Trading one dietary enemy for another
Do you remember back in the late 1980s, when the root of all evil, at least health-wise, was supposed to have been Candida albicans? Back in the good old days, we were told that almost every chronic disease, from diabetes to housemaid’s knee, was caused by “candida overgrowth”—yeast that permeated our bodies, to our terrible detriment. I remember a doctor telling Mitchell that he needed to take all sorts of anti-yeast concoctions, and eliminate foods like sugar, bread, most starches, cheese, mushrooms, wine, beer…anything the yeast might consume. If he didn’t follow this regimen, he was told, he would be cheating himself of optimal health, and opening himself to a huge range of terrible consequences, including obesity.
For a while, he managed it. But eliminating entire food groups from his diet took its toll. Unsurprisingly, while he lost weight initially, he didn’t feel a whole lot better. Plus, he was trying to stick to a rigid, arbitrary set of dietary rules; and within a few months he’d fallen off the yeast wagon, and regained—with interest—the 30 pounds he’d lost.
Over time, people tired of trying to rid themselves of Candida (which would be pretty much impossible anyway), and the fad passed into well-deserved obscurity.
The new dietary enemy
These days, yeast doesn’t seem to be the enemy any longer. Nope, now we are supposed to be freaking out about a new, terrifying substance that we used to think was pretty benign: gluten.
First, I want to say that celiac disease (CD), which is actually an autoimmune disease, not an allergy or an intolerance, is a very serious condition. CD causes inflammation and injury to the bowel when gluten is consumed, and sufferers must avoid gluten for life. That’s not in question here.
But what about the general population? If Dr. William Davis’s wildly popular book Wheat Belly is to be believed, none of us should be eating gluten at all. Ever.
In fact, this book is being touted as a weight-loss manual. On the cover, it states, “Lose the wheat, lose the weight, and find your path back to health.” Dr. Davis’s basic premise appears to be that modern genetic modifications to wheat have rendered it somehow toxic—and it’s killing us.
According to him, wheat (and the gluten it contains) is now at the bottom of pretty much every chronic illness you’d care to name. Type 2 diabetes. Irritable bowel syndrome. Arthritis. Schizophrenia. Breast cancer. Autism. Pancreatic cancer. Osteoporosis. Cataracts. Erectile dysfunction. Kidney disease. Heart disease. Migraines. Dementia. Seizure disorders. Dandruff. The list goes on…and on. No mention of housemaid’s knee, but maybe he just forgot that one.
To avoid these dire diseases, Dr. Davis lays out a very restrictive dietary regimen. He wants his followers to cut out all wheat, most other carbs, and a list of other foods, including canned meats, self-basting turkey, most fruit (except small amounts, such as 8-10 blueberries, two strawberries, or a couple of wedges of apple or orange), soy products, and…gluten-free foods?
You can’t have gluten—because it’s bad, bad, bad—but you also can’t eat gluten-free foods? How does this make sense?
In fact, Dr. Davis seems to contradict his own “wheat is the problem” argument, when he states that if you stop eating wheat, but replace it with “the wrong foods,” “you’ve achieved very little. And you may indeed become deficient in several important nutrients, as well as continuing in the unique American shared experience of getting fat and becoming diabetic.”
Okay, let’s think about this: Wheat is toxic. The worst food ever. No one should eat it. But if you eliminate this toxic genetic mutation from your diet, that’s not enough. In the end, you’ll “achieve very little”…unless you follow Dr. Davis’s bizarre and highly restrictive dietary instructions.
Oh, and don’t think following his instructions will be easy, either: he compares it to “a root canal or living with your in-laws for a month.” Hey, where do I sign up?
Here’s a list of what you’d be allowed, if you were foolish enough to give it a try:
- Raw nuts
- Uncured meats
- Non-sugary condiments
- Ground flaxseed
- Pickled vegetables
- Raw seeds
- Herbs and spices
…and th-th-that’s all, folks!
As far as I’m concerned, this is weight-loss faddery at its worst:
- Claim that a hitherto benign substance is in fact toxic
- Claim that it’s responsible for every disease state known to humanity.
- Back up your statements with broad sweeping generalizations and pseudo-scientific jibber-jabber.
- Lay out a highly improbable dietary regimen that will leave followers hungry and frustrated.
- Tell them that if they can’t follow this “simple plan,” they’ve doomed themselves to a life of illness and obesity.
So far, I’m not seeing the up side.
I’ll tell you one thing, though. I won’t be following Dr. Davis’s odd diet, and I wouldn’t recommend it to my worst enemy. Well, not unless they really pissed me off.
p.s. Apparently Peter Gibson, the Australian researcher who confirmed that gluten could cause abdominal distress in non-celiac people, has carried his study further, and has reversed his earlier conclusion. I love this: when actual scientists aren’t satisfied that they’ve done a rigorous enough job, they keep going until they feel they have.
- Dubious Yeast “Allergies” (Quackwatch.org)