Here is a list of the most frequently asked questions I get about starting and/or living a wheat-free and grain-free lifestyle.
Wheat is in nearly every processed food product on store shelves. Is it really practical to remove all wheat from the diet?
Yes, it is. It means a return to real food from the produce aisle, fish and meat department, nuts, eggs, olives, and oils.
It raises a crucial question: Just why is wheat such a ubiquitous ingredient in so many foods, from ice cream to French fries? That’s easy: Because it tastes good and it stimulates appetite. You want more wheat, you want more of everything else to the tune of 400 or more calories per day. More calories, more food, more revenue for Big Food. Wheat is not in cucumbers, green peppers, salmon, or walnuts. But it’s in over 90% of the foods on supermarket shelves, all there to stimulate your appetite center to consume more . . . and more and more.
Following a confidently wheat-free lifestyle also means being equipped with recipes that allow you to recreate familiar recipes that you might miss, like cheesecake, cookies, and biscotti—without wheat, with little to no sugar or carbohydrate exposure, yet healthy.
If I go wheat-free, is there any harm in having an occasional bagel or cupcake?
Yes, there is.
If you have celiac disease or any of the long list of inflammatory or autoimmune diseases associated with wheat (rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, cerebellar ataxia, peripheral neuropathy, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, dermatitis herpetiformis, etc.), then wheat and gluten avoidance should be complete and meticulous.
If you have an addictive relationship with wheat, e.g. one pretzel or one Twizzler (yes: wheat is the second ingredient) makes you want to eat the whole bag, then complete avoidance is also advisable. Because wheat triggers cravings that people often cannot stop once it starts, it is best to avoid wheat-containing foods altogether.
Many people who remove wheat from their diet have what I call “wheat re-exposure reactions” experienced as abdominal cramps, gas, and diarrhea (just like food poisoning); asthma attacks; joint swelling and pain; and emotional effects such as anxiety in women and rage in men. I’ve witnessed many people go wheat-free, feel great, lose 30 pounds, then have an emotional blowup at a birthday party after indulging in just a small piece of birthday cake, then spending the next 24 hours on the toilet with diarrhea.
Once wheat-free, always wheat-free is the best policy.
What can you eat on the diet you advocate?
Eat real, natural foods such as eggs, raw nuts, plenty of vegetables, and fish, fowl, and meats.
We also do not limit fats. Use healthy oils like olive, walnut, and coconut liberally. Eat occasional fruit and plenty of avocado, olives, and use herbs and spices freely.
Eat raw or least cooked whenever possible and certainly do not frequent fast food, processed snacks, or junk foods.
While it sounds restrictive at first, a return to non-grain foods is incredibly rich and varied. Many people’s eyes have been closed to the great variety of foods available to us minus the wheat.
People who are wheat-free consume, on average, 400 fewer calories per day and are not driven by the 90-120 minute cycle of hunger that is common to wheat eaters. It means you eat when you are hungry and you eat less.
It means a breakfast of 3 eggs with green peppers and sun dried tomatoes, olive oil, and mozzarella cheese for breakfast at 7 am and you’re not hungry until 3 pm. That’s an entirely different experience than the shredded wheat cereal in skim milk at 7 am, hungry for a snack at 9 am, hungry again at 11 am, counting the minutes until lunch. Eat lunch at noon, sleepy by 2 pm, etc.
All of this goes away by banning wheat from the diet, provided the lost calories are replaced with real, healthy foods.
So does it mean going gluten-free?
Yes, but do not eat gluten-free foods! Let me explain.
Wheat raises blood sugar higher than nearly all other foods, including table sugar and many candy bars. The few foods that increase blood sugar higher than even wheat include rice flour, cornstarch, tapioca starch, and potato flour—the most common ingredients used in gluten-free foods. Gluten-free whole grain bread, for instance, is usually made with a combination of brown rice, potato and tapioca starches.
These dried pulverized starches are packed with highly-digestible high-glycemic index carbohydrates and thereby send blood sugar through the roof, even higher than foods made with wheat flour.
This leads to weight gain, diabetes, cataracts, arthritis, cancer, dementia, heart disease and growing belly fat. This is why many celiac patients who say goodbye to wheat but turn to gluten-free foods become fat and diabetic. Gluten-free foods as they are currently manufactured are very poor substitutes for wheat flour.
Anyone who consumes gluten-free foods, like gluten-free muffins, should regard them as an occasional indulgence, no different than eating a bag of jelly beans.
I see that many Wheat Belly recipes use almond flour. What if I am allergic to almonds?
Almond flour or meal is just one choice among many. Among the other choices of healthy, baking-friendly wheat-free flours and meals are:
- Ground pecans
- Ground walnuts
- Coconut flour
- Ground golden flaxseed
- Pumpkin seed meal
- Sesame seed meal
- Sunflower seed meal
- Garbanzo bean flour
- Chia seed meal
Combinations of meals/flours typically work better than single ingredients, e.g., 2 cups pecan meal + 1 cup ground golden flaxseed + 2 tablespoons coconut flour. If following a recipe, cooking times and proportion of other ingredients, especially liquids, may need to be modified, also, to accommodate the varied baking characteristics of different combinations.
Why do you make the claim that removing all wheat from the diet results in weight loss?
Because the studies examining this effect have demonstrated it and because I’ve seen it happen—over and over and over again.
Weight is lost from the deep visceral fat that resides within the abdomen represented on the surface as “love handles,” “muffin top,” or a darned good imitation of a near-term baby, what I call a “wheat belly.” This is because wheat contains a protein (gliadin) that yields a potent appetite stimulant upon digestion. Remove it and appetite drops within days.
Typically, people who say goodbye to wheat lose a pound a day for the first 10 days.
Weight loss then slows to yield 25-30 pounds over the subsequent 3-6 months (differing depending on body size, quality of diet at the start, male vs. female, etc.). When you remove wheat from the diet, you’ve removed the gliadin protein unique to wheat that is degraded to morphine-like compounds that stimulates appetite, and appetite thereby drops. The average daily calorie intake drops 400 calories per day — with less hunger, less cravings, and food is more satisfying. This all occurs without imposing calorie limits, cutting fat grams, or limiting portion size. It all happens just by eliminating this thing called wheat.
What if I lose the wheat but FAIL to lose the weight? Does this mean this approach does not work for me?
No, it does not — It means that something is impeding your weight loss success.
The factors that impair weight loss success include various medications (beta blockers for hypertension, some pain and anti-inflammatory medications, insulin, some seizure medications, antidepressants), iodine deficiency, endocrine disruption from industrial chemicals (e.g., triclosan in hand sanitizers and hand soap, perchlorates in produce), marginal hypothyroidism, and others. A full discussion can be found in the Wheat Belly Videos.
Is wheat really that bad? I thought that whole grains were good for you?
First of all, it ain’t wheat. It’s the product of 40 years of genetics research aimed at increasing yield-per-acre. The result is a genetically unique plant that stands 18-24 inches tall, not the 4 1/2-foot tall “amber waves of grain” we all remember. The genetic distance modern wheat has drifted exceeds the difference between chimpanzees and humans—what a genetic difference 1% can make! But that’s more than modern wheat is removed from its ancestors.