all grains, as all the science I’ve read so far in the book is focused on modern wheat gluten, but as I said, I’m not all of the way through the book. Is it to do with GI/blood sugar? Would that impact be mediated by consuming the tortillas with meat, legumes, vegies and cheeses etc?


    • > … homemade corn tortillas …

      It is to do with blood sugar, and the “net carbs” that drive that.

      Corn is very high glycemic (even when baked, non-GMO, organic, free-range, fair-traded, all natural, humanely harvested :)).

      A single tortilla (6-8 chips) is usually your entire meal’s worth of net carbs (15 grams). Corn, in almost any form, is a junk carb.

      > Would that impact be mediated by consuming the tortillas with
      > meat, legumes, vegies and cheeses etc?

      That notion has been conjectured here, and I don’t recall Dr. D. addressing it, but my bet is:
      not to any meaningful extent.

      • Barbara in New Jersey


        I think you are correct. High glycemic foods are digested by our bodies in a manner befitting high glycemic foods. Even as a small part of a larger meal, it probably stresses our entire digestive tract to produce the just the necessary enzymes to assimilate it. Our liver must stop burning fat and start burning sugar.
        Pancreas too must make adjustments and so forth.

        This is why we just threw away all the open containers of sauces, ketchup, soups and so forth made with wheat, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar. etc. and gave the unopened containers to the food banks. Only a condiment size of perhaps rice is suggested for occasional ingestion. Maize/corn products are on the avoid list.

        • Katrina

          Thanks very much. Must say I’m sad to hear this, and I’m assuming the same applies for buckwheat even though it’s ‘technically’ not a grain?

          In light of this is it ok to occasionally eat pasta and bread made with besan (chickpea) flour (I stress, occasionally and moderately)?

          Thanks again

          • > … and I’m assuming the same applies for buckwheat …
            > pasta and bread made with besan (chickpea) flour …

            It’s all about net carbs. Work up the numbers for your recipe and portion size. if over 15 grams net for the whole meal, then you know what you are doing if you choose to ignore that.

  21. James

    Dr. Davis,
    I have been wheat-free, except for the odd lapse, for the past three and a half months. I’ve lost 16 pounds, and feel and look better. My questions are:
    1. Is it okay to eat bread made with emmer wheat (Dinkel bread) (which is becoming more and more popular in Athens, Greece, where I live)? And generally, what is your take on Emmer based flour?
    2. What is your opinion of rusks made with barley flour, so popular in Crete?
    In closing, for some reason, the Greek government under Eleftherios Venizelos actually banned the cultivation of Emmer wheat in Greece, where it was cultivated since antiquity, and forced Greek farmers to cultivate wheat varieties more in tune with the demands of food manufacturers in the West. And this happened in 1930! Fortunately, Emmer is making a gradual comeback here.

    Thank you
    James Suntres

      • James Suntres

        Thanks for your quick reply! My confusion has been cleared. We are bombarded by so much conflicting info. Bottom line is to steer clear of wheat and grains in every way shape or form!

        • Well, as you probably suspect by now, it’s a
          Frequently Asked Question.

          Reading Wheat Belly, it would be easy to assume that the major problem with wheat is the genetic changes since 1960. If you assume that, as many do, the question of heirlooms naturally arises.

          However, those genetic changes brought with them spectacular yields, causing nouveau-goatgrass to become cheap and pervasive in the market.

          My present inclination is that the pandemic wheat consumption is the larger problem (extreme glycemic metabolism), with the genome effects running a close second (and explaining the rise in wheat sensitivities).

          Wheat, of course, leads a gang of modern metabolic miscreants that also includes cheap sugar (esp. pervasive fructose, including the novel HFCS), low fat mania, and novel adverse processed seed oils, all of which hit full stride in the last quarter century.