In 2011, the national bestselling diet book “Wheat Belly” flew off the shelves.

Designed by Dr. William Davis, a cardiologist in the United States, the Wheat Belly Diet promises to help you lose excess weight and transform your health.

With claims that wheat is the root of rising obesity rates, this book has received tremendous criticism for its anti-wheat rhetoric.

However, with millions of books sold and many people touting success after ditching wheat, you may wonder if this diet is right for you.

This article reviews the benefits and downsides of the Wheat Belly Diet and whether scientific evidence backs up its health claims.

Diet review scorecard
  • Overall score: 2.9
  • Weight loss: 4
  • Adherence: 1
  • Whole body health: 2.5
  • Nutrition quality: 3
  • Health promotion: 4

BOTTOM LINE: The Wheat Belly Diet promotes eating whole, unprocessed foods without calorie counting. However, its large list of restrictions and focus on quick weight loss make this diet difficult to follow and sustain in the long term.

Carb-rich wheat-based bagelsShare on Pinterest
Image credit: Gabriel (Gabi) Bucataru/Stocksy

The Wheat Belly Diet came from an epiphany that came to Davis after a family vacation. After seeing his larger stomach, he realized that he needed to make a change in his lifestyle.

Through personal observations of his own diet, he realized that carb-rich meals made him feel sluggish and tired, which prompted him to stop eating wheat.

According to Davis, wheat is a “perfect, chronic poison” due to its overprocessing and massive genetic changes over recent decades. In fact, he goes as far as to say that wheat is the main cause of obesity and diabetes in the United States.

Davis has referred to today’s wheat as being genetically altered and notes that it contains a “new” compound called gliadin that’s harmful to health.

Gliadin is a protein found in wheat that makes up gluten. Gluten consists of gliadin and another protein known as glutenin. Together they help give wheat its soft, flexible structure (1).

Despite claims from Davis that gliadin is a new compound in wheat, it naturally occurs in ancient grains. Moreover, only very limited research shows that these proteins cause harm to human health (1, 2).

The Wheat Belly Diet encourages its followers to exclude all wheat-containing foods, as well as other foods, such as high fructose corn syrup, potatoes, legumes, and fried foods.

While many people insist that this diet has transformed their health, many researchers and health professionals have dismissed it for its lack of research-backed practices.

Of course, for people with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy, avoiding gluten and wheat products is necessary.

Summary

Founded by cardiologist William Davis, the Wheat Belly Diet insists that gluten and wheat are the main causes of rising obesity rates.

Pros

  • promotes eating whole, unprocessed foods
  • can help support weight loss

Cons

  • not backed up by science
  • eliminates highly nutritious gluten-free grains
  • very restrictive
  • may lead to an unhealthy relationship with food

The Wheat Belly diet is based on Davis’ book “Wheat Belly,” which is available online for $10.99. Additional books related to the Wheat Belly Diet range from $14.49–$16.99.

Davis also offers a program called The Inner Circle, which claims to accomplish dramatic health improvements by supporting and guiding members on their weight loss and health journey. It provides live video meetings, recipes and meal plans, health insights, and an active community for added support.

The Inner Circle has a monthly membership cost of $19.95. Alternatively, you could opt for the yearly membership, which has a total cost of $179.40. You can cancel your subscription at any time.

The rules of the Wheat Belly Diet are outlined in Davis’ book, “Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health,” as well as on his blog and in other books related to the Wheat Belly diet.

The main rules of the diet include eliminating foods that contain wheat, gluten, or other grains and focusing on a diet full of whole, unprocessed foods.

It also promotes regular exercise, although Davis does not give any specific recommendations.

Though the diet emphasizes avoiding gluten, Davis discourages people from using gluten-free alternatives. He claims they contain supposedly fat-promoting starches, such as tapioca, corn, rice, and potato starches.

Buying Davis’s “Wheat Belly” book would be the first step to starting this diet.

While you can also sign up for his program, that’s optional and entirely up to you. You can find many of the program’s tips and recipes in Davis’s other books.

Once you’ve read the book and are ready to start, you can go through your pantry and get rid of all the foods the diet advises you to avoid.

The Wheat Belly Diet provides a list of foods that are allowed on the diet, including a visual of the Wheat Belly Food Pyramid, which has meats, poultry, and fish as its foundation, followed by non-starchy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and some fruit.

The diet emphasizes listening to your body’s natural hunger cues instead of focusing on portion sizes or calorie counting.

Foods to eat

Foods allowed on the diet include:

  • Non-starchy vegetables: asparagus, avocado, bell peppers, broccoli, broccolini, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, collard greens, cucumber, dandelions, eggplant, jicama, kale, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, radishes, spinach, sprouts, summer squash, tomatoes, zucchini
  • Fruits: apples, apricots, blackberries, blueberries, cranberries, cherries, lemons, limes, raspberries, strawberries
  • Meat, poultry, and fish: grass-fed meats like beef, elk, lamb, pork, and wild game; poultry like chicken, duck, and turkey; fish and shellfish, including catfish, clams, cod, crab, halibut, lobster, mussels, salmon, trout, and tuna
  • Eggs: yolks and whites
  • Dairy: full fat cheeses like cheddar, cottage cheese, feta, goat cheese, Gruyère, Monterey Jack, mozzarella, Parmesan, ricotta, Stilton, Swiss, as well as small amounts of milk and yogurt
  • Fermented soy products: miso, tempeh, tofu
  • Fats and oils: plant-based oils like avocado, coconut, and olive oils
  • Raw nuts: almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts, and their nut butter made from these nuts
  • Raw seeds: chia seeds, flaxseeds, poppy seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Flours: non-grain flours made of almond, chickpea, coconut, peanut, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds
  • Herbs and spices: allspice, basil, bay leaf, caraway, cardamom, chili peppers, chili powder, chipotle seasoning (gluten-free), chives, cilantro, cinnamon, cumin, dill, fennel, fenugreek, garlic, marjoram, mint, mustard, onion powder, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper (all kinds), rosemary, sage, saffron, salt, star anise, tarragon, thyme, turmeric
  • Sweeteners: monk fruit extract, stevia (liquid or powdered, free of maltodextrin), erythritol, xylitol
  • Beverages: coffee, tea, water, unsweetened milk alternatives like almond or coconut
  • Dark chocolate: nothing below 70–85% cocoa and no more than two squares

Although the diet permits some non-wheat grains, such as amaranth, quinoa, and rice, Davis suggests eliminating grains entirely from the diet for best results.

Additionally, permitted foods should be free of artificial flavors and ingredients like sodium nitrate, which is found in meat.

Foods to avoid

Although avoiding wheat is the main focus of the diet, many other foods are also restricted, such as:

  • Non-wheat grains: all should be avoided, according to the book “Wheat Belly Total Health,” including amaranth, buckwheat, corn, millet, quinoa, rice, sorghum, teff
  • Wheat and grain products: bagels, baguettes, biscuits, bread, breakfast cereals, cake, cookies, crackers, croutons, doughnuts, noodles, pancakes, pasta, pita bread, pizza, sandwiches, sprouted grains, taco shells, tortillas, triticale, waffles, wraps
  • Flours and starches: amaranth, millet, quinoa, wheat flours, as well as corn, potato, rice, and tapioca starches
  • Beans and lentils: beans (black, butter, kidney, lima, pinto, red, and Spanish), garbanzo beans, lentils (all varieties), peas
  • Peanuts: should be avoided raw
  • Processed foods: fast food, frozen food, potato or veggie chips, premade dinners, processed and cured meat
  • Fats and oils: hydrogenated oil, margarine, foods with trans fat, polyunsaturated oils like corn, grapeseed, or sunflower oils
  • Soups: canned soup, court bouillon, premade broths and stocks
  • Desserts: cakes, chocolate bars, ice cream, ice cream bars, icing, most candies (except Starburst and Jelly Belly), pies, tiramisu, whipped cream
  • “Sugary” fruit: bananas, dried fruit, grapes, mango, papaya, pineapple, applesauce
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: energy drinks, fruit juices, soda, specialty coffees and teas
  • Alcohol: wheat beers, cocktails, or other sweetened alcoholic beverages
  • Sweeteners: agave syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, nectar, sugar alcohols like mannitol and sorbitol

Additionally, those interested should follow specific eating rules outlined in the “Wheat Belly” book to achieve optimal results. For example, people on the diet should completely avoid added sugar and push through cravings to achieve a detoxed state.

Sample meal plan

Below is a 3-day sample menu for the Wheat Belly Diet.

Day 1

  • Breakfast: chia pudding topped with apple and strawberries
  • Lunch: cheddar taco shells filled with ground beef and veggies
  • Dinner: turkey stuffed bell peppers
  • Snack: hard-boiled eggs with a handful of nuts

Day 2

  • Breakfast: ham and cheese omelet with sliced avocado
  • Lunch: spinach and shrimp cauliflower risotto
  • Dinner: chicken and veggie skewers with zucchini chips
  • Snack: cottage cheese with berries and nut butter

Day 3

  • Breakfast: almond flour pancakes
  • Lunch: chicken pesto spaghetti squash
  • Dinner: baked salmon with mushrooms and broccoli
  • Snack: protein blueberry smoothie
Summary

The Wheat Belly Diet encourages eating whole, unprocessed foods while eliminating gluten-containing ones, grains, beans, lentils, and other ultra-processed foods.

Although Davis promises that this diet will cure dozens of illnesses and ailments, most people try the Wheat Belly Diet to lose weight.

The diet encourages eating whole, unprocessed foods and avoiding a Western diet that emphasizes nutrient-depleted foods high in salt, fat, and sugar. Plus, it identifies gluten and wheat as the main causes of weight gain and obesity (3).

One review study including 13,523 people found that those following a gluten-free diet had lower body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, and higher HDL (good) cholesterol than those who didn’t avoid gluten (4).

However, the authors noted that people who followed a gluten-free diet were also more likely to remove processed foods from their diet, monitor portions, and engage in healthier lifestyle behaviors, which more likely led to weight loss than the removal of gluten (4).

Beyond this study, few experimental studies look at a gluten-free diet and weight loss in those without celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, making it difficult to know gluten’s role in weight loss (5).

That said, a review of 12 studies in 136,834 people found that a diet high in whole grains was associated with a lower BMI and lower risk of weight gain — putting into question Davis’ claim that grains are the culprit of weight gain (6, 7).

Whole grains are a great source of fiber, helping you feel fuller longer and better manage your food intake. In contrast, refined grains, such as white bread, pasta, and cookies, are low in fiber and lead to unstable blood sugar levels and increased hunger (7).

Finally, whenever ultra-processed foods are replaced with whole, unprocessed foods, you’re likely to experience weight loss since these foods are usually lower in calories, fat, and sugar (8).

So, although many people who follow the Wheat Belly Diet report weight loss, it’s likely due to a lower intake of processed foods and engaging in healthier food choices, such as more fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins, rather than avoiding gluten.

Summary

Though some people claim to lose weight on the Wheat Belly Diet, it’s likely due to consuming more whole, unprocessed foods, which are lower in calories, fats, and sugars, rather than removing gluten from the diet.

Although weight loss is the main goal of the Wheat Belly Diet, there are other potential benefits.

Promotes whole, unprocessed foods

The Wheat Belly Diet emphasizes eating a diet made of whole, unprocessed foods.

A 2-week study found that participants who ate an ultra-processed diet consumed significantly more calories than the group who ate whole, unprocessed food (9).

Moreover, the group who followed an ultra-processed diet gained weight by the end of the study, while the group who ate whole, unprocessed foods ended up losing weight (9).

This may be attributed to the higher fiber and protein content of whole foods, which help manage hunger and food intake (9).

The Wheat Belly Diet’s emphasis on whole foods likely contributes to good health.

No calorie counting

The Wheat Belly Diet focuses on natural hunger cues rather than calorie counting.

This intuitive eating style has been shown to decrease anxiety surrounding food while also supporting weight loss efforts. In one review in 11,774 males and 40,389 females, those who ate intuitively were less likely to have overweight or obesity (10).

However, intuitive eating is more likely to be successful when a person is allowed to have access to all types of food. Considering the Wheat Belly Diet has many restrictions, it may lead to increased pressure and anxiety surrounding food choices (11).

Summary

The Wheat Belly Diet emphasizes a diet consisting of whole, unprocessed foods, which are associated with better health and weight management. What’s more, the diet avoids calorie counting and focuses on the body’s natural hunger cues.

Despite many anecdotal success stories, there are many downsides to the Wheat Belly Diet.

Lacks scientific research

Though Davis claims a gluten-free diet leads to weight loss and other health benefits, there’s limited research to back up these claims, especially in people without celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity (12).

For example, his claim that gluten proteins are the result of genetic engineering lacks scientific validity, as glutenin and gliadin exist in both modern and ancient wheat varieties (2).

Plus, the diet promises to cure dozens of ailments based on personal anecdotes from Davis’ patients and followers of the diet. Though these stories appear promising, without proper research, it’s difficult to know if these results can be replicated for every person (13).

Vilifies carbohydrates

Western society does consume too many processed carbs, which can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. So, limiting these foods can be beneficial (14).

However, whole, unrefined grains are linked to a lower risk of disease, despite Davis’ claims that they’re harmful (14).

The Wheat Belly Diet mirrors other low carb diets, such as the Atkins diet, which also encourages limiting carbs. However, a 2018 review study found no evidence that a high carb diet was harmful or linked to weight gain or poor health (15).

The type of carbs a person consumes likely has more effect on health rather than carbohydrates in general.

Highly restrictive

To follow the diet correctly, you must eliminate large food groups, such as starchy vegetables, wheat, and other grains, beans, lentils, and certain fruits.

For most people, this overly restrictive diet leaves little room for flexibility — socially, economically, and culturally — which may be overwhelming, not enjoyable, and difficult to follow long-term (16).

Although more gluten-free products are available on the market, the Wheat Belly Diet discourages followers from eating these products, making food selection even more difficult.

Additionally, this type of restrictive diet may lead to a negative relationship with food since it vilifies a variety of foods. If you have a history of disordered eating, this diet may worsen your relationship with food, so you may want to avoid it (17).

May lead to nutrient deficiencies

Avoidance of wheat and other grains may increase your risk of developing a deficiency in certain nutrients, including folate, vitamin B12, iron, and other trace minerals (18, 19, 20).

Additionally, people who follow this diet may not consume enough fiber, which is essential for a healthy gut, heart health, the stabilization of blood sugar levels, and weight management (21).

Finally, avoidance of carb-rich foods may lead to excess consumption of fats, which may cause you to exceed your daily calorie needs (22, 23).

Summary

Weight loss from the Wheat Belly Diet isn’t due to the removal of gluten. The diet makes many claims that aren’t backed by scientific research. It may also increase your risk of developing a deficiency in certain nutrients, including vitamin B12, folate, and iron.

Customer reviews highlighted as success stories on Davis’ website claim that going wheat-free changed their lives.

Most of them report improvements in blood cholesterol levels and other specific weight-related complications. Still, most importantly, they share that the diet helped them lead a more active life, which translates to an improved quality of life.

Aside from their overall health improvements, customers also report experiencing fewer food cravings and feeling fuller after meals with less bloating.

Nevertheless, some customers report issues with constipation due to fiber reduction, despite eating plenty of vegetables.

Meanwhile, others found the diet too restrictive to follow long-term and experienced intestinal issues after reintroducing wheat back into their diet.

Here are some alternative diet plans to consider (24, 25, 26):

BasicsProsConsFoods to eatFoods to avoid
Wheat Belly Dietwhole food-based, low carb, gluten-free diet• can aid in weight loss
• promotes whole, unprocessed foods
• highly restrictive
• limits nutritious foods
• lacks scientific support
• vilifies carbs
• hard to sustain long-term
• non-starchy vegetables
• low carb fruits
• grass-fed meats
• dairy and eggs
• plant-based oils
• raw nuts and seeds
• non-grain flours
• wheat and non-wheat grains
• flours and starches
• legumes
• high carb fruits
• peanuts
• processed foods
• fats and oils
• sweets and added sugars
• alcohol
Keto dietvery low carb, high fat diet• can aid in weight loss
• may improve blood sugar control and blood pressure
• unknown safety and efficacy if followed for over 2 years
• increased risk of nutrient deficiency and constipation
• poultry, meat, seafood, eggs
• animal- and plant-based fats
• nuts and seeds
• non-starchy vegetables
• low carb fruits
• grains, starches, and legumes
• high carb fruits
• sweets
• high carb alcoholic beverages
• dairy
Gluten-free dieteliminates all gluten-containing foods• helps manage gluten-related disorders like celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, gluten ataxia, and wheat allergies• increased risk of nutrient deficiency and constipation
• can be costly
• starches and legumes
• gluten-free grains
• nuts and seeds
• poultry, meat, seafood
• dairy and eggs
• fruits and vegetables
• spreads and oils
• gluten-containing grains, like wheat bran and flour, spelt, durum, kamut, semolina, barley, rye, malt, bread, and pasta
• baked goods
• cereal
• processed snacks
• some sauces
• beer
Paleo dietwhole food–based, grain-free diet• promotes eating whole, unprocessed foods
• may improve blood sugar management and heart health
• can aid in weight loss
• limits nutritious foods
• can be costly
• not vegan- or vegetarian-friendly
• poultry, meat, seafood, eggs
• fruits and vegetables
• nuts and seeds
• healthy fats
• wheat and non-wheat grains
• potatoes and legumes
• processed foods
• dairy
• refined vegetable oils
• artificial sweeteners
• sweets and added sugars

Following a wheat-free — and thus gluten-free — and low carb diet can be beneficial for some.

In addition, prioritizing whole, unprocessed foods while limiting your intake of processed ones can certainly improve your overall health and reduce your risk of numerous chronic diseases.

However, the Wheat Belly diet is unnecessarily restrictive and vilifies carbohydrates, which could lead to nutritional deficiencies, a poor relationship with food, and unhealthy eating habits (27).

In contrast, a healthy dietary pattern or weight loss strategy should be safe, healthy, nutritionally adequate, and sustainable in the long run (28).

That said, you could take some of the core ideas of the Wheat Belly Diet, such as choosing whole, unprocessed foods, but complement them with nutritious, gluten-free grains and legumes such as quinoa, corn, rice, beans, and lentils, along with a wide variety of fruits and starchy vegetables.

This way, you could enjoy a larger selection of foods, which would help increase your fiber intake and prevent nutritional deficiencies while still improving your health.

How long does it take for wheat belly to go away?

For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, following a gluten- or wheat-free diet helps improve their symptoms within a few days, including abdominal inflammation or bloating (25).

As for people without any underlying conditions, research shows that following a diet low in ultra-processed foods can lead to weight loss within 2 weeks (9).

Does wheat make your belly bigger?

While some suggest an association between gluten — and, therefore, wheat — and weight gain, there is no evidence in humans to back up the claims implying that gluten affects appetite and energy expenditure.

Additionally, research suggests that obesity is a rising health concern not associated with the amount of wheat consumed (29).

What foods can you eat on the Wheat Belly Diet?

The Wheat Belly Diet promotes the intake of non-starchy vegetables, fruits with a low glycemic index, full fat dairy, animal-based proteins, healthy fats, seeds, nuts, natural spices and herbs, low calorie sweeteners, and unsweetened beverages.

Is the Wheat Belly Diet the same as keto diet?

Both the Wheat Belly and keto diets promote the intake of proteins and fats while limiting almost all types of carbs.

However, the Wheat Belly Diet focuses on limiting gluten and ultra-processed foods, while the keto diet’s main goal is to achieve and maintain ketosis, a state where your body uses fats instead of carbs as fuel (30).

Can you drink alcohol on Wheat Belly Diet?

No, all types of alcohol are banned from the Wheat Belly Diet — especially wheat-based alcoholic beverages like beer.

The Wheat Belly Diet has resulted in a surge of gluten-free lifestyles.

It emphasizes eating a diet of whole, unprocessed foods, which may lead to weight loss if you normally rely on ultra-processed foods.

However, there’s no research to support removing gluten or grains from your diet as a way to lose weight. In fact, a diet rich in whole grains is linked to better weight management and overall health.

If you have celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or a wheat allergy, avoiding gluten and wheat is essential to good health. But if you’re looking to stop eating gluten to lose weight, there are healthier and more sustainable diets available.