“Gluten Free” 101
This blog post should more accurately read…”Why most ‘gluten free” products are pure junk’. I encourage you to read through to the end, it is most certainly one of THE most important blog posts you’ll ever read.
I have been meaning to write this post for a while now, ever since the likes of “gluten free” Bisquick and Pizza Hut hit the market a few years ago. The marketing industry are geniuses as they have helped convince people that gluten free is really something healthy. That somehow the exclusion of gluten in a food product, makes it healthy and this is simply not the case.
Don’t get me wrong, I am firmly against the consumption of gluten but these “gluten free” products can sometimes be just as unhealthy, and often loaded with many false promises. The science is really crystal clear that this “sticky protein” destroys our intestinal villi, compromises digestion/assimilation and eventually destroys our neuroendrocrine health (nervous and endocrine systems). I guess I feel partly responsible for the gluten free fad in that I talk about it, advocate for it and even publish gluten free pumpkin chocolate chip muffin recipes :). Keep reading, I’ll explain how and why I use the terms “gluten free”.
So, let me back up.
Gluten is that sticky protein found in wheat, barley, rye and some oats that has changed dramatically in production/consumption over the past 100 years. Many people say to me, “we have been eating bread for hundreds of years, why is it NOW bad for us?”. I often take people back to when our agriculture system changed so dramatically that it literally made the original wheat, “Einkorn” unrecognizable to the wheat we now have today.
In the 1950’s Dr. Norman Borlaug who had just finished his PhD. in Plant Pathology traveled down to Mexico to help local farmers with their floundering agriculture/wheat crops. These particular crops were being attacked my bugs/pests, and subject to rust. Dr. Borlaug had a soft spot for those suffering from hunger and during the 40-60’s the entire world was dealing with a hunger crisis. Dr. Borlaug and his team created a high yield, disease resistant, semi-dwarf wheat and the people of Mexico could eat again. This particular version of wheat was so successful that pretty soon other hungry and poor countries like India, Pakistan, China and some countries in Africa were doubling and tripling their wheat yield by the 1970’s. For his work to help end world hungry by creating a high yield, high protein and high starch crop, Dr. Borlaug won the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize. Pretty cool huh? Dr. Borlaug was a gamechanger and he literally did save millions of lives during the 1950-70’s and beyond. His efforts and vision to create a crop to dynamic, high in protein and high in starch was revolutionary and much needed during a time a global hunger.
What happened later with this semi-dwarf wheat was beyond what Dr. Borlaug could have imagined. Companies and scientists took this highly successful new seed/crop and weaved it into nearly ever food and personal care product imaginable. The wheat/gluten we now have looks virtually NOTHING like the original Einkorn crop and thus behaves nothing like it in our bodies.
We can now find wheat/gluten in the following foods/personal care products:
The following ingredients are often code for gluten (READ INGREDIENTS!):
So, as you can see we have two fundamental problems here:
1) Wheat/Gluten has changed dramatically, making it a food our bodies can’t recognize without instigating inflammation let alone it be a food we can properly digest/assimilate.
2) Wheat/Gluten can now be found everywhere, increasing our consumption/inhalation/absorption of this inflammatory ingredient significantly.
While it may seem that this “gluten free” is new, researchers and scientists have known for years that this sticky protein is causing harm to our digestive, immune and nervous systems. Did you know it takes on average 10-15 years before a recent medical study/conclusion weaves its way into mainstream medical treatment? So, while this all may seem new, it is not.
Gluten sensitivity, which I would argue is something more people than not struggle with is pervasive. It isn’t quite an allergy, so you won’t go into anaphylactic shock but your immune system will react and the either your digestion, skin, mood, energy and simply your cellular communication will be compromised. It may be subtle though, you may not connect the dots between the itchy red patches on your skin and your lunch for example. In this way, food sensitivities are far more insidious as they can go undetected for years while inciting a cellular inflammatory response.
Dr. Pearlmutter goes onto explain gluten sensitivity and it’s reaction in our immune system in Grain Brain: “gluten sensitivity in particular is caused by elevated levels of antibodies against the gliadin component of gluten. When the antibody combines with this protein (creating an anti-gliadin antibody), specific genes are turned on in a special type of immune cell in the body. Once these genes are activated, inflammatory cytokine chemicals collect and can attack the brain. Cytokines are high antagonistic to the brain, damaging tissue and leaving the brain vulnerable to dysfunction and disease- especially if the assault continues.” p 52. Dr. Pearlmutter goes on to connect what have once been rare neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease to the consumption of wheat/gluten.
“It’s no wonder that elevated cytokines are seen in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and even autism. As England’s Professor Marios Hadjivassiliou, one of the most well-respected researchers in the area of gluten sensitivity and the brain at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, reported in a 1996 article in the Lancet , “Our data suggests that gluten sensitivity is common in patients with neurological disease of unknown cause and may have etiological significance.” p 52.
Many people also say to me, “but I don’t have Celiac’s or IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) so what’s the problem with eating gluten from time to time?”
My response is two fold:
1) You do not have to have Celiac’s to be concerned about gluten consumption. Frankly, you just need an immune system and a brain to be worried about the damage it is doing to your body. Dr. Pearlmutter says in his recent NY Times Bestseller, Grain Brain, “the key to understanding gluten sensitivity is that it can involve ANY organ in the body, even if the small intestine is completely spared. So while a person may not have celiac disease by definition, the rest of the body- including the brain-is at great risk if that individual is gluten sensitive”. p 51
Dr. Pearlmutter goes on to explain how that sticky protein known as the gluten impairs the body’s ability to assimilate and absorb nutrients in the body by destroying our intestinal villi, leading to nutritional deficiencies and rampant inflammation. Chronic disease is after-all, the result of either deficiency or EXCESS. Actually, in most cases it is both.
2) While attending the International Conference for Functional Medicine and Human Nutrition last month in Portland, ORE. one of the speakers very poignantly said…
We all know vegetables and colorful fruits/berries are healing and enhance brain function, but where are the studies supporting gluten consumption with brain health or overall immunity?
Nowhere to be found. They don’t exist and never will.
The ONLY reason to consume wheat/gluten is to prevent malnutrition and starvation. Wheat/gluten saved millions of lives years ago, but now it is literally one of the biggest culprits in chronic disease.
Dr. Norman Borlaug and others would say rightfully so that the consumption of wheat/gluten saved millions of lives, and it surely did but TODAY we are a world of excess. Currently, there are more overweight people than undernourished. So, why again in the richest countries is wheat/gluten one of the top 5 crops grown/consumed yearly?
Easy. Wheat/gluten is cheap to grow and can be added to thousands of “food stuffs” and personal care products.
So, people decide that they are going to try the “gluten free diet” because their friend is doing it or they saw it advertised on T.V. and decide to replace their gluten loaded bread, pretzels, muffins, cookies, flours and or pizza for the same high glycemic foods but with a heavy/starchy flour mix usually made of garbanzo bean four, corn flour, tapioca starch and more.
The ONLY gluten free flours I use and advocate for on a regular basis are almond and coconut flour.
- Neither almond or coconut flour are high glycemic and do not contribute to candida.
- They just so happen to be entirely grain free and are very easy to work with.
So, people replace highly inflammatory, high glycemic ingredients with sometimes equally inflammatory/high glycemic ingredients and often find themselves feeling no better, and sometimes worse than before.
We need to stop and ask, “if it doesn’t have gluten in it, then what are they using?” and of course, “just because it is gluten free, does that make it good for me?”.
People often avoid gluten not only because of Celiac’s but because they are battling some form of chronic disease, be it Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Cancer, Depression, Diabetes, Eczema/Psoriasis and very often the last thing these people want to do is to consistently consume foods that will turn on cellular inflammation, spike blood sugar and exacerbate their often debilitating symptoms.
I was in a health food store a few weeks ago to pick up a few items and I came across Udi’s Gluten Free breads and sweet treats. I am happy there is awareness about the consumption of gluten and that there are options for people with life threatening reactions to gluten, but let me be very honest and say that 99.9% of the advertised gluten free items are pure crap. Junk. SUGAR BOMBS.
Yup. Those gluten free sweet treats that as of 2011, made up $6.3 billion in sales are creating rampant inflammation in your body and disrupting your delicate blood sugar balance with every bite. Make no mistake, “gluten free” is an industry and for the most part, your best health is not a top priority for companies like General Mills and Nabisco who have jumped on board with the latest fad.
Let’s take a closer look at Udi’s Chocolate Chia Muffin Tops…
I think you are getting my point I hope. Gluten free pizza, gluten free cookies, gluten free muffin tops, gluten free pancake batter…do you see a trend?
What about the concept of making the transition for a whole foods plant based diet that is naturally free of gluten/wheat?
Like beginning to eat apples, oranges, peaches, broccoli, eggplant, carrots, mushrooms, cauliflower, nuts/seeds, berries?
Are any of these foods labeled, “gluten free”?
NO. They are what we call whole foods, they don’t generally come with a label and frankly just lack a big advocacy group.
When I tell my clients to begin to adopt a naturally gluten free diet, this is what I am talking about. Bring in the use of almond or coconut flour should you wish to bake and start pushing aside that gigantic box of pretzels, Goldfish and cookies for a bowl of berries, or pistachios.
I am excited to announce that in 2014, my team and I will be coming out with a new course that dives deep into the world of gluten free and even grain free eating. If you are still worried about moving away from your gluten free boxes of snacks/desserts, hang tight because very soon you’ll have a crystal clear road-map laid out for you!
Tell me, what are YOUR biggest struggles with eating/living a gluten free diet?