Fact or fad?
By Ashley Allan Explorebigsky.com Contributor
“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine, or the slowest form of poison.”
– Ann Wigmore
What is gluten?
Gluten is the group of proteins found in barley, oats, rye and wheat that give flour its stickiness. Prevalent in the American diet, it can be found in foods prepared with these sources, as well as in prescription medications and food additives.
As an additive, it’s used to boost protein levels, and create a light, chewy texture. Other grains containing gluten include spelt, kamut, triticale, farro and einkorn. While oats don’t contain gluten, they’re often cross-contaminated and generally contain it unless labeled otherwise.
Why is gluten becoming an issue?
Gluten has been part of the human diet for 10,000 years, since humans first began cultivating crops. Before that time, we didn’t survive on agriculture – rather a hunter/gatherer diet with fewer grains and cereals.
Gluten intolerance is becoming increasingly common, and Celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder caused by an immunologic intolerance to gluten, affects 3 million Americans.
“Changes in farming and dietary practices, excessive pharmaceutical use, globalization and the effects of our modern lifestyle all play a role,” says Dr. Holcomb Johnston, a naturopathic doctor and owner of Sweetgrass Natural Medicine in Bozeman.
A study published in 2011 in BioMed Central Medicine attributes the rise in gluten intolerance to humans’ lack of the proper genes to digest it. The study also examines the possibility that modern wheat may in fact be more toxic than its ancestors.
“The selection of wheat varieties with higher gluten content has been a continuous process during the last 10,000 years,” it reports, noting that wheats grown before the Middle Ages contained smaller amounts of the “highly toxic 33-mer gluten peptide.” A molecule of approximately 50 amino acids, this peptide is responsible for initiating the inflammatory response to gluten in people with Celiac disease, according to the study.
This stronger form has been labeled as “super-gluten” by many health professionals and is responsible for the lighter, fluffier bread products that many people have come to expect from these foods.
Adding to the issues, Johnston says, our culture’s growing reliance on antibiotics and disinfectants can cause a decline in the antibodies needed to fight off invaders, “which is how the body sees gluten.”
Why do some people seem to be affected while others are not?
Genes can contribute to gluten intolerance and Celiac disease, but people aren’t necessarily born with it. Environmental factors can trigger it, as well.
“Genes are turned on and off by environment,” Johnston says. “Just because you have the gene for something, doesn’t always mean you are going to get that something. What we bathe our cells, and essentially [our] DNA in, will greatly affect the messages sent throughout our body.”
And we bathe our cells in what we eat.
Stress, Johnston says, which affects nearly everyone, directly impacts our digestion. We don’t allow our system adequate time to ‘rest and digest’ and often rush through meals due to time constraints. Similarly, stress affects anti-inflammatory and inflammatory pathways, which can lead to an increase in allergic or allergic-type reactions – like gluten intolerance.
Symptoms of gluten intolerance
Gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain, weight gain (or loss), fatigue, headaches, depression, lack of mental clarity, irritability and skin rashes are common signs of gluten intolerance.
In Celiac disease, the small intestine cannot digest or absorb food due to sensitivity of the intestinal lining to gliadin, a protein in gluten; this causes the digestive and absorptive cells of the intestine to atrophy.
Recent studies have shown gluten to be associated with other disorders including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome, Hashimoto’s, Addison’s disease, multiple sclerosis, cancer and other autoimmune diseases.
Dr. Mark Hyman, MD, is a family practice physician and creator of a whole body approach to health known as “Functional Medicine.” An advocate for a gluten-free diet, Hyman refers to gluten as a “silent killer.”
In “Gluten: What you don’t know might kill you,” an article published in 2011 on his website, Hyman maintains that while 99 percent of sick people don’t relate their illness to ingesting gluten, at least 55 diseases are caused by gluten. Gluten intolerance causes inflammation, he says, which in turn leads to disease in the body.
How does gluten make you feel?
Gluten-free diets have surged in popularity, in part as a response to our inability to digest this new form of gluten.
One way to learn how your body reacts to gluten is by eliminating it from your diet for 2-4 weeks and seeing how you feel when you introduce it back into your diet. Many people report feeling better without it.
INGREDIENTS YOU MAY NOT REALIZE CONTAIN GLUTEN
If you’re trying to avoid gluten, it’s important to read food labels. Watch out for ingredients like natural flavor, monosodium glutamate (MSG), caramel coloring, emulsifiers, malt, hydrolyzed (vegetable or wheat) protein, cereal, binder, couscous, durum, semolina, seitan and modified food starch.
Wheat alternatives include quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, rice, corn, sorghum, teff, kasha, garbanzo and coconut flour. It’s best to rotate the foods you eat: Anything you consume on a regular basis could potentially turn into an allergy. Try new things; eat a rainbow of colors at every meal and always listen to your body.
GLUTEN FREE RECIPE
1c garbanzo bean (chickpea) flour
1 T olive oil (optional)
1 t salt
Dried herbs of choice – cumin, basil, coriander and rosemary are some savory choices; cinnamon is great if you want a sweeter taste.
Directions: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together. Let sit for at least an hour at room temperature. The longer you let it sit, the better the consistency will be. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 9-10-inch round baking pan with parchment paper (alternately, you can coat bottom of pan with coconut oil to prevent sticking). Pour batter into pan and cook for 35-40 minutes until crust is cooked through (use a toothpick to test the inside; if batter sticks, keep cooking). The top should be golden or dark brown.
Serving: Eat as is; use as bread for sandwiches; or substitute for crackers or pizza crust. Try it topped with avocado and fresh basil and cilantro; add maple syrup/honey, cinnamon and fresh fruit; or try adding chocolate chips to make a cookie dough. The possibilities are endless – enjoy! This recipe and others can be found at ashleyhealthcoach.com.
No gluten = no bread? No way.
Not to worry, bread lovers, there is life after death on the gluten-free path, thanks to Boulder, Colorado-based Rudi’s Bakery. Since 1976, Rudi’s has mastered the art of gluten-free baking, using wholesome all natural and organic ingredients including sunflower seeds, millet, fiber and flax. Other products include tortillas, pizza crusts and buns.