Dr. William Davis: Wheat Belly, Going Gluten-Free, & Why Grains Cause Heart Disease

Today we have a special throwback interview with Dr. William Davis, bestselling author of Wheat Belly. Doc. Davis’s grain-busting manifesto sat atop the New York Times bestseller charts for what must truly be an alarming amount of time for the Big Food Industry.

But it sure makes me happy.

You see, one of the hardest things for people (myself included) to accept when they begin this lifestyle is that whole grains ARE NOT good for you.

“But Abel, everyone says that whole grains are healthy and so do the commercials!”

They’re wrong.

“Ok, but wheat is in everything.”

I know, it’s awful.

“But whole wheat is healthier than white flour!”

Not really.

Actually, there is a “germ” of truth (sorry) in that last part. As Dr. Davis says, “Whole grains are indeed healthier than white flour products—just as filtered cigarettes are healthier than unfiltered cigarettes.” “Less bad” does not mean healthy, despite the pleas of well-meaning nutritionists.

To illustrate a few of the more remarkable and unexpected results of wheat elimination, what happened when Dr. Davis advised his patients to cut out wheat?

  • Incredible weight loss
  • Reduced blood sugar
  • Relief from acid reflux and the gas, cramping, and diarrhea of irritable bowel syndrome
  • Increased energy, more stable moods, and deeper sleep
  • Relief from arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis
  • Dramatically improved cholesterol values
  • Reduced blood pressure and inflammatory measures

After witnessing over 2,000 patients regain their health after giving up wheat, Dr. Davis reached the disturbing conclusion that wheat is the single largest contributor to the nationwide obesity epidemic—and its elimination is key to dramatic weight loss and optimal health.

Interviewing Dr. Davis was great fun (and he has a superb Casey Kasem-esque radio voice – just listen). On this show, we’re digging into:

  • How wheat is a Trojan horse for your gut and destroys your intestinal tract
  • Why eating a Snickers bar is less unhealthy than eating two slices of bread
  • Why the worst part of a hamburger is the bun
  • How a diet high in grains, not fat, causes heart disease
  • How smoking filtered cigarettes is healthy (according to nutritional logic)
  • And tons more….


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Abel: Wheat Belly certainly made waves in the world of nutrition. It’s entertaining, clear, and fun to read. Why did you decide to write a book about the evils of modern wheat?

I practice preventative cardiology, and there is no shortage of heart disease, overweight people, diabetes and prediabetes. If you want to avoid heart attack or bypass surgery, part of that equation is that you can’t be diabetic or prediabetic. And you can’t do it with drugs. All the drugs do is cover it up, they don’t really get rid of the underlying process. I wanted a way to help people lower blood sugar.

The glycemic index of two slices of whole wheat bread is higher than table sugar. @WilliamDavisMD Click To Tweet

Using that very simple observation, I told my patients to try removing wheat from their diet and see what happens. Their fasting blood sugar went down. I also saw small LDL particles, the most common cause of heart disease, drop to the floor.

I had patients saying stuff like:

  • “I lost 30 pounds in 3 months!”
  • “My dandruff is gone!”
  • “My acid reflux is gone and I’m off all my drugs!”
  • “My leg swelling went away!”
  • “That rash is gone!”

After seeing this a few hundred times, I started wondering what the heck was going on. At first I thought it was pure coincidence, but then I started thinking… I took it to a larger scale, both in the office and to online experiences, and what patients were seeing was not improvement, but whole life transformation.

When people eliminate wheat and can go off of five drugs, are no longer diabetic,and feel better than they had in 20 years… that’s not coincidence.

Abel: I read that you were once an enthusiastic consumer of whole grains. Tell me about your personal experience.

Twenty-some years ago, I was in Atlanta at the American College of Cardiology meetings—the Wild West age of heart procedures and angioplasty was getting underway. I was in a meeting and saw an ad for a talk by Dr. Dean Ornish on how he reversed heart disease. I sat in the front row to hear Dr. Ornish, who talked about how he claims slashing animal products, vegetable oils, and eating only grains, fruits, and vegetables can prevent heart disease. I gave it a try.

At the time, I was healthy and jogging 3 – 5 miles a day. When I switched to the Ornish diet, I promptly became diabetic. My fasting blood sugar shot to 161, my triglycerides hit 350, and HDL was 27.

The connection didn’t dawn on me all of a sudden—I had to piece my way back. But it became clear over time the problem was the grains in particular.

I ditched the Ornish diet and my numbers went back to normal: My fasting glucose is 84, I’m not diabetic anymore, my hemoglobin A1c is 4.8%, and I’m taking no drugs—well, fish oil helps a little bit.

We are at the tail end of a recession, but the #diet drug industry has seen double digit growth. Click To Tweet

Abel: You refer to the recommendation of cutting fat and eating more whole grains as the “largest dietary blunder ever made on an international scale.” Why?

It all starts in the 60’s when the U.S. government feared a population explosion leading to billions of starving people. So they pushed for the generation of high yield crops—corn, soy, and wheat.

Wheat was the recipient of a lot of genetics research and was a great success from the standpoint of yield—this was the high yield semi-dwarf wheat, the 2-foot-tall brainchild of the genetics research. It was so productive that once farmers saw ten-fold increases in yield per acre, they rapidly planted it. It was first introduced in the third world because they were starving—it turned famine into surplus within a year of its introduction.

Because of its incredible yield, it was embraced in China, Ethiopia, India, and then in the wheat-producing states in the U.S. and Canada. By 1995, everything you and I bought at the grocery store came from the 2-foot tall dwarf strain.

This is a fundamental flaw—the disconnect of agricultural research and humans: http://bit.ly/wheatbely

Modern mutant dwarf wheat wasn’t made for our health, but for increased yield.

This is a fundamental flaw—the disconnect of agricultural research and humans. They generate these crops to suit their own agenda, usually to increase yield. The problem is the technology now used is sometimes quite bizarre and extreme. We are not talking about farmer John hybridizing apples.

Scientists are weaving in unique genetic sequences from other species… and never is the question asked. “We did some extreme stuff to this wheat. Does it remain suitable for human consumption?

Imagine that the FDA said, “We decided there’s no need for drug companies to make applications for new drugs. We’re going to let drug companies release the drugs into the market and see what happens. If people survive and it’s profitable, it works.”

This would be absurd, dangerous, and pandemonium would ensue. But that’s what agriculture has been doing for years.

Abel: But wheat seems to be in everything nowadays.

In a 1960’s grocery store, you could find wheat in pancake mix, bread, and rolls. Now we find it in those things and also in Twizzlers, granola bars, tomato soup, taco seasoning, and frozen dinners. It’s in almost everything.

When I make tomato soup, I don’t say to myself, “This really needs some wheat in it.”

I’d like to have the proof that this infiltration by wheat is the doing of Big Food. Something has been stimulating peoples’ appetites like crazy, and Big Food would profit from that.

I know that correlation is not causation, but if we backtracked and tallied calorie consumption—exactly the moment when semi-dwarf wheat was introduced, calorie consumption increased by 440 calories per person per day.

Abel: Wheat isn’t genetically modified like corn or soy, how is it even worse?

“Wheat has not been genetically modified, meaning gene splicing was not used to create semi-dwarf wheat. The methods were far less predictable, cruder, and far worse than genetic modification.”

You cannot control what mutations you induce with gamma ray radiation, or high dose x-ray, or chemical mutagenesis—toxic chemicals to induce mutations. These are the technologies used to generate modern wheat. Genetic modification is an improvement over techniques used prior to 1980s.

Abel: I’m no fan of GMO’s, but GMO seems better than these bizarre tactics.

If we say #GMO is bad but all other techniques are okay, we’re going to have a mess on our hands. Click To Tweet

We have thousands of products on the market created by these techniques going back years. But we have to pick our battles, some battles don’t need to be fought.

“I pick the wheat battle because it’s the worst thing in our diet.”


Abel: I understand the evils of gluten and lectins in wheat, but there are other problems as well. What are those?

This is not about gluten sensitivity. It’s a conversation suited for the broader public.

It’s also about gliadin—the opiate in wheat that stimulates the appetite and has odd mental and emotional effects. It instigates behavior outbursts and attention issues in children with ADhD and autism, triggers manic phase of bipolar disease, and stimulates voices in paranoid schizophrenia.

Lectins in plants are toxic for insects and molds… and they can be toxic to mammals. Thankfully most lectins in plants like spinach are benign, but not all lectins are benign. Ricin, for instance, is a lectin used as a neurotoxin—as in the subway attack in Tokyo.

In gluten, it’s indigestible in the human intestinal tract and unlocks barriers to foreign substances. Lectin allows open entry of foreign undesirable substances into the bloodstream, leading to such diseases as: rheumatoid arthritis, Lupus, Crohn’s disease, and a many-page list of inflammatory diseases.

Wheat is a Trojan horse for foreign substance to gain access to your bloodstream. @WilliamDavisMD Click To Tweet

Amylopectin-A is a carbohydrate in wheat that explains why two slices of whole wheat bread have a higher glycemic index than table sugar.

It’s not just about gluten. This stuff has no business in the human diet.

Abel: At least there’s a growing awareness about the problems with modern wheat. But why is celiac disease expanding so quickly?

The Glial Benign sequence is a sequence absent in wheat protein prior to 1950 that is in modern wheat. We have a situation where we have a quadrupling (400%) increase in Celiac since 1960. Something changed.

Gastroenterologists have known about this and asked why. Humans haven’t really changed all that much, but the wheat has been changed dramatically. Studies are emerging telling us this wheat is very different, and the genetic sequence and proteins have been identified that are causing this health epidemic.

It’s time to retire the old adage: The greatest thing since sliced bread. @WilliamDavisMD Click To Tweet

Abel: Why does everyone rave about whole grains?

In nutrition, the thought process is if you take something bad in a diet and replace it with something less bad, and there’s a health benefit to that, then a whole bunch of the less-bad thing is good.

“Very few sciences are as guilty of fuzzy thinking as nutrition.”

Following that reason, if unfiltered cigarettes are bad for you, but filtered Salem cigarettes are less bad for you, by this logic you and I should smoke a lot of Salem cigarettes.

There are studies proving whole grains are better because they generate less cancer, heart disease, hypertension and diabetes as compared to white processed flour products. The conclusion in nutrition is that you must have healthy whole grains. The next sequence in that logic should be, “What if no grains?”

What I call the “2 + 2 = 11 effect” applies to wheat.

We know about lectins; we know about gliadins; we know that amylopectin-A has blood sugar effects. Each one of those things is responsible for some of those effects, but you put it all together and the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.

If this was just about losing 20 pounds, that’s interesting but it’s not. It’s about turnaround in health that you’ve never seen before.

It’s about people who were incapacitated who can now jog. It’s about people who were taking insulin and 3 drugs who now feel better off of those and have better numbers.

I’ve never seen anything come close to the power of removing this poison from our diet. Click To Tweet

Abel: I remember when I went wheat-free, and all these bizarre wonderful things happened—dandruff, puffy face, pale skin, a little pudginess that had no real reason for being there despite exercise, it all magically disappeared within a few weeks.

If there’s something funny going on with the skin, then there’s something else going on deeper. Maybe it’s in the gastrointestinal tract, liver, airways of lungs and sinuses, or brain. Is that the lectin? Is it the water-retaining effect of wheat?

Off of wheat, the puffiness in the face and legs goes away. I’ve had people in heart failure who came out of it with elimination of wheat. Not to say all heart failure is caused by wheat, but I like eliminating wheat first.

Abel: My clients will say they don’t get cold sores or kidney stones anymore. Hundreds of your own patients have been dramatically cured by removing wheat… Can you give us a few examples?

One dramatic case was the final straw for me. I had a patient that was a 38 year old school teacher who came to me with heart palpitations which turned out to be nothing. She had ulcerative colitis for ten years—pain, diarrhea, hemorrhage (bloody stools) so bad she had to go every 3 months for transfusions.

She was on three expensive drugs, and they scheduled her for colon removal surgery. Her colon would be replaced with an ileostomy bag (a pouch that catches stool on the surface).

I told her she HAD to try eliminating wheat before going through with that surgery. She was adamant that they already biopsied her and she didn’t have Celiac Disease! I said, “But you’ve got nothing to lose. They’re going to take your colon out.”

This is not about losing ten pounds. This is about head-to-toe destruction of health: http://bit.ly/wheatbely

She took out the wheat: 3 months later, no ileostomy bag. Within 3 days, all cramps and diarrhea stopped. Within 5 days, bleeding stopped. She stopped one drug. Months passed, everything stopped. Two years passed and she was cured. Not “better,” CURED.

She lost 38 pounds. No cramps, no diarrhea, normal bowel movements. They cancelled the surgery. She was CURED.

This is not about losing ten pounds. This is about head-to-toe destruction of health. How much of what we do in health care—how much of what we do is treating hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, migraines.

The 99 ¢ menu isn’t that cheap: http://bit.ly/wheatbely

Are we just treating diet, or are we treating the perverse byproducts of agribusiness? Click To Tweet

Are we just treating diet, or are we treating the perverse byproducts of agribusiness? http://bit.ly/wheatbely

The 99 ¢ menu isn’t that cheap.

Abel: The worst part is the bun, not the burger. Lots of people have made cases that switching to a grain-based diet caused humans to become shorter, fatter, and sicker thousands of years ago. What happened when humans started relying on grains?

Wheat in the 19th century, like the Red Fife grain, or the wheat of the bible—modern wheat’s original ancestor—einkorn, are each one step more benign. But were they ever entirely safe?

Hunter-gatherer humans would hunt down ibex and wild boar, spear fish, gather leaves and berries and grubs and insects, but when they realized they could crush the seed head of a certain grass down to flour and bake it into a bread of sorts—there was a downturn in health.

There’s archaeological record of this being the starting point of bone disease and dental cavities. So, Red Fife or Einkorn or dwarf, wheat was never quite entirely benign.

If your goal is ideal health, then don’t eat anything from the wheat family at all.

Abel: A lot of people get the wrong idea about Paleo or low-carb. What if some of the health benefits of “going Paleo” are from what you’re NOT eating? What if ditching the wheat and grains beating up your gut allows your body to heal and finally absorb nutrients from the vegetables and pastured meat you are eating?

Paleo, crossfit, low-carb—we all share a similar observation that grains stink and don’t belong in the human diet. We can label it what we want in any of those categories, but we know there’s something wrong. Even the low-fat people are starting to come around.

We will never have a USDA that comes out and says, “Hey you know, what we’ve been telling you, that’s wrong.”

Abel: What about treating the grains by soaking and fermenting?

Soaking and fermenting grains is like putting a filter on a cigarette. If you soak the seeds and let them sprout, you do lower the effects, but you cannot change modern wheat enough to make it safe.

If you take all the badness out of #wheat, you have nothing left. It's a perfectly crafted poison. Click To Tweet


Abel: If I put two slices of whole wheat bread in front of you next to a Snickers bar, you say it’s less damaging to grab the Snickers bar. (Not that we’re advocating candy bars.)

Many listeners ask if heart disease risk is increased with a high fat diet. What do you say to those folks?

Grains, not saturated fat, cause heart disease. That’s becoming clearer and clearer. @WilliamDavisMD Click To Tweet

Total cholesterol is a flawed index that’s going to draw flawed conclusions. If you use LDL cholesterol to test, you might see on a lab sheet that it was calculated not measured. The assumptions built into that equation are deeply flawed. The number is worthless.

Here’s an irony. If i cut the grains from my diet and MEASURE various LDL numbers, LDL drops to the floor. But if I use the calculated value, it goes up. All the studies use calculated LDL, not measured.

All the studies for the statin drug industry are using the calculated value, and that’s just flawed.

Abel: What do you say to people on or considering statin drugs?

My view is that treating based on calculated LDL is malpractice. It’s such a flawed absurd number, you cannot use it to make any decisions. Residing someone to 5 – 10 – 40 years of statin drugs with cost and side effects for a fictitious number? Not too far worse than “eat more healthy whole grains”—of course, those go hand in hand.

If you cut out wheat, and don’t do stupid things like eat jelly beans and corn starch, you’ll have a dramatic drop in LDL and most people never need a statin drug.

I think there’s a need for those drugs in certain genetic disorders—there are conditions that sadly do not respond fully to diet. These are genetic defects, NOT John Q Public with high cholesterol. But the cardiologist doesn’t make the distinction between the two, and the drugs are handed out indiscriminately.

I have a long, long, long list of people who have stopped or reversed coronary atherosclerosis without statin drugs.

It means following this kind of diet.

Abel: How do we drive this movement forward, especially in the medical profession?

I think it starts with talking to nice people like Abel James, people who have an audience, who understand what’s going on. No matter how we try we will never be able to go head to head with Monsanto and Pfizer.

The biggest supporters of the healthy whole grain movement have been the diabetes drug manufacturers. I don’t have $9 billion dollars to lobby the government.

We can’t compete with them in their arena, we have to fight it on our own ground. We write books and do podcasts. We need to fight the suppressive campaign of misinformation.

Abel: One more question. What’s a quick easy answer for someone who insists whole grains are healthy?

Some people just don’t want the answer. Because wheat is an opiate, you’re telling a drug addict to stop. The short answer is to set an example. Drop the wheat and look good and feel great and soon enough they’ll want to know what you’re doing.


You can find Dr. Davis at the Wheat Belly Lifestyle Institute at www.wheatbelly.com, on Twitter @WilliamDavisMD, on the Official Wheat Belly page on Facebook, and find the book anywhere books are sold.

In Wheat Belly, Davis exposes the harmful effects of what is actually a product of genetic tinkering and agribusiness being sold to the American public as “wheat.” It’s a terrific read and I highly recommend you spend a few hours curled up with it. You’ll never go back to your wily, wheaty ways.


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Do you have a family or friend that you influenced to cut out wheat? Share your story with us in the comments below.

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  1. Abel,
    Thanks for a very enlightening program. I eat Kalamata Olive wheat bread almost daily for breakfast and have had joint pain in my hands and feet as well as gas for as long as I’ve eaten this. I didn’t suspect that wheat was the problem. I just thought it was the body going through changes due to age (I’m 62).
    I’m going cold turkey on wheat after this program.
    Would you be kind enough to give your thoughts on quinoa? I eat an organic quinoa and have been doing this for 5 years. Prior to this I ate rice… but I’ve eliminated rice from my diet since discovering Quinoa.
    Could Quinoa also contribute to swelling in the joints?

    • Hi Lawrence, great question. Technically, quinoa is gluten-free. However, quinoa does have “gluten like” proteins that can mimic proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. In a recent study, some varieties of quinoa stimulated an immune response that was as potent as that observed for wheat gluten. However, my wife and I enjoy quinoa from time to time and don’t seem to experience any noticeable stomach upset or inflammatory response. Give a try and see how you feel!

      • Thanks for the quick response, Abel.
        I’m guessing it’s the Kalamata Wheat Bread I eat for breakfast 3-4X weekly that’s causing my joint pain and general fatigue. The rest of my diet has been pretty consistent over the years, apart from substituting rice for quinoa and eating quinoa 3-4X weekly with dinner. for the past three years.
        I’ll stop the wheat and see how that changes things. If that doesn’t provide relief I’ll stop the quinoa and see if that’s the cause.
        All the best!

  2. Hi Abel, I think you have a genuine heart and that is why I originally started following you years ago. Here is my question. I’m worried that I won’t get enough carbs. After watching you for some time, I am finally doing paleo for a couple of weeks and I’ve been feeling foggy in the brain a bit and winded. I’m not overweight, I just want to eat healthy. I’m also a runner and want to consume healthy carbs. Some sights are saying quinoa, steel cut oats, wild rice, and brown rice are healthy for runners. What do I do for the carb depletion?

    • Hi Sherish, here’s an excerpt from The Wild Diet:
      The more active you are, the better your body can utilize and dispose of carbs. So if you have a very active metabolism or you are an athlete, don’t be afraid of fueling up with slow-burning starches and carbs like boiled sweet potatoes, whole-grain rice, quinoa, and other whole Wild foods. But be careful—eating carbs in excess of your glycogen stores will risk fat storage, despite large amounts of exercise. This is easy to do when you come back from your long runs and eat a whole pie. Been there, done that.

      Hope that helps! If you do steel cut oats, it’s best to soak them overnight to make them easier on the digestive system. Mix 1 cup oats (rolled or steel cut — not quick oats) with 1 cup warm purified water and 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Cover with a dish towel, and let sit on the counter for 7 – 24 hours. Then cook normally.

  3. It would have been nice if Dr Davis answered the question “”Many listeners ask if heart disease risk is increased with a high fat diet. What do you say to those folks?”” He launches into a speech about LDL but sidesteps the question about fat.

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