Name that food

What common food can:

• Cause destructive intestinal damage that, if unrecognized, can lead to disability and death?
• Increase blood sugar higher and faster than table sugar?
• Trigger an autoimmune inflammatory condition in the thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis)?
• Create intestinal bloating, cramps, and alternating diarrhea and constipation, often labeled irritable bowel syndrome?
• Trigger schizophrenia in susceptible individuals?
• Cause behavioral outbursts in children with autism?
• Cause various inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, dermatitis herpetiformis, systemic lupus, pancreatic destruction, and increase measures of inflammation like c-reactive protein?
• Cause unexplained anemia, mood swings, fatigue, fibromyalgia, eczema, and osteoporosis?

The food is wheat. Yes, the ubiquitous grain we are urged to eat more and more of by the USDA (8-11 servings per day, according to the USDA food pyramid), American Heart Association, American Dietetic Association, and the American Diabetes Association. Wheat is among the most destructive ingredients in the modern diet, worse than sugar, worse than high-fructose corn syrup, worse than any fat.

What other common food can result in such an extensive list of diseases, even death?

Celiac disease alone, a severe intestinal inflammatory condition from wheat gluten, affects an estimated 3 million Americans (Celiac Disease Foundation). The medical literature is filled with case reports of deaths from this disease, often after many years of struggle with incapacitating intestinal dysfunction and the sufferer's last days plagued by encephalopathy (brain inflammation).

What happens when you remove wheat from the diet?

The majority of people quickly shed 20-30 lbs in the first few weeks, selectively lost from the abdomen (what I call “wheat belly”); blood sugar plummets; triglycerides drop up to several hundred milligrams, HDL increases, LDL drops (yes, wheat elimination is a means of achieving marked reduction in LDL cholesterol, especially the small, heart disease-causing variety); c-reactive protein plummets. In addition to this, intestinal complaints improve or disappear, rashes improve, inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis improve, diabetes can improve or be cured, and behavioral disorders and mood improve.

Along with the ill-fated low-fat dietary advice of the last 40 years, the advice to eat plenty of "healthy whole grains" is responsible for untold disease and suffering. Yes, if you start with a fast food and junk diet and replace some of the calories with whole grains, you will be better off. (That was the logic--the Nutritional Syllogism--of the studies that established the benefits of whole grains over processed, "white" grains.)

But eliminate wheat grains and health takes a huge leap forward. And, no, there is no such thing as wheat deficiency--B vitamins, insoluble fiber, some protein--can easily be replaced by other foods.

Comments (30) -

  • Peter

    10/13/2009 12:40:15 PM |

    I stopped eating wheat when I read Gary Taubes's book Good Calories, Bad Calories.  However, I haven't noticed any changes.  My blood sugar is still a little high, and my weight is about the same.  Could you cite a study that shows that blood sugar and weight often go down when you stop eating wheat.

  • Anonymous

    10/13/2009 1:12:56 PM |

    Yes, yes!  Great post!  However, I think there is a huge mssing link here, and that is the source of wheat.  Sure, wheat (or gluten in many cases) causes problems.  I totally agree.  But my theory is that people who drop weight and improve their health by eliminating wheat were not eating the ocassional slice of home-made sourdough.  Nope.  I'd be willing to bet that most of the "wheat" elimination that leads to a better lipid profile and decreased body fat is from the elimination of packaged and processed foods like cereals, bars, crackers, store breads and buns, and other snack foods.

    Avoiding wheat due to a sensitivity or allergy is one thing.  But gorging oneself on processed foods and so-called healthy whole grain products only to later marvel at the results of a "wheat" elimination diet is a bit ridiculous.

    Eat from the earth.  And if for you that means no wheat, then great!  Just don't go eating all that "gluten free" stuff.  One can still eat a ton of junk without eating wheat.

  • Allison

    10/13/2009 1:58:16 PM |

    I love that you're pursuing this matter. Smile  It's not just wheat, though.  It's all the gluten grains related to wheat: barley, rye, spelt, kamut, etc.  In those of us sensitive to gluten, even the tiny bits of gluten in most processed foods cause problems.  So do oats, even gluten-free oats, in some Celiacs.

    Keep up the anti-wheat campaign, but please add the other gluten grains to your target.

  • Catherine (Santa Fe)

    10/13/2009 5:55:01 PM |

    Dr. Davis,
    I started the gluten-free diet 2 months ago after reading all your blogs. The one thing I did not think it would influence is thyroid. You stated so confidently that it influences Hashimotos, I wondered how you came to that knowledge---articles, research, personal observation?
    For 8 years my TPO antibodies have been very high in 700-800 range even with meds and good T4, T3 numbers. All tests came back negative for celiac although with high IGA. I have never been able to get Hashimotos numbers down, so would love to know how/where you heard about this. I will report back if after being wheat free my IGA and TPO numbers go down.
    Warmly,  Catherine

  • I Pull 400 Watts

    10/13/2009 6:40:50 PM |

    Fantastic post.

    I have been looking into a lower wheat (or gluten?) diet for a bit now, and recently purchased The Paleo Diet for Athletes. As soon as a finish In Defense of Food, that is next on my list.

    A quick question if you have a second. Maybe you can simply directly me to a page with the answer, as I have not been able to clearly find it.

    Is the key avoiding grains as a group, or would eating gluten free products be partially sufficient?

  • woly

    10/13/2009 8:47:33 PM |

    Do you have any references you could post for those claims?

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/14/2009 1:15:19 AM |

    In answer to several questions to clarify what I mean by "wheat":

    1) For celiac disease or marked wheat sensitivity, including "wheat addiction," all grains that immunologically cross-react with wheat should be eliminated--barley, spelt, oats.

    2) For those with extreme carbohydrate sensitivity--meaning diabetics, pre-diabetics, or marked small LDL, then even spelt, bulghur, sorghum, quinoa, barley, etc. can present excessive carbohydrate loads.

    For everyone else, I believe that these whole grains can play a role.

    Re: references. Just go to and enter your relevant search terms. It's quite easy.

  • Peter

    10/14/2009 10:07:13 AM |

    It's hard for me to separate out the effects of wheat, gluten, flour, grains, carbs.  

    Probably, nobody really knows yet., which is what it's like in 2009: lots of clues but nothing definitve.

  • Jonathan Byron

    10/14/2009 2:40:16 PM |

    My wife has hashimoto's thyroiditis, and cutting out the gluten has led to tremendous improvements. Her T3 and T4 levels are back to normal, and her anti-thyroid antibodies dropped significantly, to nearly undetectable. And she feels normal, not cold and lethargic.

    I am not convinced that all people with Hashimoto's benefit from cutting out gluten - some studies showed only about 30% to 50% of the group improved (but many people show amazing improvement). A change of diet should be the first thing tried IMO. It was not something the endocrinologist discussed. When my wife asked if there were any dietary or lifestyle changes that might help, she was told there were none.

  • Dr. William Davis

    10/14/2009 4:47:40 PM |

    Hi, Jonathan--

    Yes, wheat exposure probably requires years to trigger the Hashimoto's reaction. Unfortunately, to my knowledge, the precise trigger and "dose" or duration required is not well sorted out.

  • Christine Anderson

    10/14/2009 5:19:18 PM |

    I find the statement “don’t go eating all that ‘gluten free’ stuff” rather silly – the implication being that it’s full of junk.  Most of the gluten free food I’ve found is wonderfully free of the usual high-fructose corn syrup and the like.  It’s a real blessing, to be quite frank.  And by the way, all my food comes from Earth.

  • Anonymous

    10/15/2009 12:58:54 AM |

    Dr. D, correct me if I am wrong but quinoa is not a grain (it's a seed) and should not be grouped with wheat, spelt, barley, etc.

    My understanding is that its impact on the body is significantly more positive compared to grains.

  • Anne

    10/15/2009 1:06:24 AM |

    I have both gluten sensitivity and insulin resistance. Gluten free means I avoid wheat(includes spelt, kamut and other related grains), barley and rye. Oats are available that are certified gluten free. Removing gluten eliminated my GERD, gas and bloating, improved my neuropathy, lifted my depression, stopped my joint pain and the list goes on.

    When I discovered my blood sugar issues, I dropped all the gluten free grains that caused spikes in blood glucose. OK, I have not found a grain that does not spike my blood sugar so I am now grain free. The only problem I noticed when eating the GF grains was the blood sugar effect.

    Gluten/wheat and carbs/sugar are two separate issues for me.

  • Sue

    10/15/2009 11:01:24 AM |

    Is it full of soy?  That's junk.

    Peter, you probably have to reduce your carbs to see improvement in your blood sugar levels.

  • Anonymous

    10/15/2009 2:39:19 PM |

    To clarify: My point was that most products tha are labeled as "gluten free" are processed, and largely a part of the food industry's marketing tactics.  They are not there for your health, but rather to make profits.

    You can buy gluten free cookies, cereal, and other snack foods.  These foods are far from being close to the earth, and IMHO, not to be a regular part of a healthful diet.

  • Anonymous

    10/15/2009 3:15:27 PM |

    The sentiment is valuable, but I worry about hyperbole.  If an individual cuts out 1000 calories a day of wheat-related foods (a generous estimate), and doesn't replace those calories with any other foods, then they would lose about 2 pounds a weeks, not 10 or 15.

  • Anonymous

    10/19/2009 2:50:23 AM |

    I agree with Anon., who on the 15th wrote it's about reducing calories.

    1lb fat = 3,500 cals; hence 2lbs/week is practical weight loss. Getting fat does not happen overnight, or a week for that matter so why would anyone expect to loose weight magically within a week.

    If by not eating wheat you get there, I say go for it. For me, I feel much better since doing mega-dose K2/D3/B3/C which I learned here on the Heatscanblog and I will be forever grateful for those who aid Dr Davis in sharing their knowledge such as Ted Hutchinson who takes the time to post links to scientific papers supporting the cause of improved heart health.

  • Caballaria

    10/29/2009 10:43:40 PM |

    Question - how about rice? Is it just as bad?

  • Michael

    12/6/2009 12:32:14 AM |

    I take wheat grass tablets from Pines.  I have stopped eating wheat and reduced all grain consumption dramatically.  However, I still take the wheat grass tablets.  Is wheat grass a problem, like wheat?

  • Anonymous

    12/28/2009 4:27:15 AM |

    Well I acquiesce in but I contemplate the list inform should have more info then it has.

  • Anonymous

    12/31/2009 5:08:59 AM |

    Again a gentle post. Thanks your also pen-friend

  • Term Papers

    1/29/2010 7:49:30 AM |

    I think there is a huge missing link here, and that is the source of wheat.

  • Term papers

    6/8/2010 1:59:54 PM |

    I just bookmarked your blog and will come back in the future. Keep up your great job, I hope you have a nice day!

  • Anonymous

    3/26/2011 3:12:34 PM |

    Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

    Web Design

  • auto insurance quotes

    3/28/2011 8:22:55 PM |

    I study carried out in China proved conclusively that wheat was the major cause of heart attacks. I am quite sad to read these reports because I love bread. The question is that do I love it to death?

  • Study in UK

    5/9/2011 6:14:45 AM |

    This is generally a wonderful website i should say,I enjoyed reading your articles. This is truly a great read for me. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work.


  • Julie

    10/20/2011 1:01:55 AM |

    I'm new here but looking for answers on systemic inflammation.
    Can eliminating wheat or gluten reduce the inflammation in my system?

  • Jaime M

    12/27/2011 7:34:37 PM |

    Hey Dr. Williams,
    My mom stumbled across this article a year ago in attempt to help me explain some unusal blood work and severe contipation issues that the gastro doc called IBS after a negative celiac test. At the time my c-reactive protein was elevated, my T4 was elevated, I was chronically tired, cold intolerant, constant constipation, stabbing pain in my abdomen (hurt to touch my toes and put shoes on),had eczema, and mood swings. More then ten years ago I had thought I was a celiac and had gone wheat free, went to a gastro doc but was told it was just IBS and now looking back my symptoms were worse after I began to eat wheat again.
    So, I have now been wheat free for a year now because of your article!.... my constipation has been reduced dramatically (no more miralax everyday) and my eczema only flares when I have accidently eaten something with wheat in it!
    Here's my delima now.. I thought that being wheat free for a year would change the unusal blood work, but I just got results back and my c-reactive protein has elevated slightly more, my T4 has elevated more, but the strange thing is my TSH is on the higher end too. Hashimoto's usually has high T4 and low TSH, plus all my symptoms are that of someone with a hypothyroid.  I'm still chronically tired, cold, and getting more moody. Any ideas?