The Truth About Gluten
Gluten has become a mainstream topic of discussion over the last decade, but despite the buzz, eating gluten-free doesn’t necessarily constitute eating healthy.
A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie full of sugar and refined flour – it is not a health food. There’s an impressive body of research revealing that gluten can be harmful to the digestive tract, even in people who aren’t allergic to it.
When your intestines are stressed, they are less efficient at absorbing nutrients, which can quickly and dramatically affect the performance of your body AND your brain.
Every day brings about new research on gluten, and the jury is still out. What we do know is that there are a large number of people who have adverse reactions to gluten. You would probably know if you are allergic to it, but you might not know if you are intolerant.
Luckily, it isn’t too difficult to determine whether or not you’re intolerant– whilst it requires some serious self control to eliminate gluten from your diet, even for just a month, the benefits can be amazing! Here’s the truth about gluten.
So, what is Gluten?
Gluten, whose name comes from the Latin word for glue, is a family of large, sticky proteins found in grains. While all grains contain a protein that is technically gluten, people with celiac disease and other gluten sensitivities only react to the forms of gluten protein found in wheat, barley and rye.
These grains provide an easy and cheap way to thicken soups, to bulk up lunch meats, medication and supplements, and to prevent clumping in things like shredded cheese.
In order to avoid gluten proteins, it is important to read labels – ‘gluten free’ includes foods made from alternative, non-glutenous flours, as well as wheat that has been processed to remove gluten.
For people sensitive to gluten, oats can be a great way to consume whole grains, but be cautious and stick to products labeled ‘gluten free’ – steel-cut oats and oatmeal are often processed on equipment used for wheat or have flour added to prevent clumping.
Many food items can easily be swapped for non-glutenous varieties – almond flour tortillas, for instance. Similarly, quinoa is a great alternative to couscous and brown rice pasta is a delicious and simple substitute for regular pasta.
There are now plenty of wheat alternatives and thousands of delicious gluten-free recipes.
Pseudocereals are great alternatives to wheat, barley and rye. Many of these are officially considered seeds, not grains. They have a different structure in the endotherm, or core of the seed, which is the section that contains the protein that powers germination. This means they don’t contain the forms of gluten proteins to which many people react.
Grains containing allergenic gluten:
- Wheat – varieties include spelt, kamut, and triticale
Grains and pseudocereals without allergenic gluten:
- Garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
How can gluten harm my body?
Food sensitivities, allergies and the resulting inflammation can contribute to a staggering number of diseases, including asthma, immune disorders, eczema, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and mental and mood disorders. To this end, knowing what foods your body cannot tolerate is imperative.
Some reactions are obvious – nut allergies, for example, result in instantaneous and severe responses. Other changes, however, such as the subtler impacts of a staple food such as wheat, are hard to observe until you intentionally amend your diet.
Symptoms range from gut pain to severe malnutrition, and permanent damage to the intestine often goes undiagnosed and untreated for years. Long term, consumption of gluten can lead to malnutrition, osteoporosis, intestinal cancer, and other immune related diseases such as type 1 diabetes for those who have Celiac Disease.
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) can manifest with signs similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), as well as non-intestinal symptoms. With up to 10% of Americans experiencing some level of gluten sensitivity, it is important to know if you should exclude it from your diet. Migraine, joint and muscle pain, dermatitis, nerve disorders, immune-related illnesses, depression and anxiety have all been linked to eating gluten.
“Gluten intolerance can affect nearly every tissue in the body, including the brain, skin, endocrine system, stomach, liver, blood vessels, smooth muscles and even the nucleus of cells. CD and NCGS are associated with an astonishing variety of diseases. Because the range of symptoms associated with gluten intolerance is so broad and nonspecific, many patients and doctors don’t suspect gluten may be the cause.”
Am I affected by gluten?
The easiest way to find out if you are sensitive to a food is to eliminate it from your diet for at least three weeks.
This practice is not to be confused with a ‘cleanse’, after which you return to your regular diet. Adding foods back one by one after their exclusion is an intentional process you will carry out in order to observe their effect.
While on the quest to eliminate allergens, also consider removing or replacing foods you eat frequently. It is entirely possible that you may have become sensitive to something you’ve been eating for years.
“Antibodies, which are the proteins that your immune system makes when it reacts to foods, take around 21 to 23 days to turn over, so if you don’t quit things to which you’re sensitive for at least that time, you won’t get the full effect of eliminating them,” says Dr. Robin Berzin, functional medicine physician and founder of Parsley Health.
This break from gluten allows your gastrointestinal tract and immune system to return to their natural state, or ‘homeostasis‘, making it far easier to notice changes and determine which foods you should avoid.
Dr. Amy Myers, a renowned leader in Functional Medicine adds:
“Gluten is a very large protein and it can take months and even years to clear from your system so the longer you can eliminate it from your diet before reintroducing it, the better.”
The typical American diet relies heavily on carbohydrates, so cutting out gluten is not easy. However, these foods may be sapping your energy and brainpower, so it is well worth the effort to find out.
The best elimination diets remove the largest possible number of foods – wheat, dairy, soy, eggs, red meat, chicken, lentils, coffee, alcohol, fruits, nuts and nightshade vegetables.
The best elimination diet for you, however, is at the level of restriction with which you are most comfortable and are most likely to realistically stick with for three weeks.
Just eliminating gluten is a useful start!
The more foods you remove, the more likely you are to discover foods to which you are intolerant, which is great for your health!
At the end of three weeks, you can begin to reintroduce foods, closely monitoring your mood, gut performance and overall well-being as you do so.
“On Day 24, pick one thing you eliminated—like gluten, OR dairy, OR sugar—but not more than one, and eat it. See how you feel over the next 48 hours. If you have no reaction after two days, eat that same food again, and for a second time, notice how you feel. From there, it’s up to you whether or not to re-incorporate that food into your diet on a regular basis.” explains Dr. Berzin.
It’s worth noting that all Factor 75 meals are gluten free. Even though there is no definitive verdict at this time, the ingredients we use in our meals are inspected through a very particular lens: will this food increase our mental and physical performance or not?
At this time, we don’t see a performance benefit to gluten and, we therefore don’t use it.
Taking Action: Eliminating Gluten
1. Commit to 21 days of elimination.
2. Stock up on gluten-free options you can add to your regular diet. Don’t make huge changes – these can be hard to stick to.
3. After 21 days, eat a small amount of gluten, but don’t change your other foods.
4. Take notes! Observe your body for 24 hours. Do you experience headaches, sluggishness, or no change at all? Now you know how your body reacts to gluten!
As you’re no doubt aware, food is not simply fuel. Never underestimate the impact of the TYPE of food you put in your mouth. Treating your gut well is extremely important, whether you’re concentrating on muscle gain, fat loss, or just feeling your best. The impact could be enormous!
Here are FIVE EASY STEPS to burn a little excess fat, have more energy, and feel healthier overall.
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