My husband decided to go wheat/gluten-free over a year ago. I didn’t get it. He was never diagnosed with Celiac Disease nor an allergy to wheat. I was kind of mad about it because it seemed to be terribly limiting food-wise. Not only was it inconvenient, but it was more expensive because it pretty much means you can’t have any processed foods. Everyone knows that processed foods aren’t good for you, but they are cheap and convenient.

We both work and have different schedules so the only meal it really affected was dinner. I adapted and learned how to make some gluten-free meals. It wasn’t difficult, it just involved a little more planning. The only real hassle was that we couldn’t go out to eat together, and if we were invited to dinner with friends we’d usually decline because of menu issues. Eventually we figured out more things he could eat, and our friends, who are awesome, learned what things he could eat and now it’s not a big deal at all.

I had seen some gluten-free cookbooks and books on Celiac Disease, but there didn’t seem to be anything on just a wheat-free lifestyle. The cookbooks were a disaster because there was nothing easy about the recipes (many strange and expensive ingredients). I ran across this book, Wheat Belly, which seemed exactly what I needed to read. It was a diet book, sure, but more than that it approached the wheat/gluten-free diet as more of a lifestyle, much like vegetarianism.

I’m so glad I read this book. Dr. Davis explains why the wheat we eat today is different from the wheat we ate 60 years ago. He goes back as far as ancient, wild wheat all the way up to the wheat we hybridize today. I found this history of wheat extremely interesting. In fact, I found that part of the book more useful than the parts where he would talk about his patients (he’s a cardiologist) coming to him to get healthier, him adjusting their diet to no wheat, and them getting better, feeling better, and becoming more healthy. Not that the stories of his patients weren’t interesting, they just were not as compelling as the info about the wheat itself.

I appreciated the way he wrote the book, it was easy to read, the science parts were made as simple as possible, the patients’ stories/examples were kept to a minimum, and he never came off as a superior listen-to-me-I’m-a-doctor doctor. He knows that eliminating wheat and gluten from your diet is really difficult at first. And he’s not pushy about it. He’s very mild in his pitch, which is so
refreshing. He asks you to try it for two weeks, if you make it, try two more weeks. If you make it through four weeks of no wheat/gluten, then you’ve passed the threshold of wheat withdrawal, and if you’re feeling healthier and better than you were before, just keep eliminating the wheat. It gets easier the longer you go without it.

His approach goes a bit further than just wheat. He does want you to give up carbohydrates. He goes into great detail about what carbs do to your blood sugar. I thought, “Oh no, here we go with the Atkin’s Diet.” But he’s quick to point out that you should not just eat a bunch of meat all the time. And while he’d prefer to give up all carbs, and he’s talking about potatoes and apples and other starches (the kind of things that raise your blood sugar level) he also concedes that they’re not unhealthy if you keep them to a minimum.

Like most diet books, the part at the end has some good recipes, and not just recipes but ideas for food substitutions. He even makes a one week meal planner to get you started. The meal planner was kind of shocking because it honestly had more food on it per day than I usually eat.

The only thing I did not like about the book was that sometimes the author would use metaphors to compare wheat to pop culture references. I get why he would do that, to add some levity to a diet book. But the references were kind of jarring and really took me out of the book. Especially since three of the references were famous murderers. Why? I mean, comparing the sneaky effects of wheat to the poisoned Kool-Aid Jim Jones made his followers drink? It’s a terrible comparison. There was nothing sneaky about the poisoned Kool-Aid. The people who didn’t want to drink it, because they knew it would kill them? Were forced at gun point to drink it anyway. So number one: making a Jim Jones Kool-Aid reference isn’t clever or funny, it’s a cheap laugh and old (like making fun of airline food. or Son of Sam. or O.J. Simpson.) And number two: The metaphor doesn’t even work. This happened several times in the book and in each instance it was very distracting, which is unfortunate because while I appreciate an author trying to make things more entertaining, in this type of book it really isn’t necessary.

If you have friends or family who are wheat/gluten-free and you don’t know what the big deal is, or if you’ve thought about adopting a gluten-free lifestyle, I would definitely start with this book. It is so easy to read. Dr. Davis covers a multitude of health issues that a wheatless diet will help. And he provides some really simple recipes that will help get you started. It got me started.

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Wheat Belly comes out August 30, 2011

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