Heard of the Wheat Belly Diet, but not sure what it is, or whether it’s for you? Luckily, we’ve compiled a one-stop shop comprehensive guide on everything that the diet is and isn’t.
So What Exactly Is The Diet All About?
Wheat Belly is more than just the no wheat diet it sounds like. In practice, it is a no grain diet that focuses instead on lower carbohydrate whole-foods.
Wheat Belly also advocates the removal of refined sugars and junk food, even if it is grain free.
The aim of the diet plan is to improve health, aid in weight loss, and remove the dependence on grains that is common in the modern diet. It is portrayed as a lifestyle change that provides ideal health.
Who Is Behind The Wheat Belly Diet?
The creator is Dr. William Davis, an American cardiologist who requested that his patients remove wheat from their diet in an attempt to reduce their blood sugars – and discovered that the benefits extended far past simple blood sugar regulation.
He decided to investigate why this might have occurred, and learned from agricultural experts that modern wheat had been greatly modified over the past few decades, causing them to contain proteins that the human body simply didn’t recognize or handle well. He was inspired to write about his findings, and his first book on the subject was released in 2011.
Since then, he has continued to advocate a wheat free diet, writing further books such as Wheat Belly: Total Health, Wheat Belly: 10 Day Grain Detox and two cookbooks.
What’s The Concept Behind The Diet?
It is all about the health and weight issues that Dr. Davis believes that grains can cause, and how to eat so that you can avoid these issues.
For those following the Wheat Belly lifestyle, grains are far from the basis of the human diet, and in fact are seeds of grasses that are simply incompatible with our digestive processes.
Although the original issue started with modern wheat, grasses share genetics and components with each other readily. This allows for cross contamination and potentially irritating elements to spread themselves across corn, millet, rice, rye, barley and obviously wheat.
Humans don’t have the same digestive organs as ruminants such as cows and sheep who are easily able to digest grasses.
We produce far less saliva than these animals, our teeth do not continue to grow as theirs do, we do not produce enzymes such as cellulase that allows us to break down the fibers in plants, we don’t have the gut flora that facilitates an extensive breakdown of grasses, and we don’t have four stomachs that accommodate a long digestive process.
This leads followers to believe that we are a non-grass consuming species, and that should extend to seeds of grasses, or grains. So they follow a dietary scheme that excludes grains and is based on real food products.
Wheat Belly followers eat meat and organs, fish, shellfish, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fungi, berries and other fruits – foods easily recognizable as ‘real food’.
They don’t count calories, limit their fat intake or reduce their saturated fats, but instead consume what their bodies need and eat to the point of satiety, or satisfaction.
Food List – What Can I Eat On The Diet?
You might think that eating a no grain diet restrict variety, but there are plenty of foods that can be eaten in unlimited amounts, including:
Vegetables – fresh or frozen, except potatoes and sweet potatoes
Raw nuts and seeds – including almonds, walnuts, pistachios, Brazil nuts, cashews, pecans, hazelnuts, dry roasted peanuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, ground flaxseed and chia seeds
Oils – preferably unheated, including olive, flaxseed, coconut, avocado and walnut oil
Meat – red meat, turkey, chicken, pork, preferably organic, grass-fed and/or free-range
Fish – shellfish, white fish, oily fish, preferably wild-caught and/or organic
Eggs – chicken, quail, duck, fish, preferably free-range and/or organic
Beverages – tea, herbal tea, coffee, water, unsweetened coconut milk, coconut water and almond milk
Cheese – cultured and not highly processed
Condiments – guacamole, hummus, unsweetened mayonnaise, mustard, oil based dressings, low sugar ketchup, pesto, olives
What Foods Are Limited On The Diet?
There are some foods that are recommended to be consumed in limited amounts on the Wheat Belly Diet, usually due to their carbohydrate content. The following are recommendations for these foods:
Fruit – 2 servings or less per day. The preferred fruits are those lowest in sugar, including berries, citrus fruits, apples, peaches, nectarines and melons. High sugar content fruits such as bananas, pineapple, mango and grapes are to be kept to a minimum.
Fruit juice – small serves of fresh juice not from concentrate, with a maximum of about half a cup
Dairy – 1 serving or less per day of milk, cottage cheese or unsweetened yoghurt
Legumes, beans, peas, sweet potatoes and yams – used occasionally. Beans and legumes may be necessary in greater amounts for those following a vegan program to ensure sufficient protein
Dark chocolate – up to 40g of 70% or darker chocolate per day
Sugar-free foods – natural sweeteners are preferred, such as stevia, monk fruit, erythritol, xylitol and inulin, but overall foods containing any sweeteners should be limited to special occasions
Flours and baking products – includes almond flour, almond meal, coconut flour, ground pecans, ground walnuts, ground golden flaxseed, pumpkin seed meal, sesame seed meal, sunflower seed meal, chia seed meal and garbanzo bean flour
What Can’t I Eat?
There are a number of foods that are eliminated completely. The list of grain containing foods to eliminate include:
Wheat and wheat products, including bread, cereal, noodles, pasta, crackers, pretzels, pancakes, muffins, donuts
Oats and oat products, including oatmeal and oat bran
Corn and cornstarch containing products, including chips, tacos, tortillas and products thickened with cornstarch
Spelt and spelt products
Rye and rye products
Barley and barley products
Rice based products
Any foods listed as containing the above grains according to the label
Wheat Belly also advocates the removal of many processed ‘junk’ foods, even if they are grain free. The foods to avoid consuming include:
Gluten-free products made with rice flour, corn, tapioca or potato starch
Commercial fried foods
Foods containing trans-fat
Cured meats such as hot dogs, sausages, bacon and pepperoni
High fructose sweeteners such as honey, agave, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup
Gluten free processed foods such as rice crackers, pretzels, breads, cereal, potato chips
Low fat or fat free salad dressings
What Are The Benefits to Me?
By following the this diet, you will see a number of improvements in your dietary choices. These include:
- Decrease in processed foods
- Decrease in refined carbohydrates
- Increase in good fat sources
- Increase in vegetable intake and variety
Thanks to these diet improvements, there are many potential health benefits that you may experience when following the plan. They include:
- Weight loss – many followers of the diet report weight loss of varying amounts
- Improved blood sugars – the lower carbohydrate count of the diet may make it easier to maintain healthy blood sugar levels
- Reversal of insulin resistance – Dr. Davis saw many of his patients move from pre-diabetes back to no sign of any diabetic disease
- Reduced inflammation and pain – particularly for those with inflammatory diseases, removal of wheat and other grains and inclusion of fruits and vegetables may reduce inflammation and pain levels
- Improvement in autoimmune conditions – Dr. Davis has noted a reduction of asthma in his patients, along with many reports of reduction in autoimmune symptoms among his followers
- Increased concentration and brain function – possibly due to better control of blood sugars and a reduction of potential allergen sources
- Greater mood stability – Dr. Davis noted an improvement in the emotional state of many of his patients
Other benefits that may occur while following the diet include:
- Improved confidence – as with any successful diet program, an improvement in health combined with a reduction in weight can boost confidence
- Healthier children – by setting an example and eating whole-foods, your children may follow your lead and enjoy healthier food choices more often
- Reduced appetite – by focusing on high nutrition foods that are high in protein, healthy fats and fibre and eliminating empty carbohydrates, you may find that your appetite naturally reduces
- Reduced cravings – thanks to the high level of nutrition in many foods eaten on the Wheat Belly Diet, you may find your body craves foods less often
What Are The Downsides?
As with any healthy eating or diet plan, there are always a few downsides to be aware of. On the diet plan, these include:
- Increase in shopping bill – particularly if you were reliant on supermarket deals and promotions for the bulk of your purchases, you may find this approach more expensive
- Higher chance of food waste – if you don’t plan your grocery use out, you may end up wasting more food overall, as the majority of foods on the plan are perishable items
- Limited take-out options – Few fast food restaurants have Wheat Belly friendly options as many of them use wheat based products and condiments
- Fewer options at a restaurant – Although most restaurants are accommodating when it comes to patrons that avoid wheat, avoiding all grains greatly limits your options when dining out
- Your health practitioner may not approve – Many doctors still debate the involvement of grains and gluten in the current health crisis. If your doctor falls into this category, they may advise you to discontinue the program even if you are seeing improvements in your health
Will I Lose Weight?
The book clearly states on the front: ‘Lose the wheat, lose the weight’. But Dr. Davis admits that sometimes people need more help when it comes to weight loss.
Many people will lose weight immediately, due to the removal of excess carbohydrates and excess kilojoules. Others may lose it slowly, as they may fall off the wagon, accidentally consume too many carbohydrates to begin with, or eat too little fat and end up binge eating.
Some may not lose any weight at all. But Dr. Davis is quick to reassure people that a lack of weight loss doesn’t mean that the diet isn’t working – it just means there are other factors hindering weight loss.
An under-functioning thyroid, medication use, excess cortisol, poor sleep and an imbalance in gut flora are just some of the potential factors that could be holding you back from losing the weight, according to Dr. Davis.
In fact, he went on to write another book that covers the possible factors and how to counteract them in Wheat Belly: Total Health.
If you are dealing with multiple health issues alongside your weight, or seem unable to lose weight no matter what you do, Wheat Belly: Total Health would be your best choice out of the book series. It is a Wheat Belly diet plan taken one step further, addressing the core health conditions that may be hindering your progress.
So the answer is, you will most likely lose at least some weight, unless there is one or more outside factors impacting your body’s ability to lose weight.
What Does The Diet Say About Exercise?
Dr. Davis is certainly an advocate of exercise – but not to lose weight.
He believes that exercise has a minimal impact on weight loss for the average person. However, he does advocate exercise for a variety of other reasons.
Improvement in insulin resistance, improved brain function, better quality sleep, a better mood and protection from osteoporosis are just some of the reasons he advocates regular exercise.
However, he is not specific on what type of exercise to do or how often. Instead, he focuses on the quality and the enjoyment factor of exercise. He believes that when we choose exercises that we love, we are more likely to move regularly and experience greater health benefits.
So if you are looking for more specific advice on an exercise regime to go along with your Wheat Belly Diet, your best bet is to consult a personal trainer for an individualized plan to suit your goals.
Can I Be Vegetarian On the Diet?
It is definitely possible to follow a vegetarian version.
Protein can be obtained from eggs, dairy and vegetable sources, along with the occasional serving of legumes. Small amounts of carbohydrates can be sourced from vegetables, fruits and the occasional serving of legumes. Fat is plentiful thanks to avocado, olive oil, butter, dairy, nuts and seeds.
However, as with all vegetarian diets, it is advisable to have your nutrient levels monitored by your health professional.
Can I Be Vegan?
You can be a vegan on the Wheat Belly plan, although it does limit your options for food significantly.
As legumes and soy are generally recommended as limited, you will be getting the majority of your protein from nuts and seeds. However, you will still be able to eat sufficient carbohydrates and fats, as many of the recommended sources are plant based.
Supplements may also be indicated due to lack of intake, particularly vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and iron.
As with all vegan diets, it is advisable to have your nutrient levels monitored by your health professional.
If these guidelines restrict your diet too severely, this diet may not be for you.
What Would A Day On The Wheat Belly Diet Look Like?
A typical day’s diet depends on your preferences, so here are a few options recipe and menu to choose from.
Omnivore Typical Day
Breakfast: Eggs with a side of mushrooms, spinach and tomato
Lunch: Chicken avocado salad
Dinner: Sesame crusted salmon and mixed stir-fry vegetables
Snack: Fresh berries and cream
Vegetarian Typical Day
Breakfast: Coconut milk smoothie with strawberries, spinach and chia seeds
Lunch: Boiled eggs chopped over mixed salad
Dinner: Spaghetti squash noodles with cheese sauce and side salad
Snack: Mixed nuts and seeds
Vegan Typical Day
Breakfast: Coconut milk chia pudding with fresh berries
Lunch: Zucchini noodles with herb avocado sauce and side salad
Dinner: Vegetable and bean curry
Snack: Mixed nuts and seeds
As you can see, despite removing grains, there is still plenty of chance for a variety of delicious and healthy foods.
Note: Quantities aren’t listed, because it will depend on your personal daily requirements.
Where Can I Find More Wheat Belly Recipes?
The number one source for recipes is from the man himself. Dr. Davis not only provides recipes on his blog, but has also released two Wheat Belly Cookbooks, available via Amazon.
There are many other blogs, cookbooks and sites claiming to list Wheat Belly friendly recipes. However, as these are not endorsed by Dr. Davis, there is no guarantee that all of these recipes are compliant, so make sure you double check the recipes before you get cooking.
Many recipes that come up when searching ‘grain free’ will be compliant or easily adapted to the Wheat Belly plan – again, double check your ingredients first.
Better yet, get creative and make your own recipes up as you go – all you need is your Wheat Belly Diet food list and a clean kitchen!
Is This Diet The Same As Paleo?
Dr. Davis’ diet has many similar beliefs and philosophies about food and nutrition. However, they are not the same thing – they differ on a number of points.
Paleo eliminates soy and legumes altogether, whereas Wheat Belly simply limits them to occasional consumption.
Paleo also eliminates dairy completely, whereas Wheat Belly simply advises that dairy consumption may cause issues for some people without recommending everyone eliminate it.
Paleo, despite it often being practised as low-carbohydrate, is not necessarily so, whereas Wheat Belly does recommend a limit of carbohydrates, set around 15g of net carbohydrates per meal, for control of blood sugar levels.
They do agree on a number of points, which is why people often get them confused.
Firstly, they both agree that wheat is far from the health food the food companies have tried to sell to people in the past.
They also advocate a focus on real food, instead of processed junk foods, taking it back in time to when all food was good for us.
Finally, despite being misrepresented in the media and by opposing parties, they both have a focus on nutrient-dense plant foods as a solid base to their dietary approach.
Is The Diet Allergy-Friendly?
Yes, it can be very allergy-friendly, as it already limits or eliminates many common food allergies.
By eliminating wheat, it obviously caters for those who are gluten-free and/or celiac, although these people are cautioned to still read every label to ensure they are not accidentally consuming gluten in any form.
It can be easily adapted to dairy-free for those who are intolerant by replacing milk and yoghurt with coconut alternatives. Although dairy is allowed, Dr. Davis states that it can cause problems for people and that they may want to eliminate it if that is the case.
It is also very simple for those with a soy allergy or intolerance, as Dr. Davis already recommends the restriction or total elimination of all soy and soy products.
For those on a low FODMAPs diet, the Wheat Belly is an excellent starting point, as most grains are high in FODMAPs. However, it would be recommended that you consult your health practitioner to ensure that you’re getting enough nutrients from the low FODMAP foods available to you.
For people with less common allergies, it’s best that you consult your health practitioner about whether this is the right diet for you before embarking on a grain free diet.
Who Should Try It?
There are a number of people who may want to try this approach to weight loss and healthy living…
People who have been diagnosed as celiac may use it as a way of ensuring that their diet is focused on nutrition and whole-foods, instead of processed gluten-free replacement foods.
People who want to try a less refined whole-foods based diet, but find the Paleo diet too restrictive, may also be interested in trying it out.
People who are experimenting with low-carbohydrate eating as a diet but who are not willing to restrict themselves down to ketosis may also base their dietary approach on this diet.
People who are interested in managing overweight and obesity caused by their processed Western style diet are those likely to see the most dramatic results.
Given the science that supports a grain-free low-carbohydrate approach for management of health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors and other ‘Western’ diseases, people looking to control these condition through diet will also potentially have great results.
Who Shouldn’t Try It?
Vegans who find the restrictions too extreme are one group that may be best off finding another option.
They may find that they are unable to source sufficient protein to keep them healthy, or that they are unable to cope with the lack of variety in food sources. Eating out on a vegan version of Wheat Belly would also be nearly impossible to achieve.
People who are unable to commit to a whole-foods style of living, such as those who rely heavily on take-out foods or who travel constantly for work, may also reconsider trying Wheat Belly.
Although many people in these situations have succeeded with Wheat Belly, it takes serious planning and commitment to maintain the diet when traveling or eating out regularly.
People who suspect they have celiac disease and are due for further testing should also hold off on until their diagnosis is confirmed.
For accurate celiac diagnosis, a person needs a biopsy, which requires them to eat high-gluten foods for a period of weeks beforehand for accurate results. If they have already removed these foods it is highly likely that they will make them feel very ill.
Instead, they should maintain a normal diet including gluten products until after the biopsy results are returned, and then embark on the Wheat Belly journey.
Want to learn more? This hour-long video with Dr Davis is very educational: