Why I Finally Gave Up Gluten
By: Sarah Grace Powers – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
Ever since I was a small child my #1 comfort food has been toast. I remember my mom serving us soft boiled eggs that she would mash up and mix with buttered toast that had been torn into little chunks. To this day, a soft boiled egg on toast just gives me that feel good.
I love toast, I love yummy whole grain muffins, and I like to be flexible and easy about food choices when I’m out at restaurants or visiting the homes of friends. Plus, my partner probably eats about a half a loaf of bread a day.
So… why on earth would I decide to hop on the gluten-free bandwagon?! Especially when I’m not a huge fan of buzzwords and trends.
Read on to learn about my research, my experiment, and my results after two months.
I’ve known for years that if I minimize wheat and other grains, my body weight responds favorably. So, despite my love of a stack of buttered toast, I HAVE tried to be moderate in my consumption for the last couple of decades. For example, I would only eat half of a burger bun in a restaurant, or forgo it completely if said bun was poor quality.
It was excellent bread or no bread for me—with the exception of airports I guess.
But – I never thought I would give up all that deliciousness completely.
When my younger daughter was finally diagnosed with FOD-MAPs food sensitivity after suffering for a few years with excessive bloating, gas and stomach pain, she went off gluten along with a slew of foods that most of us consider healthy and good for you (think broccoli, apples, onions and garlic.)
Although she experienced a significant decrease in symptoms, I didn’t think much then about trying any such thing myself as I didn’t really have her symptoms.
Then, a few years later my other daughter went paleo (at least 80/20) also giving up gluten along with most processed foods and grains, and she looked and felt great.
I’m not trying to promote any particular diet here. I’m a firm believer in bio-availability, and while vegan works wonders for some individuals, others thrive by emphasizing veggies and organic, high-quality meats while minimizing the starches. And there’s so much in between. We’re all different.
But gluten – well, it turns out it’s something else again. And, a lot of it has to do with the hybridization and modifications of wheat.
In fact, a study using frozen blood samples taken from Air Force recruits 50 years ago found that intolerance of wheat gluten is four times more common today than it was in the 1950’s.
One theory for why gluten is suddenly a problem, when real people have been eating bread for millennia (what about the staff of life?!) is that the proportion of gluten protein in wheat has increased exponentially due to hybridization. Additionally, until about 200 years ago breads were made with a mixture of wheat, other grains, beans and nuts. There was no such thing as refined white flour—which is super high in gluten.
Believe it or not,modern-day wheat contains 10 times more gluten than the wheat of 50 years ago – so the results of that study make total sense.
Now, there are different sorts of wheat gluten intolerance and sensitivities. The really big one most people have heard of is celiac disease. Thankfully, this is not my issue. Celiac is a hereditary condition that is basically an allergic response to gluten, causing an immune response in the small intestine so that nutrients (from any food) cannot be absorbed. If you have celiac you absolutely must avoid gluten of all sorts or you will feel like crap.
What Exactly is Gluten Anyway?
Gluten is a type of protein composed of glutenin and gliadin molecules. The name ‘gluten’ literally comes from ‘glue’ because those molecules form an elastic, adhesive bond when mixed with water, making gluten super helpful for holding breads and cakes, together, and giving them that spongy yet compact structure.
That’s why, depending on where you live and how popular the gluten free diet is in your area, it can be pretty hard to find gluten-free breads or baked goods that don’t taste like and have the consistency of cardboard.
Gluten is found in wheat (and all wheat-based flours), rye, barley and oats, among others. Unfortunately, it is also “hidden” in many processed foods, including salad dressings, cold cuts, beer and soy sauce.
If I hadn’t done some research about gluten itself I would suspect that my own symptoms might be due to a wheat sensitivity, rather than gluten. Some of them, such as fatigue and brain fog have been linked to both. But once I read up on gluten I felt more motivated to just get rid of it.
To be honest, I’ve mainly eliminated the top culprits. I’m not scrutinizing every food label to make sure there are no traces of gluten. My main strategy is to emphasize whole unprocessed foods.
Why is Gluten Even a Problem?
There are several problems related to what modern-day gluten does in your body. The primary issue is that this protein has been shown to create an inflammatory reaction in the body. Not something we want happening around our internal organs! It’s been shown to interrupt the proper absorption of nutrients in foods that are consumed in the same meal with gluten. Because it works like a glue, it basically sort of glues things together in your stomach, making them much less digestible.
For some people, all that undigested gluten triggers the immune system to attack the lining of the small intestine. This can result in a condition known as ‘leaky gut syndrome’. As I understand it, this means that the small intestine lining has become somewhat permeable and the good nutrients that are supposed to stay in there can ‘leak’ out into your bloodstream creating havoc in the rest of the system, while particles that are not supposed to make it into your intestines can get in there.
There’s a lot more to say about this, and the way that the health of your gut affects the health of your entire body (and brain!), but for now suffice it to say that gluten is a contributor to this unwanted inflammatory condition.
So, remember that one of the molecules that makes up gluten is gliadin? Well, it turns out that this little protein is not a friend to our bodies, and definitely not to those of us who might want to lose a few pounds. Gliadin is an appetite trigger, and it binds with the pleasure-producing opiate receptors in the brain, creating an addictive response in our bodies!
Hi, toast craving!
Believe me, I did NOT like learning about all of this. I really would like to believe that I would be just fine simply cutting back on gluten. And perhaps that’s the case.
But—I’ll be honest. My primary motivator for giving this a try was the inexplicable post-menopausal weight gain I’ve experienced over the last year or so. I really hadn’t changed anything in my diet, but I had a suspicion that my affinity for bread and baked goods (even though they were whole grain and low in sugar) was a big culprit. Could my changing hormones somehow have made me more sensitive?
Well, my understanding is that it can take 6 months to a year to experience the full effect of eliminating gluten from your diet. But in just a few weeks I could tell that the tummy rolls are somewhat tamed, my energy feels clearer, I’m experiencing less fatigue, and my cravings for an afternoon muffin or cookie have diminished.
I can’t say that I’m symptom-free, but I definitely feel a heck of a lot better!
It’s certainly possible there are some other foods that are triggering problems for me, but I decided this time around I was going to baby-step it. Once I am really solid with not missing gluten I may try to cut out corn, and then dairy products. Oh, and then there’s caffeine.
I’m definitely a fan of baby steps. If you suspect that your body might be reacting to gluten-containing foods, but you just can’t bring yourself to go completely gluten-free, start by simply cutting back. While you may not experience the full benefits, it will likely become easier to cut it out completely if you decide you want to give it a try as well.
In next week’s article, I’ll talk more about how to eat gluten-free as well as sharing more information on why you might want to.
More by Sarah:
Sarah Grace Powers is a certified life coach and EFT Practitioner. She is a ‘dream resuscitator’, helping clients rediscover their passions and reinvent themselves no matter what their age or circumstance. In her previous career she owned and operated an herb shop and has practiced holistic living for over three decades. Find her at sarahgracecoach.com
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