A few weeks ago, someone suggested the book “Wheat Belly“; the title, description and Amazon reviews intrigued me, so I ordered it on Kindle. [Just an aside, I like the Kindle better than print books for a couple of reasons, including being able to search for text, and having a built-in dictionary if you ever encounter any unfamiliar words.]
The author, William Davis, M.D., has come to the conclusion based on his own personal experiences, the experiences of thousands of his patients, as well as published research, that what we call “wheat” today is bad for us, in really all of its various forms.
He notes that modern wheat has changed substantially in just the past 50-60 years, so that the “wheat” our ancestors of 100 years ago ate was quite different from what we eat today; and both today’s wheat and the wheat from a century ago are quite different from wheat of a thousand or more years ago. Last century’s wheat grew about 4′ tall and did not have as full or heavy a head of grain as today’s wheat, which usually tops out at around 18″ tall, and also has a shorter growing season (all these things making it more profitable for the farmer to grow). It is his contention that the genetic differences that allowed these changes are also at the root of a whole host of problems people have with wheat and wheat-based products.
Much of the problem, he believes, is due to the way the body breaks down the carbohydrates (wheat and white flour have a higher Glycemic Index than white sugar!), so he spends a good deal of time talking about insulin and diabetes, and how wheat — even “healthy” whole-grain wheat — causes a great deal of harm to the average person, and even more so to diabetics or pre-diabetics. Of course, he talks about celiac disease, and how that many people are undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or don’t have “classic” celiac disease, yet are unable to properly digest wheat, so have a whole host of health problems. There is evidence to suggest that some 40% of the population (either worldwide or just in America), while never having full-blown celiac disease, would benefit from reducing or eliminating gluten from their diet.
The book is actually fun to read. While of necessity he must speak of dry, boring things like studies and ancient history, and how exactly wheat (or components of wheat, including gluten mostly) interacts with various body systems — and wreaks havoc with them — he makes it interesting and enjoyable to read; frequently throughout the book, I smiled or even laughed at the humorous way he put some things. Sprinkled throughout the book are many personal and professional anecdotes of how getting rid of wheat changed someone’s life for the better — lost weight, “cured” diabetes or prevented pre-diabetes from becoming full-blown diabetes, improved cholesterol, reduced acne and other skin ailments, even regrew hair! Plus, he has a rather lengthy recipe section of alternatives to gluten-containing and even “gluten-free” foods. [He notes that most “gluten-free” foods that are meant to substitute for gluten-containing foods, like “gluten-free” pasta, breads, etc., use corn starch, rice starch, or other carbohydrates that will provoke the same insulin response as gluten-containing foods, so he does not recommend these foods to be consumed on a regular basis, especially if you’re diabetic or pre-diabetic.]
I would highly recommend that anyone who is even curious about whether wheat is causing them health problems — such as the “spare tire” around your middle, which Dr. Davis calls “wheat belly” — read this book, especially if you are wanting more and deeper information about what all problems may be caused by wheat, cured by giving up wheat and other gluten-containing foods, how wheat/gluten causes the body to react, and/or the science behind all of this. There is so much information, I couldn’t begin to do the book justice by trying to summarize it, so you should read it yourself.
If you’re skeptical (either now, or after you read it), try giving up wheat for 4 weeks and see if there is any difference in your life and health — and especially your weight! He says that most people feel a significant health difference within a week or two — some in just a few hours; though he does warn that the addictive effect of wheat may make you have withdrawal symptoms for several days, which may make you feel worse before you feel better, as your body demands the near-constant supply of wheat to which it has become accustomed.
Now, onto my personal experience…
A couple of months ago, I was eating the Standard American Diet (SAD), though probably more “whole foods” based than most people, since I tend to cook from scratch as much as possible, and drink almost only water. Then, I read some article somewhere that suggested that people give up gluten, corn, soy, dairy, peanuts, yeast and eggs for 3 weeks, and also take probiotics three times a day during that time. I thought, “Why not?” and did it. I was also doing a 40-day fast from sugar, so I was sugar-free — no sugar or artificial sugar substitutes (only honey, maple syrup and stevia). I felt better and lost weight (probably about 5 pounds or so), though I didn’t change my (lack of) exercise. But when the three weeks was up, I went back to eating normally (going to visit my mom, the baking queen, didn’t help). A few weeks ago, I was tired of the way I looked, the way I didn’t exercise, and the way I felt, so I made some big changes. I started doing the P90X exercise program (tomorrow is the last day of the third week), so was looking over their diet recommendations… and remembering how I lost weight with those previous dietary changes. So, I decided to give up gluten and corn (I don’t eat much soy anyway; and most if not all of the yeast I consume is in wheat/gluten products), along with the sugar that the P90X diet requires, but not go hog-wild with dairy. So, I have been doing (mostly) gluten-, corn-, and sugar-free (my husband has taken me out to eat sometimes, and for the most part, I try to stay on the diet, but I know I’m probably consuming hidden “bad” stuff).
I have noticed positive health experiences related to these dietary changes (though I can’t say for sure it’s being off of wheat/gluten, since my diet is quite different from what it was before; plus I’m exercising). I am less hungry, eating less, sleeping better, yet feeling better with less sleep than before, rarely get “the afternoon slump”, etc. Since I haven’t been perfect, I don’t know if I would feel even better if I was completely off gluten and corn, but I feel better enough to keep wanting to keep on going — and if I get off-diet, to get right back on it.
Some fifteen years ago, I was gluten-free for several months, though I didn’t go on the diet *intending* to be “gluten-free” (I’d probably barely heard of a substance called “gluten” back then, much less any negative effects it might have had). Someone told me about “The Hallelujah Diet” — called that in part because you’re supposed to feel so great that you just want to say “Hallelujah” all the time, and partly because it is based on the Bible — “The Garden of Eden” diet — namely, only fruits and vegetables, and preferably raw. The goal was 100% raw and vegan, though he allowed a baked potato — no cheese, sour cream, butter, or bacon!! — for supper. I did feel great, though I probably was eating a lot of food that raised my blood sugar. I didn’t like (and still don’t, to be honest) a lot of vegetables, plus we had a limited selection of fruits and vegetables at our local grocery stores, so I didn’t eat a wide variety of things, eating mostly grapes, apples, bananas, oranges, pineapple and carrots. Still, I must say, I felt great, and I lost weight (though I was working out quite a bit at the time, as well). I fell off the wagon for my mom’s birthday, and instead of getting back on it, I rediscovered how *yummy* sugar and other bad foods were, and started eating “normally” again… and predictably gained weight. Sigh. And I stopped exercising so much — double-sigh.
Now that I look back on it, I wonder if I stopped exercising because I was tired, and if I was tired because of my food choices. After reading “Wheat Belly”, I wonder if I started eating so much because wheat triggered my body to want more and more food. I am certainly more able to pass up food — food in general and also particular “bad” foods that normally I would eat substantial quantities of — since being on this diet. I would normally attribute it to my strong will-power (which, usually, I say I have little or no will power, but when I have a plan such as I now have, I do have a certain amount of stick-to-it-iveness), but now I wonder whether it’s more because the addictive hold that food has on me has lessened because of giving up wheat. The other night my husband blended up dried apricots in vanilla ice cream — and normally, I have a HUGE sweet tooth, with almost no food being “too sweet” for me, and also with it being difficult for me to pass up any dessert, especially ice cream. But while I mentally assented that, yes, I did sort of want ice cream, I more wanted to stay on my diet. My husband insisted I try his concoction, so I had a taste, but it was too sweet for me to want any. Weird, huh?
When I started P90X, I intended to be on my diet — no wheat/gluten, no corn, no sugar or artificial sweeteners, no alcohol, no fruit juice, no more than 1-2 pieces/servings of fruit per day, 5 servings of veggies per day, no “bad” fats, and drinking at least 3 quarts of water per day — for 90 days, the duration of the program, and possibly longer. While I haven’t been perfect these past three weeks, I’ve done rather well, especially compared to my previous normal diet, and can see me keeping it up, more or less, for longer. This doesn’t mean I will never have a piece of chocolate cake again, but I can see many health benefits to keeping my intake of carbohydrates — especially wheat and sugar — low.
For years, my family has used the same recipe for sweet and sour sauce which I really enjoy; it came from a Joyce Chen cookbook from back in the 70s, I think. Currently, I’m trying to be sugar-free and corn-free (and gluten-free and alcohol-free, fwiw), and I was making a stir-fry, and really had a hankering for that sauce, which uses quite a bit of sugar and also is thickened with cornstarch. I wondered if I could “tweak” the recipe to make it good by substituting liquid stevia instead of sugar, so I tried it. The end result is, in my opinion, delicious, especially for being sugar-free. In fact, it was close enough in flavor to the original recipe, that I didn’t miss the sugar at all.
Here is the original recipe, in case you want to make your own modifications, or just make the original yummy recipe:
Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 2/3 c. sugar
- ¼ c. ketchup
- 1/3 c. pineapple juice or water
- ½ c. apple cider vinegar
- 2 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 Tbsp. oil
- 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
- 1/3 c. water
- 1 c. pineapple chunks
Whisk together the first five ingredients. Heat oil in saucepan; brown garlic and discard [actually, I never discard the garlic, but then, I like the flavor it adds and don’t mind the pieces in the sauce]. Add sugar mixture and heat until mixture starts boiling. Combine cornstarch and water and add to saucepan, stirring constantly until mixture thickens and becomes translucent. Add pineapple chunks.
And here is the sugar-free version:
Sugar-free Sweet and Sour Sauce
- 1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
- 1/3 c. pineapple juice or water
- 1/4 c. soy sauce
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 Tbsp. oil
- ½ c. raw apple cider vinegar
- 17 drops liquid stevia
- 1 c. pineapple chunks
Whisk together first three ingredients. Heat oil in saucepan and brown garlic. Add tomato mixture to the garlic, and stir until combined. Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Add vinegar and stevia, and stir until thoroughly mixed. Add pineapple chunks.
Notes, explanations and details:
Since ketchup has sugar (or high-fructose corn syrup — even worse!) in it, I substituted plain tomato paste. Do check labels, since some companies add different ingredients to their tomato products — imagine my surprise when I picked up a can of “tomato sauce” to find that it had sugar, salt, herbs, and spices added to it, when I thought it would be just plain tomatoes, or at most, tomatoes and salt.
Since I didn’t need to dissolve sugar, I didn’t need to really cook this at all, but I do like the flavor of sautéed garlic, so kept that step in. You may decide to skip that step, and even skip the oil entirely, and just add fresh or powdered garlic to the sauce, and not cook it at all. If you do that, let me know how you liked it.
You can use plain apple cider vinegar (or even white vinegar if you don’t have the good stuff), but I’ve started using the raw, organic (Bragg’s) ACV as a sort of health tonic (it started when my husband had a wicked sinus infection over the weekend, and looked for home remedies, and it lessened the symptoms almost immediately and he was nearly 100% better within a day or two), so I figured I might as well use it in this recipe, since I didn’t have to cook it. Because it was raw and I wanted it not to get cooked, I let the tomato mixture cool down a bit before adding it, but if you use the conventional stuff, it doesn’t matter if it gets cooked. Also, the raw stuff tends to be a little milder and sweeter-tasting, so you may want to use more or less of the conventional vinegar, and be prepared to use more or less of the stevia as well.
I used 17 drops of stevia, and that was pretty sweet. Of course, the original recipe is quite sweet, and I wanted to replicate that; you may wish to use less, especially if you don’t have as big a sweet tooth as I do. In fact, I would recommend that you start at no more than 10 drops and taste it after each addition, just to be on the safe side.
I won’t lie and say there was no difference between the two recipes, but I will say that there was no significant difference, and the sugar-free version was just as yummy and satisfying to me as the original high-sugar-plus-cornstarch recipe.