5 Reasons to Go Gluten-Free
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In last week’s post, I discussed the slightly popular topic of gluten and WHAT it is here. Today’s post is on the WHY of going gluten-free.

 :::

Let’s be honest. Most of the world thinks this whole gluten-free thing is a fad.

I mean, how could our “daily bread” be such a devilish thing for health?

Even Time Magazine labeled the gluten-free movement #2 on the Top 10 list of food trends for 2012, and food companies are certainly taking advantage of the $2.5B industry!

But, with 6% or greater of the population having gluten sensitivity and at least 1% of the population with celiac disease, that’s well over 20 million people that are affected by this staple of the American diet.

Still, how can this Biblically referenced food be harmful to our health?

1. Today’s wheat is very different than it was hundreds of years ago.

As Dr. Mark Hyman explains in this article, the heirloom Biblical wheat made of ground, germinated seeds is completely different than our modern bread made of flour.

“Instead we eat dwarf wheat, the product of genetic manipulation and hybridization that created short, stubby, hardy, high yielding wheat plants with much higher amounts of starch and gluten and many more chromosomes coding for all sorts of new odd proteins.” (Hyman, 2012)

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What about organically grown wheat, you ask?

As Dr. Cate Shanahan states in Deep Nutrition: 

“Even when organically grown, manufacturers treat wheat flour like a construction material, extruding it into geometric shapes and puffing it into crunchy cereal cushions, rendering proteins allergenic.” (Shanhan & Shanahan, 2012).

And get this – our bodies may not even be adapted to digest and absorb wheat since it was cultivated 10,000 years ago.

A 2012 study in BMC Medicine concluded that a spectrum of gluten-related disorders exist because of a higher gluten content during the last 10,000 years and lack of gastrointestinal adaptation that created conditions for human disease related to gluten exposure.

(Is this blowing your mind yet!?)

2. It increases whole body inflammation.

Inflammation… what is it? It’s like a sprained ankle inside the body, and when there’s chronic low levels of irritation going on, it can bring on health problems and disease (bloating, allergies, etc.).

There are many different causes of inflammation, from toxins in the environment, to lack of sleep and stress, and in the case of bread, wheat germ agglutinin.

This latter compound is found in highest concentrations in whole wheat, and has been discovered to ignite an inflamed response (Saka, Chatterjee, Chatterjeee, Sudhakaran, 2007).

We can’t forget about pesticides, mold toxins, and allergenic proteins, too.

Combined with gluten, these foreign compounds can ultimately trigger  inflammation in the gut, compromising the mucosal barrier function (Sapone, et.al, 2011).

Translation? It can cause leaky cells (also known as “leaky gut”), where undigested food particles and toxins can slip through our intestinal barrier, causing a cascade of inflammation and related autoimmune responses (like allergies, weight gain, skin problems, etc).

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3.  It has anti-nutrients. 

Lectins – Common in eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, legumes (like soy), nuts and dairy, lectins are tough proteins that don’t break down well and stick to the lining of our gut wall, causing damage and digestion issues. Wheat germ agglutinin is especially concentrated in wheat products, and a common culprit for harming the gut mucosal lining (Freed, 1999).

Phytic acid – Also found in nuts, legumes and grains as well, phytic acid is another anti-nutrient that can block bioavailability of nutrients, also binding minerals in the body and making them unavailable. Proper soaking and cooking can decrease some the amount of phytic acid, but today’s bread does not include these preparations in the manufacturing process.

Acidic pH – Do you remember that whole pH scale in high school, ranging from 0 – 14? Our body likes to hang out at a 7.35, and has intricate systems in place to help ensure it doesn’t tip in either direction. The more acidic foods we eat, the harder our body has to work and dip into our mineral stores to buffer the acid. Eating too little plants and too many foods like sugar, dairy, processed foods and GRAINS stresses the body!

High in carbohydrates – Yes, carbs are a necessary part of health. However, our modern foods contain WAY too many carbs in the form of sugar, soda, bread, and other processed foods that ultimately are broken down into glucose, (a.k.a. sugar). This sends our pancreas into freak-out mode (see my post here for a Readers’ Digest version), and because our bodies do not have a lot of storage areas for glucose (in the form of glycogen), guess where it ends up? In our fat stores. CARBS (not these good fats) are the culprit in our country’s metabolic and obesity issues!

4)   It affects the brain (especially in children!) more than we think.

Because the gut is connected to the brain and vice versa via the gut-brain axis (Chris Kresser, L. AC.,  writes about this frequently), wheat also affects our BRAIN. It also does so by turning on inflammatory chemicals, called cytokines, which are directly detrimental to brain function.

  • One study found that people with schizophrenia have higher than expected antibodies related to celiac disease and gluten sensitivity (Cascella, et. al, 2009).
  • Another study found a link between children with intestinal permeability and autism, and that they benefitted from a gluten-free diet (de Magistris, et. al., 2010).
  • About 70% of children with untreated celiac disease show exactly the same abnormal brain-wave patterns as those with Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D) (Braly and Hoggan, 2002).

If these kids were to cut out gluten, their brain and attentional issues will very much improve (Perlmutter, 2010). The crazy thing is, however, that most patients with neurological manifestation of gluten sensitivity have no gastrointestinal symptoms (Rothwell, 2010).

5) It really isn’t THAT nutritious. 

Simple question: What’s the main goal of eating? To nourish ourselves and gain the necessary nutrients we need to function at an optimum level, right?

If we’re just talking nutrient density, then, or the ratio of nutrient content compared to the total energy content, whole grains tie for second-to-last on this chart (Cordain & Friel, 2005)!

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So… it’s a REALLY hard concept to think about giving up your “daily bread,” isn’t it? Food is personal and true change can only come from your own intrinsic motivation.

You may not stop eating your precious bread right away.

But, think it over.

Is it REALLY giving you the nutrition that you need, or is it taking away and harming your right to live a vibrantly healthy life?

:::

Now, I want to know:  If you’ve gone gluten-free, what was the hardest part in the transition for you?

Next week, I’ll share steps to survive eating the gluten-free way!

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References

Braly, James and Ron Hoggan. Why Gluten Cereal Grains May Be Hazardous to Your Health. Penguin Putnam, Inc. New York, New York: 2002.

Cascella, et. al. Prevalence of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity in the United States clinical antipsychotic trials of intervention effectiveness study population. Schizophren Bull. 2011 Jan; 27(1) 94 – 100. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19494248?dopt=Abstract&holding=f1000,f1000m,isrctn

Cordain, Loren and Joe Friel. The Paleo Diet for Athletes. Rodale: 2005.

di Magistris, et. al. Alterations of the intestinal barrier in patients with autism spectrum disorders and in their first-degree relatives. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology Nutrition. 5 October 2010; 51 (4) 418-24. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20683204.

Freed, David. Do dietary lectins cause disease? BMJ. 17 April 1999; 318 (7190): 1023–1024.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1115436/.

Hyman, Mark. Three Hidden Ways Wheat Makes You Fat. Dr. Mark Hyman Blog. 13 February 2012. http://drhyman.com/blog/2012/02/13/three-hidden-ways-wheat-makes-you-fat/

Perlmutter, David. Gluten sensitivity and the impact on the brain. The Hufftington Post. 21 November 2010. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-david-perlmutter-md/gluten-impacts-the-brain_b_785901.html.

Rothwell, Peter M. Gluten sensitivity and the CNS: diagnosis and treatment. Lancet Neurol. 2010; 9: 318 – 30. http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/laneur/PIIS1474442210701496.pdf.

Saja, K., Chatterjee, U., Chatterjee, B.P., Sudhakaran, P.R.Activation dependent expression of MMPs in peripheral blood mononuclear cells involves protein kinase A. Mol Cell Biochem. 2007 Feb; 296(1-2) 185-92.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17043752.

Sapone, et.al. Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal immune gene expression in two gluten-associated conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. BMC Medicine. 9 March 2011. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21392369.

Sapone, et. al. Spectrum of gluten-reltaed disorders: consensus on new nomenclature and classification. BMC Medicine. 9 October 2012. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1741-7015/10/13#B44

Shanahan, Cate and Luke Shanahan. Deep Nutrition. Big Box Books: Hawaii, 2009.

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35 responses on “5 Reasons to Go Gluten-Free

  1. Hi Julia!

    Great post again. I just spent the weekend experimenting with eating my old diet and boy am I feeling it. My husband is still not a believer and the past two days I ate what he did. Chinese food, pop, chips, etc. Ugh!

    After 6 months of eating paleo/primal, this was a shock to my system! Nausea, cramps, bloating, headache, mood swings, joint pain, lethargy.

    I had a question about how to get enough good carbs to sustain intense activity. What does your husband eat to get through a game without falling flat?

    I’ve recently commited to participating in a fundraising ride from Toronto to Montreal at the end of July. It is a distance of 660 kms over 6 days, and right now I am struggling with the training rides.

    The rides are progressively becoming longer and more intense and, we will eventually be expected to ride over 100 kms for 6 consecutive days.

    I am presently struggling with our present distance of 70 km on two consecutive days. I know part of it is because I’m physically not up to it yet but, I think part of it is from my limited carb intake.

    I’m presently trying to keep my daily intake below 100g of carbs and I know that’s not enough for the ride, but I’m wondering, what can I eat to sustain me through an entire day of cycling.

    I am presently eating meats, eggs, veggies, nuts, seeds, fruit, olive and coconut oils and butter. I have been avoiding legumes as I was also trying to lose weight. I’m at my goal weight and now need to start adding things back in that won’t cause adverse reactions, cause weight gain, but give me enough energy to be in top condition to get through this training and ultimately finish this long ride.

    Thanks again for keeping us informed!

    Cheers!
    Tim

    • Hi Tim! Wow – thanks for the blog love, and it certainly sounds like your food experiments have proven what your body truly needs. Great questions about intense activity and fueling properly. It sounds like you definitely need to add more “good” carbs in, especially with the amount of endurance activity you’re doing. Too little carbs can hamper performance and even down regulate metabolism… and also stress your adrenals. I am actually due for a guest post on this in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for more detailed info!

  2. Jules … Another good one. I’m on month 9 of this “fad” and have found more gains in the gym, much less stomach irritation, and more real food. I’ve also found many main stream restaurants have gluten-free menus if you ask for one. It’s still tough to find gluten free pizza dough (can’t skip the Za) unless you make it yourself. Keep the tips coming!

    • Teague! Hey! Haha – Kyle also can’t resist the gluten-free pizza every once in a while. So glad that you’re feeling and looking better – this made my day! Hi to your cute fam. :)

  3. Jules: a very well written article. It was nice to see that you left the “science” references until the end of the article. Science stuff makes my eyes glaze over.

    You confused me with “Lectins”, though. Is “wheat germ agglutinin” a lectin? If eggs, tomatoes, and dairy have lectins in them, are these “bad” foods?

    I look forward to your next post.

    Dan

    • Hi Dan! Thanks so much. Great question! Lectins are naturally occurring “low grade toxins” designed to help plants survive in nature. All foods have them, but the worst offenders are legumes and grains, which includes wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). Cooking, soaking, sprouting, and fermenting (and buying organic) does help to reduce the lectin content. Hope this helps!

  4. Wonderful post! Very informative :) I have been eating gluten-free for about 8 months now and to be honest the hardest part has been eating out or ordering take-out so we rarely do it anymore. I like to cook so it is a win-win for us: good food and my checkbook is much more happy!!

    I stay away from a lot of the gluten-free processed foods. We try and eat mostly whole, real foods.

    Have a beautiful day!

    • Hi Janet! I totally hear you. It has been an adjustment for us socially as well, but we’ve managed to find our way. Glda you’re feeling well – thanks for your thoughts!

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  6. Wow! So much info and well-said. I appreciate the sources. I despise reading nothing but empty opinions. This was very helpful. Thanks for taking the time to put it all together.
    I have to say my family (hub, 2 toddler girls) is transitioning to real, whole foods and loving it. But I think we need to make the leap to gluten-free. My 4yr old has gad slight dark circles under her eyes ever since she started eating solids–oatmeal, cream of wheat, etc. and I’m wondering if that’s a sign of a food intolerance, spec. Gluten. My husband deals with bipolar disorder and responds super well to no bread-carb nutrition. I haven’t been able to get rid of baby weight and even though my 18m old is still nursing I feel I need to make further changes to my diet. I’m just so overwhelmed by how everything has gluten in it
    Stamps?! Envelopes?! My vitamins? It’s truly overwhelming. I don’t know how to begin. How to have go-to quick meals pasta is so easy for me when days are chaotic. I need something like that. But I’m clueless. And I have no interest in processed fad foods. No thanks.

    Any advice further would be appreciated! Oh, and I read the Time article. It’s focus was confusing to me. Why would they care about how costly this so-called food fad is? That was their biggest criticism, cost to consumers. That is disconcerting to me and I find it highly suspect. I wonder who was truly behind the motivation to write and publish that work.

    Thanks again. I’ll shut up now.
    Isis

    • Hi and thanks for your story! Healing the gut and inflammation in the body is a huge help to managing bipolar disorder, so good work on that! As far as the transition, it definitely takes time and it can be overwhelming. My next post is exactly on your questions – how to make a transition to a gluten-free lifestyle (and stay sane!). Stay tuned!

  7. Hi! I am currently in my last 5 days of going a month without gluten! My roommate is extremely passionate about having a gluten free lifestyle so I thought I’d give it a try for a little bit! First of all – It was a lot harder and a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. Harder in the sense that SO many things have gluten in them, and easier because you can still eat really yummy foods that don’t have gluten! In the first 25 days, I have lost 10 pounds (WOW!) and have noticed an extreme change in how much I bloat after meals. I would LOVE to say that I could give up gluten all together, however my budget as a college student mixed with my absolute love of pasta and bread just won’t allow for it at this time. The hardest thing for me was going to restaurants and finding so few gluten free options on the menu. It was also hard because a lot of my favorite foods are highly gluten based, and I just can’t say that I could give them up forever. However, after going through this month without gluten and learning many articles and blogs such as this, I will say that I will definitely be cutting back on the amount of gluten in my diet. I am still mulling over the details, but I think I am going to try a once a week type of thing where I allow myself to eat gluten at first, and see where I go from there. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Hi Kelsie! Good for you! I can imagine it’s difficult to think about being gluten-free in college, let alone for the rest of your life. Remember that you probably will have some gluten here and there (because we’re human), and that it’s okay. But, if you feel so much better without it, why not try to adopt a gluten-free lifestyle? Check out my recent blog post for tips… hopefully that helps you not feel too overwhelmed. Thanks for reading!

  8. I went gluten and dairy free about 6 months ago. I realized I haven’t felt “well” in…forever. My friend is a health coach and finally said to me: You’ve tried every test under the sun and you’re still in pain and messed up. Why don’t you try to do some eliminations? The Hardest Part? It took me about 2 weeks to get my head around the fact that gluten is in EVerything we eat. Cereal, bread, soy sauce, FRENCH FRIES! OMG. WHAT would I eat?! I found a few things to eat and made a go of it. Lost weight immediately. Felt better. Clear brain! After 6 months, I’ve found LOTS to eat. I rarely have any cravings for things with gluten in it. Second Hardest Thing. As everyone else said, eating out is a chore. I travel a lot and eating naked chicken salads with lemon and olive oil gets a bit boring. I prefer to eat at home because I don’t have to worry about what’s in my food. Really, though, there’s sooooo many options, so many good things to eat, that have nothing to do with gluten! I’ve tried a lot of paleo but I still eat rice, quinoa, and millet. I have some gluten free cereal. I keep the gluten free bread in the freezer because I’m just not as interested in “bread.” Mostly, it’s meat, vegetables, fruit, some grains, and my go to for bread-like items is flax meal. It’s the best thing ever! Foccacia, muffins, additions to smoothies…flax recipes are my go-to when want something carb-like.
    I personally don’t do much of the packaged gluten free items because there’s still something in them that irritates my G.I. Anything with the all-encompassing term “spices” in it, makes me wig out a bit too. (Will it mess me up? Won’t it? What does “spices” mean?) I have to say it’s stressful sometimes. But, oh man, do I feel better. Less joint pain, less bloating, brain fog is at an all-time low. Wow, it’s a good, good thing. And, if you like to cook? It’s a GREAT adventure! We’ve tried so many new things!
    Lastly, and Last Hardest Thing: gluten free might not be “convenient.” Want to eat something quick? Chips? Probably not. Pop tarts? No. Muffin? No. Driving in the car and you see a drive through? Not. One. Thing. ((Sigh)) Am I sad? NO. It’s just not always simple and requires some planning ahead. Don’t fret, though. It’s not as hard as it looks and it only gets expensive when you try to mimic “wheat” with all those gimmicky gluten free products. Bulk grains are cheap and rice and quinoa pasta is relatively inexpensive. Keep it simple and use those spices! You won’t know until you try it. :)

    • Oh my goodness! What a story… THANK YOU for sharing – I totally agree with you regarding your reflections and discoveries of what you CAN eat. Awesome!!

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  10. This is awesome, Jules. I can’t wait to see you in July to share with you about essential oils, where I have been greening our medicine cabinet to eliminate toxins there and in body products…

    We drink almond milk and have cut back on breads… We also have cut back on meat and eating organic.

    Love you, cuz… Anne

  11. Yes it is a multi billion dollar industry. I choose to work part time in a grocery store bakery located in a small midwest university city. We have a thriving economy and mostly highly educated population. Our bakery is not certified gluten free, however we have a growing number of GF orders. I am a specialty baker and I do my best to provide a tiny bit of education and disclosure of course. As far as I know there isn’t one ( GF bakery) in town which I can understand why because of the inflated cost of producing GF foods. I am constantly amazed by the motivation or rationale behind the GF lifestyle and have learned a lot from my customers as well. I am very interested in the evolution of this “fad” as you put it and how it will play out in 15 – 20 years. What will be the fall out of those who have cut certain nutrients from their bodies for extended periods of time. Its just interesting don’t you think?

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  20. Excellent article. It was not hard for me to go gluten free once I understood the magnitude of its results on ones health. Before I did stop, there was so much talk about people being allergic to gluten, I thought if gluten is so bad for sooo many people it makes sense it is not good for anyone. Thank you!

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  22. Hi, I am going to try transitioning to a gluten-free diet. I am hoping it will be helpful for my ulcerative colitis, although my doctor said not to bother because it was too difficult. I don’t want to be on meds the rest of my life, and I’ve heard some encouraging stories about the many benefits of gluten-free. This was a great article, thanks!

    • Hi there! Great idea – there’s so much healing you can do by eating a nourishing diet! Though it’s intimidating at first, once you take baby steps towards a gluten-free lifestyle, you realize how much delicious and far more nutrient dense food you CAN eat. Best of luck!

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