Gluten. Is it really that bad? I’ve had some very strange looks at times when I’ve recommended to my patients to go gluten-free. The looks range in severity from mild (“Oh no … I am not sure I can do that”) to full-fledged panic (“What?! Are you crazy, lady?”).
I am not one to talk the talk, without walking the walk. My diet is virtually gluten-free, except for the odd slip-up (and enjoyment) of an occasional hamburger when I am dining out. It has taken me a long time to become 95% gluten-free, but slowly and steadily I have learned to enjoy the taste of healthier food choices and not miss the comfort foods of my youth (pizza, pasta, sandwiches).
The reason I made the switch is simple: I learned what gluten does to my body. I want to share some of this knowledge with you in the hopes that you too may find yourself a tad more motivated to ditch the gluten grains and reach for nourishing foods.
There wasn’t always an upheaval against wheat and gluten. It was historically eaten in a simpler form before being hybridized by the agricultural industry in the latter part of the 20th century. Essentially, genetic engineers were paid a lot of money to come up with a modified form of this grain that would increase crop yield and decrease production costs. Despite drastic changes in the genetic makeup of wheat, no long term safety studies were ever conducted on animals or humans. As with many of the genetically modified organisms on our grocery shelves today, we are the guinea pigs! These are my top reasons for avoiding gluten and wheat-products:
These are my top reasons for avoiding gluten and wheat products:
1. A loaf of whole wheat bread will increase your blood sugar higher than sucrose (table sugar) due to the type of starch it contains. This causes a spike in insulin, a hormone that is extremely efficient at converting carbohydrates into fat storage on the body (especially abdominal fat).
2. Wheat is also an appetite stimulant due to its chemical makeup; those who eat gluten consume an average of 400 excess calories per day compared to those who avoid gluten.
3. Gluten breaks down into polypeptides that cross the blood brain barrier and bind to opiate receptors in the brain - this causes a reaction similar to an endorphin rush that happens during a “runner’s high”. This doesn’t seem too harmful until you look at the addictive nature of wheat: after the high comes the crash, and then, the cravings for more.
4. Gluten is notorious for making a substantially negative impact on mood and behavior, both in children and adults. The following conditions have been linked to gluten-intolerance: ADHD, depression, anxiety, mood swings, autism, mental fog, irritability, and schizophrenia.
5. Gluten creates gut-permeability. Restated: it pokes holes in your digestive tract. It’s a gut-irritant and leads to chronic low-grade inflammation in the small intestinal wall. This causes obnoxious gastrointestinal contents to cross into the blood stream, which ignites the immune system and sets the perfect stage for autoimmune disease and food sensitivities.
6. Other conditions that have been correlated with gluten are: pain and inflammation, arthritis, migraines, hypothyroidism, acne, high blood pressure, and celiac disease, which is a form of gluten allergy.
7. A sensitivity to gluten can lead to skin and mucus membrane reactions such as canker sores, gastritis, eczema and psoriasis.
8. Lastly, I simply feel more motivated and energetic when I avoid the gluten and I hear this from a lot of people I see.
If you’re still not convinced, try a gluten-free diet for a month and see what benefits you have!
Dr. Sacha Elliott is a naturopathic physician and splits her time between practicing in North Vancouver at Canopy Integrated Health and in Squamish at Squamish Therapeutics. She focuses on motivating, educating and empowering her patients to create balance in their physical, mental and emotional health. Dr. Elliott sees and treats a variety of health conditions and has a special interest in women’s health, gastrointestinal disorders, weight management, detoxification, mental/emotional imbalance, stress management, and cancer prevention and treatment. For more information please visit www.drsachaelliott.com.