Never thought I’d grow up to be one of those “is there gluten in this?” kind of person, but here I am. Like most Americans, I grew up eating SAD. Standard American Diet consisted of the mighty food pyramid, claiming our need for half our calories in grains, three servings of dairy per day among other things. Just last night after a good long streak of gluten-free eating, I caved and ate a bowl of regular cereal. Golden Grahams, a retro throwback from my early years. It tasted amazing until I was up out of bed to the bathroom half the night later. I didn’t choose the gluten-free lifestyle, sadly it chose me.
Gluten is a protein, found in barley, rye, and wheat. More and more individuals are finding they are sensitive to gluten, if not allergic.
“Yeah, but even if you aren’t Celiac, you’d be better off getting rid of gluten anyways” I recall hearing a woman say to her friend many years ago at a cafe. I remember scoffing softly at my table, right before biting into a croissant. Not to mention the times I would often joke about what I’d give up instead before giving up bread! It turns out 10 years later, the woman was right after all.
Besides always carrying a little extra weight on my belly, I never really thought much about grains’ impact on me except for whole wheat being healthier than enriched white bread. I chalked up my occasional stomach aches and “food babies” to fried foods or just poor food combining choices. Even nutrition majors don’t always make the best food choices while in college. Consider me more a foodie scientist.
Common Symptoms of Gluten Intolerance
- Abdominal pain
- Irregular bowel movements, whether constipation or diarrhea
- Bloating and gas
- Low energy, easily tired
- Dull ache in joint areas
- Low blood count
- Frequent headaches or migraines
- Skin conditions such as eczema and dermatitis
Going Against the Grain
In my early twenties, I worked for five years for a Belgium organic bakery in New York City. Looking back, that was a time when I was in peak health. I took Pilates three times a week, dance classes once a week, and ate a moderate diet. One thing that did stand out was most of my bread consumption was from that high quality, traditional European style of baking. They did have an organic white baguette, still not the healthiest, but also organic whole wheat made with sourdough cultures. I believe that is what kept my gut issues at bay all those years. It wasn’t until moving on from the company did my symptoms not only return, but came back with a vengeance.
Not only did I live in a regular state of stomach distress, I was chronically anemic. I began putting numbers on the scale I’ve never reached before, but found myself struggling to take any weight off.
I saw a doctor for a routine check-up and had blood work done. I came out negative for Celiac and instantly brushed bread off as one of the possibilities. An endoscope and ultrasound showed that indeed I had mild fatty liver and gastritis though. I began focusing on a ketogenic diet until the excessive fat intake just didn’t agree with me. I would get chest pains, and swelling in my upper right quadrant. Liver flushes and coffee enemas helped, but I still suffered from migraines, brain fog, and the scale wasn’t moving.
You Might Consider Eliminating Gluten If:
- Anemic or low blood iron
- Bloated and extended abdomen after meals
- Difficulties in losing weight
- Forgetful or “brain fog”
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
If you carry excess weight around the abdomen, it’s generally safe to say you would benefit from fewer grains in the diet. Made mainstream with his book “Wheat Belly,” author William Davis exposes how the commercialization of modern wheat has caused many to have an allergic reaction. Inflaming the small intestines, and gumming up the small villi that play a crucial role in food absorption. Over time this can lead to nutritional deficiencies, other digestive disorders including auto-immune diseases. It’s not just about avoiding symptoms, but the root of the problem.
Unchecked gastro-intestinal problems often lead to disease in other parts of the body. In the holistic realm, experts say that “disease in the body starts in the gut.” If your gastrointestinal tract is out of whack, won’t be long before other body systems start acting up also. Unchecked gut issues can lead to auto-immune disease [where the body begins to attack itself] and damage to the accessory organs such as the liver, kidneys, and pancreas.
I could only imagine how sooner my journey back to health would have been if I had tried to remove gluten out anyways. Thankfully today there are so many alternative flours and options than my college years, and businesses gearing towards more transparent ingredients and improved products. Almond, coconut, and tapioca starch are showing up in commercial baking mixes. Nearly all large chain grocery stores now have designated sections for gluten-free items.
As much as I enjoy the culinary delight of food, more so than even the nutritional science of it all, one must learn to adapt and do what best for their body. The journey has been an adjustment, where the greatest hurdles are dining out or social gatherings. No longer can I just “grab a sandwich on the way” or have a piece of someone’s birthday cake. I still indulge and pay the consequences every now and then, but living in a chronic state of gut inflammation is a gateway to trouble ahead.
Living gluten-free is a way to revisit other grains and starches that we’ve often left behind in previous generations. It’s bread, just made with a different type of flour. It takes a willingness to try new brands or recipes and being creative in the kitchen. You can have your cake and eat it too, minding of course it’s gluten-free. And to my delight, I’ve finally found a niche to explore more of than my previous know-how, so expect more gluten-free ideas from me in the future.