Between 2010 and now, you’ve probably noticed a lot more “gluten-free” products hit the shelves, including products that never contained gluten in the first place. Why is this a marketing strategy all of a sudden? And since everyone seems to be going gluten-free, maybe you should try it too?
Here’s the scoop: a LOT of new science has been done recently about the digestion of gluten, and chronic diseases.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a PROTEIN found in certain grains. The most ubiquitous is wheat since so many products on the shelves have wheat as the main ingredient. This is how gluten starting infiltrating people’s digestive systems, and in some cases, causes some problems.
Why are some people sensitive to gluten?
You may have heard of Celiac’s disease, in which the digestive system has a severe reaction to gluten. You may not have known that Celiac is an autoimmune disease, and gluten sensitivities tend to run on a spectrum rather than a black-and-white intolerance. Additionally, lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, and other dietary sensitivities can affect your reaction.
Here’s the current science on how gluten can cause problems. First, you have to understand that wheat is one of the most genetically altered plants on this Earth. Even organic wheat is very different than the grain our ancestors ate (now sold in heirloom varieties called “einkorn” wheat.) Basically, our bodies’ genetic code can only efficiently digest what it knows about. Since the genetic code of the new wheat is, well, new, the body can sometimes label it as something dangerous and attempt to destroy it.
When the body attempts to destroy the stray wheat (especially in the case of a leaky gut where the wheat particles can enter interstitial tissues), the body attacks its own cells in the process. This is the crux of all auto-immune diseases – the body attacks its own cells. In the case of gluten intolerance – the body attacks its own cells in an attempt to destroy the wheat particles that it doesn’t have in its immune dictionary of food particles. This is essentially the situation with all food intolerances, be it dairy, peanuts, or what have you.
What are the symptoms?
Some people get stomach upset, others stubborn bloat, and still others a rash, headaches, or nearly almost any manifestation of systemic distress you can think of. Many people get a brain fog effect as well. In the book “Lose the wheat, lose the weight” by William Davis, MD, the author points out a number of studies in which people recovered from different disorders by eliminating wheat. For example, schizophrenic patients recovered from their symptoms by briefly eliminating wheat.
The author, through his numerous patient’s experiences and hundreds of hours of research, concludes that most chronic diseases may be able to have a reduction of symptoms by eliminating wheat. He also points out that it’s entirely possible to have a balanced nutritious diet sans wheat so many people “have nothing to lose” by trying out a gluten-free diet for 2-6 weeks.
And he’s right. Most gluten-containing products are actually made MORE nutritious when you swap out the (usually bleached, bromated) wheat for almond flour, buckwheat flour, or any of the other dozens of gluten-free options. Below are some example swaps to get you started
Try recipes with THESE gluten-free flour swaps, recommended by Susan O’Brien, author of The Gluten-free Vegan
- Veggie burger/meatloaf breadcrumbs → Chickpea or mungbean flour
- Cookies & muffins → brown rice or almond flour
- Pasta → Quinoa flour
- Gravy/thickener → arrowroot powder
All these alternative flours have more nutritional value than white flour. But if weight is your thing, be wary of thinking that anything that’s gluten-free is good for weight loss. Particularly when the swap is for potato starch, corn starch, white rice flour, cassava or tapioca. These are fine as an occasional indulgence, but the same insulin response issues can occur with these white flours as well. Here you can find out more about food labels can be deceptive!
The best thing about a gluten-free diet is there are almost no possible negative side effects. So, if you’re curious if going gluten-free could help you, give it a try!