Should You Eat Gluten Free? Part One

I hate that “going gluten free” is a trend.  Like Atkins or the low-fat craze of the 90’s, eating gluten free is being marketed as a weight-loss program, or a “healthy” way to shed pounds.  These claims are misleading to those trying to lose weight, and are a disservice to individuals who must eat GF for the sake of their health.  Today we’re going to dig further into the mysteries of the “G” word: What is it exactly?  Is it bad?  What foods contain gluten?

What is Gluten?

A few months ago, Jimmy Kimmel Live interviewed people in Los Angeles who claimed to be gluten free and asked them the definition of gluten.  None of the four individuals interviewed could explain what gluten was.  Now don’t get me wrong, I applaud people for eating healthier and making better food choices.  But shouldn’t you know what you’re avoiding and why?

 Gluten is a mixture of proteins found in certain grains, including wheat, rye, and barley.  It’s the “glue” that helps food maintain its shape.  Gluten makes bread and baked goods elastic and pliable, as well as light and fluffy.  Gluten free bread, on the other hand, is typically denser and heavier because a substitute (usually xanthan gum) has to be used.

The Evolution of Wheat

Why are we experiencing a sudden increase in gluten and food allergies?  Our grandparents, and even parents ate bread daily and never had an issue.  As a child, I never heard of gluten and didn’t know anyone with a food allergy.

The answer is this: the wheat we eat today is not the wheat our grandparents ate.  It has been hybridized — altered and crossbred to yield larger crops for mass production.  Today’s wheat contains less nutrients and more starch and glutens.  During the milling process the bran and wheatgerm (the nutritious part) is then stripped, and starch and gluten is what remains.  “Enriched” flour simply means that some of the bran and wheatgerm are tossed back in.

Whole Living magazine published an excellent article on the issues of modern wheat, which you can read here.  The following excerpt perfectly describes the history of wheat’s downfall:

A bigger, hungrier world also required more industrialized methods of production.  Farmers obliged by supplying commodities tough enough to endure handling by machinery and transcontinental shipping. Having survived drought and disease, wheat now had to withstand the beating that flour would get in industrial dough-mixers—and still emerge as the puffy loaves then beginning to adorn grocery-store shelves.

The primary answer to these demands was more plant muscle, which meant stronger glutens.  As genetic variety in the world’s wheat fields slowly narrowed to fulfill these goals, we were left with yet another instance of monoculture—in this case, one that is literally gut-wrenching.  “There is good evidence that ancient grains didn’t have anything like the toxicity that current wheat does,” says Columbia’s Dr. Green.

For more thought-provoking information, I highly recommend reading the following articles (click on the links to read):

Modern Wheat Really Isn’t Wheat At All

Is it a Myth That Wheat (Gluten) is Bad?

The Effects of Modern Wheat on Humans

“So, wheat today is different than it was 75 years ago.  What’s the big whoop?”

We know now that today’s wheat contains more gluten than its predecessor.

First, gluten is literally like “glue”.  It’s sticky, clogs the colon, and slows the digestive system.  This creates a perfect environment for constipation and allows partially digested food to sit in your digestive tract.

Second, eighty percent of people create antibodies against gluten, which causes inflammation.  Inflammation is your body’s attempt at protecting itself against an irritant, damaged cell, or pathogen.  It’s how your body initiates the healing process.  Chronic inflammation means the body is always fighting and is never able to heal itself. Chronic inflammation may be the cause of several diseases, including diabetes, depression, heart disease, and cancer.  Modern wheat is one of the reasons we’ve seen a huge increase in these diseases, along with processed and genetically modified food.

Third, gluten issues don’t show up only as celiac or gluten sensitivity.  There’s a host of neurologic and psychiatric disorders that scientists are only recently associating with gluten, including autism, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, and ADHD. You can read more about gluten and neurological disorders here.

Should Everyone Avoid Gluten?

 What if you don’t have a problem with the big G?  Should you still follow a gluten free diet?  This is a tough question, so I’m going to answer it in two parts:

  • How do you know you don’t have a gluten issue?  Yes, I’m answering a question with a question (it’s the mom in me!).  Before I was diagnosed with Leaky Gut Syndrome and gluten intolerance, I suffered from a myriad of seemingly unrelated symptoms.  I had no idea that my decline in health was due to the food I ate.  Now, I’m not the type of person that thinks because I have a condition, everyone else has the same condition, or that certain symptoms automatically mean you have a gluten allergy.  What I am saying is that knowledge is power, and we must advocate for our own health.  If you suspect you might have an issue, cut gluten from your diet for a few weeks.  If you feel an improvement, you probably want to see a doctor for further testing.  In my next post, we’ll talk about identifying possible symptoms.
  • If you aren’t ready to say goodbye to gluten, no worries.  Consider limiting your gluten intake by slowly replacing some of your meals with healthier, more nutritious ones.  Most Americans consume gluten at every meal: cereal or a bagel for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, and spaghetti, flour tortillas, or rolls with dinner.  That doesn’t even include snacks!  Hang with me and I’ll show you how to incorporate tasty, gluten free meals you and your family will love.

  My life has literally changed for the better because of my gluten intolerance.  I’ve learned so much about food as medicine — a concept I never would have pursued on my own.  That’s why I’m so passionate about sharing this information!  I’m so excited to continue with Part Two of this series: eating gluten free for health reasons.  I promised you a list of foods that contain gluten, but I’ve taken enough of your time today!  Look for a separate post tomorrow for the list, along with a list of foods that are naturally gluten free.

Next post – A List of Foods That Contain Gluten and Gluten Free Foods

Tuesday’s post – Eating Gluten Free for Health Reasons

Happy Eating!

~Christi

Also in this series:

Should You Eat Gluten Free?  Intro

Foods: Gluten vs. Gluten Free

Should You Eat Gluten Free?  Part Two

Should You Eat Gluten Free?  Part Three

Should You Eat Gluten Free?  Conclusion

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Comments: 4

  1. Victoria July 11, 2014 at 8:53 AM Reply

    Very informative! I remember the Jommy Kimmel interview, too. So… Can we plant our own wheat that isn’t hybridized and glued up?? Of course, we would have to know how to harvest and mill it… And I certainly don’t. Just curious for when I start my entirely self-sufficient farm NOT in the state of AZ.

    • Christi July 12, 2014 at 7:25 AM Reply

      Actually, organic wheat and spelt are available in health food stores. Bread made from sprouted grains are a nutritional option. Ezekiel is a great brand!

      I envy people who are able to homestead. And I agree, NOT in AZ! lol

  2. Crystal July 11, 2014 at 8:44 AM Reply

    I saw that Jimmy Kimmel segment….it was funny and scary at the same time. I have celiac….and going gluten-free has been a life changer. Looking forward to Part 2 (connecting from Freedom Hackers) – Great article.

    • Christi July 11, 2014 at 8:57 AM Reply

      It amazes me just how many people are affected by gluten. I’d love to hear your feedback, as well as any tips you’d like to share. Thanks for stopping by, Crystal!

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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