In the past decade there has been an explosion of gluten-free labels at the grocery store and on menus across the country. That’s only for people with celiac disease, right? Unfortunately, gluten causes problems in many sensitive people (predominant in Irish). Celiac disease affects 1 in 133 people in the US. This does not include people who are gluten-intolerant or gluten-sensitive. Gluten (Latin for glue) is a protein in wheat containing gliadin and glutenin.
Why is gluten such a problem? Gluten is inflammatory; it has been showsn to damage internal organs and tissues. Traditional cultures indicate that all primitive peoples developed careful techniques to prepare their grains prior to eating them- soaking, sprouting, fermenting. Soaking and sprouting grains neutralizes the enzyme inhibitors that are naturally present in all seeds, as well as neutralizing other anti-nutrients, such as phytic acid, that make certain nutrients unavailable for assimilation. Fermentation, where live cultures of wild yeasts and bacteria are carefully nurtured and passed down through generations made made the grains easier to digest. Over centuries, food production has increased yet we have lost track of ancient knowledge necessary to keep ourselves well-nourished and healthy. Not only are we eating grains that are not properly prepared, but we are over-consuming them! Once the villi in the small intestine are damaged by the effects of eating gluten, you typically become intolerant and/or allergic to several other foods: dairy & corn especially, causing leaky gut, dysbiosis, candida, malaborption, and several other problems. If you ask me, I don’t think that wheat or gluten is the blame; it’s due to an overly-processed diet consuming way too many gluten-containing foods without proper preparation methods. Food is meant to be nurtured as we want it to nurture us! The time and love you put into cooking and preparing are just as important as what you eat.
Symptoms of gluten-sensitivity and/or intolerance include digestive, neurological, skin, endocrine and joint disorders: bloating, gas, cramping, constipation, diarrhea, fat in stools (floating pebbles), IBS, achy joints, depression, anxiety, brain fog, headaches, fatigue, irritability, ADHD, learning disabilities, eczema, acne, Dermatitis herpetiformis, hives, infertility, asthma, and hypothyroidism (just to name a few). Frequent contact with gluten triggers the release of a narcotic brain chemical, opiod enkephalin, which is as addicting as any narcotic taken externally. After consumption, one feels better, but when it wears off, hypo-metabolic withdrawal occurs and depression and fatigue often follow. “Food sensitivity exerts its most profound effect on the limbic portion of the brain. This section of the brain houses the control centers of our emotions as well as memory and vegetative functions, including body temp, sexuality, blood pressure, sleep, hunger and thirst. Food allergies often affect most of these vital functions” (Levine, 2004).
Gluten is not only in wheat, rye, barley and sometimes oats, but it’s also in tomato sauces, condensed canned soups, cooking sprays, artificial coffee creamer, bouillon cubes, imitation seafood products (crab in sushi!), ground spices, chewing gum and some veined cheeses such as Roquefort. It’s also in products, such as lip balm, sunscreen, glue on stamps, soaps, shampoos, laundry detergents, toothpaste, cosmetics, prescription drugs, dietary supplements, etc. Check the labels! Why use gluten in all of these products? Gluten is used as a thickening agent or extender of foods and has a sretch factor in baking.
Most of us have intense emotional attachments to bread, cookies, and pasta, which are usually made from wheat flour. We crave these foods when we are feeling happy, sad, lonely, tired, in good health and in sickness. The Eating For Health approach encourages people to consume primarily non-gluten grains (and ONLY these grains if you’re celiac, gluten-intolerant or -sensitive), such as millet, quinoa, brown rice, non-GMO corn and buckwheat. All of the recipes that you find on this blog will be made with these nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory grains.
Challenge yourself just for kicks! Eliminate gluten from your diet for 2-4 weeks, and see if any of your symptoms start improving!! You may be surprised how great you feel and continue eating gluten-free to feel better! On a personal note, I have much more engery, more clarity, stabilized mood and less digestive disturbances! When I “cheat,” my body shows me who’s boss ;)!
**You can get a blood test to determine if you have celiac disease. The problem is, most people are gluten-intolerant/sensitive, which means gluten is wreaking havoc on the body well before they are diagnosed with full blown celiac disease. You can also see your local nutritionist to run some specific tests for gluten sensitivity, other food allergies, etc. Please see the link below for more information. The most accurate way to test for gluten-sensitivity is to eliminate gluten from the diet for at least a month and see if your symptoms subside. Depending on how long one has been intolerant will determine how long it takes to heal. Everyone is different, but you should see some relief from some symptoms within a couple of weeks (some people notice in a few days!).
Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2012). NC102 Digestive Physiology. Foundations in Nutrition. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College