The Wheat Belly Diet
The cardiologist-created Wheat Belly Diet is built on the premise that wheat, not sweets, is making you fat. Here's how a wheat-free diet may help you lose weight.
The Wheat Belly Diet suggests we get back to eating more like our ancestors who existed solely on foods found in nature, not those grown for production or manufactured for sale. In that way, the diet is similar to another popular diet, the Paleo or hunter-gatherer diet, says Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, a Boston nutritionist, author of Nutrition & You: Core Concepts for Good Health, and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. Here’s how to find out if going wheat-free is right for you.
The Wheat Belly Diet: What Is It?Your menu choices on this eating plan include natural foods such as eggs, nuts, vegetables, fish, poultry, and other meats. You can use herbs and spices freely and healthy oils, such as olive and walnut, liberally. Eat fruit occasionally — just one or two pieces a week — because the naturally occurring fructose in fruit is a simple carbohydrate. As part of this diet, you’re required to eliminate all fast food, processed snacks, and junk foods, and drink lots of water.
The Wheat Belly Diet is in fact gluten-free, but Davis doesn’t advocate eating packaged gluten-free foods. His reasoning: These products often simply substitute brown rice, potato starch, rice starch, tapioca starch, or cornstarch for wheat flour, and those substitutes can raise your blood sugar or glucose higher than wheat.
The Wheat Belly Diet: How Does It Work?Cut wheat from your diet, and you’ll eat about 400 fewer calories a day than you normally would, Davis says. This calorie deficit alone is almost enough to add up to a pound of weight loss per week. “Anything that is going to cut calories is going to work because losing weight is a numbers game,” Blake says. “Eat fewer calories than you burn, and you’ll lose weight. Likewise, eat more than you burn, and you’ll gain weight.”Another reason the diet works, Davis says, is that wheat contains a unique protein, gliadin, which stimulates your appetite— so when you eat wheat, your body just wants more wheat. Eliminate wheat and your appetite diminishes on its own. Wheat also causes blood sugar spikes, and elevated blood-sugar levels can cause your body to store calories as fat. Lower your blood sugar by eliminating wheat, and it can contribute to weight loss.
The Wheat Belly Diet: Sample MenuBreakfast: Plain yogurt with berries and almonds
Lunch: Grilled chicken breast with salsa, 1/2 cup brown rice, steamed vegetables sprinkled with extra-virgin olive oil
Dinner: Baked eggplant topped with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, mixed green salad spritzed with extra-virgin olive oil
Snacks: Black-bean dip and raw vegetables
The Wheat Belly Diet: Pros
- If you adhere strictly to the diet, you will lose weight. Over three to six months, you can lose 25 to 30 pounds depending on your age, gender, and physical activity, Davis says.
- The diet is simple. There’s no need to count calories, limit portions, or calculate fat grams. All you have to do is eliminate foods that contain wheat.
- The diet is rich in vegetables, which are full of vitamins and fiber. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar, and reduce the inflammation that can cause conditions from acne to arthritis.
The Wheat Belly Diet: Cons
- The diet is restrictive, and it may be hard to maintain for the long-term, especially if foods such as bread, cookies, and pasta are among your favorites. “Losing weight doesn’t have to be this challenging,” Blake says. “Do you really need to go to this extreme?”
- Wheat is in a huge number of packaged foods. You have to read food labels carefully because it can be hidden in everything from chewing gum to granola as an emulsifier or leavening agent.
- When you remove all wheat from your diet, if you “cheat” and eat a slice of whole-wheat toast or half a bagel, the wheat could cause digestive problems, such as stomach cramps and gas.
- You could be missing out on some important nutrients. “Whenever you limit whole types of foods, you have to make sure you’re eating healthfully,” Blake says. “This isn’t a well-balanced diet. You should sit down with a registered dietitian to be sure you’re meeting all your nutrient needs if you choose this diet.”
- Although you can lose weight with this diet, it will be lost from all over your body, not just your “wheat belly” or love handles, Blake says. Weight loss doesn’t work that way — you don’t lose from a specific area.
The Wheat Belly Diet: Short-Term and Long-Term EffectsThe foods you can eat on the Wheat Belly Diet are healthy, and you should lose weight rapidly if you stick to the plan. Weight loss can affect more than just your appearance: Study after study has shown it can boost heart health, reduce pain, improve your energy levels, and more. For example, someone who is prediabetic and loses just 15 pounds can reduce the risk for diabetes over three years by 58 percent, Blake says.
Because the diet is so new, not much is known about the long-term effects, Blake says, but serious health consequences are not anticipated. Overall, Blake remains skeptical.
“There’s nothing wrong with wheat,” she says.“It isn’t wheat that’s causing you to gain weight; it’s the calories you’re eating. Just eat more fruits and vegetables as part of a balanced diet, and you can cut calories and lose weight while still occasionally eating foods that contain wheat.”
Last Updated: 02/23/2012