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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A piece of bread. A slice of pizza. How powerful can they be in our brains? Dr. William Davis compares foods containing wheat to opiates.

“But unlike heroin, morphine, Oxycontin, other opiates, they don’t provide euphoria or pain relief. They only stimulate appetite,” says Dr. Davis, a heart specialist who’s the author of Wheat Belly, a New York Times best-selling book. He is a speaker at a St. Luke’s Hospital event Tuesday evening.

Dr. Davis says you can blame the gliaden protein in modern wheat for our big guts.

“It causes people on average to consume 400 more calories every day,” says Dr. Davis.

So he encourages people to ban the bun. He acknowledges it can be hard to go cold turkey or, in this case, cold pasta.

“There’s nausea, fatigue, headache and depression that occurs in about 40 percent of people. It can be really unpleasant, no doubt about that,” says the author.

But he says the benefits go beyond weight loss with improvement in everything from achy joints to acne.

“I still gotta have my wheat,” says Steve Tyson who was dining at St. Luke’s.

“I’m skinny and I eat a lot of wheat, so I don’t understand how that could be true,” says Raymond Price who was also dining there.

Some other health gurus, including Dr. Andrew Weil, don’t buy that wheat is largely to blame for our obesity epidemic. Dr. Weil says the real problem is eating too many sugars and flours of all types — not just wheat.

But Dr. Davis contends that if you go wheat-free, your desire for sweets disappears.

“And you go back to the sweets you used to love and say you know what? I went back to that candy bar I used to love or that ice cream and now it’s sickenly sweet. I can’t even eat it,” says Dr. Davis.

If no wheat, what should you eat? Dr. Davis says focus on meats, nuts and non-starchy veggies and fruits. It’s what a lot of other low-carb diets also promote.

We contacted the Kansas Wheat Commission about Dr. Davis’ comparison of wheat foods to an opiate. The commission quoted Dr. Julie Miller Jones, a professor of nutrition at St. Catherine University, who says there is research showing that the effect is a feeling of fullness — not increased eating.