This question comes up with some regularity: Is the Wheat Belly lifestyle like the Atkins’ diet? Is Wheat Belly just another name for a low-carb diet?
There are indeed some important areas of overlap. The Wheat Belly lifestyle, for instance, adheres to the concept that carbohydrates, not fats, are responsible for destructive health effects and weight gain. We also need to give Dr. Robert Atkins and his low-carb predecessors great credit for voicing their opinions during an age when low-carb was an heretical, against-the-mainstream concept, given the antics of Dr. Ancel Keys, Dr. Henry Blackburn, the US Department of Health and Human Services and others. Atkins, low-carb, and Wheat Belly all concur: carbs raise blood sugar, generate resistance to insulin, add to metabolic syndrome/type 2 diabetes, and add substantially to risk for heart disease, cancer, and dementia. Cutting dietary fat is unfounded, destructive, and wrong. No differences here.
But we have the advantage of several decades of new information since Dr. Atkins’s book was first published in 1972, including exposure of the workings of agribusiness and geneticists and the evolving science behind issues such as bowel flora and endocrine disruption, none of which was known or fully appreciated until recently.
So Wheat Belly takes the basic Atkins/low-carb arguments several steps further. These are not small steps, but crucial steps that can make the difference between having an autoimmune disease or not having an autoimmune disease, having fibromyalgia or not having fibromyalgia, being infertile or suffering multiple miscarriages or not being infertile and not having multiple miscarriages—big differences.
Among the concepts that are unique to Wheat Belly but never articulated by Dr. Atkins or the low-carb world are:
- Wheat and grains are absolutely banned on the Wheat Belly lifestyle–The Atkins diet and low-carb diets all add back “healthy whole grains” in their latter phases, as they were viewed as healthy and necessary. But those of you familiar with the Wheat Belly concepts recognize that wheat and grains are the worst foods to add back, as they reintroduce gliadin-derived appetite stimulation, gliadin-provoked autoimmune diseases, high blood sugars from amylopectin A, nutrient deficiencies from phytates, allergic reactions to multiple proteins and other issues. Re-exposure also makes you ill and is not a nice thing to endure. Adding back grains also explains why many Atkins/low-carbers regain their weight after an initial success.
- Wheat Belly highlights the addictive, appetite-stimulating effects of the gliadin protein of wheat and related proteins of other grains–Without understanding this issue, people add back grains or have small indulgences, even through medications or nutritional supplements, and then fail to understand why they lose control over appetite and impulse, what I call the “I ate one cookie and gained 30 pounds” effect.
- Wheat Belly addresses the historical and anthropological bases for the destructive health effects of the seeds of grasses–Not only does Wheat Belly reject the notion of “healthy whole grains,” but discusses why this dietary mistake was made and why it is a huge error to view grains as human food.
- Wheat Belly addresses bowel flora disrupted by grains (and other factors)–Cultivating healthy bowel flora improves bowel health and regularity, improves metabolic factors such as blood sugar and blood pressure, improves mood, and reduces risk for colon cancer. Cultivating healthy bowel flora avoids the health deterioration suffered by long-term low-carbers who, over time, develop a rise in blood sugar, a drop in HDL cholesterol, a rise in triglycerides, constipation, depression, and other effects due to uncorrected dysbiosis and lack of prebiotic fibers to nourish bowel flora.
- Wheat Belly addresses other issues crucial for health–Thyroid health and iodine are prominent features on the Wheat Belly discussion. If you have undiagnosed or uncorrected hypothyroidism, for instance, no diet will cause weight loss and you will be exposed to dramatically increased risk for cardiovascular disease and death. Vitamin D needs to be addressed, as do magnesium and omega-3 fatty acids. Not addressing these issues compromises health substantially, while adhering to all Wheat Belly concepts allows a powerful synergistic effect to emerge, what I call the “2 + 2 =11” Wheat Belly effect.
- Wheat Belly shows how to recreate familiar grain-based, high-carb, high-sugar foods–When I first introduced Wheat Belly concepts to patients in my heart disease practice, I was a purist and asked people to eat only real, whole foods and not try to recreate familiar grain-based or sugary foods. But I quickly learned that holidays, kids and grandkids, and entertaining botched things up and people would go off program, then suffer recurrences of numerous health conditions and regain oodles of weight. So I learned how to recreate foods like cookies, muffins, pies, and cheesecake using benign ingredients like almond and coconut flour, stevia and monkfruit. When I shared this with my patients, I witnessed them successfully navigate all these occasions with none of the problems. This is because Wheat Belly alternatives do not provoke high blood sugars, trigger addictive eating behavior/appetite, or create nutrient deficiencies. You can indulge without paying a health price.
Wheat Belly is, first and foremost, a program to restore health by rejecting many pieces of conventional “wisdom,” a dietary program and lifestyle that reverses many of the modern diseases that plague us. Atkins and low-carb simply provide one piece of that solution, but far from the complete picture. Follow the Wheat Belly lifestyle and you obtain the same initial health benefits as the Atkins/low-carb approach, but you will take health and weight loss farther and have more enduring results.
Also, know that Wheat-Free Market provides products that are consistent with the Wheat Belly lifestyle, and therefore with both the Atkins and low-carb lifestyles, as well.