Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ghastly Gluten?

As I mentioned in this post,  I've been having some digestive/ tummy issues and it was suggested that I try to go wheat free.

I managed to stick to it for a week but finding things that are wheat and gluten free is quite difficult, not to mention expensive. Supper times were ok- we just got our carbs from potatoes and rice rather than wheat based foods. But breakfasts, lunches and snacks were tough. I was getting so frustrated and feeling pretty bad for myself- I wanted toast, or cereal or a sandwich but I couldn't. I did make some gluten free bread using rice flour but in all honesty, I didn't care for the taste and the $7 for 1kg of flour was awfully steep.

I began to wonder how I would make this lifestyle change work. To change the whole family's diet to wheat/ gluten free would be drastic, hard and expensive.  The boys love toast, cereal, sandwiches and pasta.  Yes, I can buy these things that would fit into the diet change, but our grocery bill would increase exponentially for less variety of foods.

Then came the other issues I was having and it all became too much. I decided to go back to my "usual" diet while I was waiting for the bowel blockage to get under control.  So, while I was on a couple times daily cocktail of medication to offer relief from the pain and blockage, I allowed myself to eat as I normally would. I realized that I didn't actually consume wheat products that often, but denying myself them just made me want it more and its all I thought about.

Sure, I like to have a bagel or bun or crackers, but not as frequently as it felt when I was feeling left out of the carbohydrate party.

I don't believe that I have a wheat or gluten allergy or intollerance. After doing some research and reading, I think that I (like many other North Americans and Europeans) simply consume too much.

I found this article that was written in plain terms and explained the effects of a diet high in gluten and wheat on our bodies, moods and energy levels.

Here are a few of the main points: (ok, actually I included most of the article because it is all good).

Even if you aren’t diagnosed with celiac’s disease, it’s a good idea to cut down on your gluten intake. I diet high in gluten causes weight gain, digestive issues, as well as many other disorders including nutrient deficiencies.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a gooey protein found in the seeds or grains of wheat, barley, oats, rye, and other grains. It’s estimated that nearly 50 percent of the population is gluten sensitive, and close to 70 percent carries a gene that makes a person vulnerable to developing gluten sensitivity.

Those with gluten sensitivity issues complain of abdominal and bowel problems, fatigue, depression, muscle pain, joint aches, and many other unexplained symptoms. Those with more severe cases can suffer from Celiac’s disease, and gluten has also been linked behavioral and mental disorders.

Gliadin, a glycoprotein found in gluten, could attack the small intestine and cause some serious damage to the villi that absorb nutrients.

This causes an inability to take in vitamins and minerals, and often autoimmune disorders results from lack of nutrients. Celiac’s disease and other forms of gluten intolerance cause headaches, migraines, frequent illness, skin rashes, and bowel symptoms.

Why Shouldn’t We Eat Too Much Gluten?

For millions of years, humans dined on wild game, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds. It wasn’t until the Neolithic period that we began cultivating wheat.

That might seem like eons ago, but it terms of evolution its only a blink of an eye. If you count for the amount of time that our food sources have been pumped with gluten-rich wheat, well it’s even less than a blink.

Our guts did not evolve as fast as our love for wheat-based products and they simply cannot digest and break down gluten into individual amino acids.

It’s estimated that 30 to 50 percent of the US population has a gluten sensitivity. However, if you aren’t diagnosed with gluten intolerance, this doesn’t mean you should grab the nearest box of crackers and chow down.

In the past 3 decades, the number of people with celiac’s disease has quadrupled and environmental toxins as well as our food supply only increase the risk of developing gluten intolerances.

Can Gluten Make Me Gain Weight?

Many people are “addicted” to processed carbohydrates. They flood their systems with high-gluten foods such as donuts, bagels, cookies, cakes, fruit juices, and other high sugar foods that leave them wanting more after their sugar crash.

Gluten results in the production of a substance known as “gluten exorphins”, which works in the body much like a narcotic. The effects of the gluten exorphin on your brain tell you to keep eating high-gluten products, which can contribute to appetite disturbances.

This unexplained craving for gluten-rich foods causes eating to spiral out of control. Many people continue catering to these cravings while treating underlying symptoms caused by gluten intolerances. But they never actually understand the reason for cravings and symptoms. In turn, they end of suffering for years.

The end result is often excessive weight gain along with a host of digestive issues.

Is Going Gluten-Free the Answer?

Switching to a gluten-free diet isn’t necessarily the cure. The market is flooded with “gluten-free” snacks and products that are no better for you than a plain box of cookies. If you aren’t diagnosed with gluten sensitivity, then it isn’t necessary to give up all forms of gluten in your diet.

The key to improving your health is to eat a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables, and nourishing whole foods.

Gluten-Free Products

Your grocer shelves are flooded with gluten-free products, and some function as great alternatives to grain-based products. Just remember that it is still processed food.

Eating gluten-free waffles, cookies, and other packaged snack doesn’t make it any healthier. So choose wisely when it comes to reducing gluten in your diet. Gluten-free breads are a great alternative, but try to stay out of the snack isle.

If you are concerned about gluten sensitivity, consult with your doctor prior to changing your diet and lifestyle.

****The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only.

So, while I do at times display some of the symptoms, I don't believe that they are severe enough to warrant a diagnosis of a sensitivity or allergy. I believe that the solution is moderation.

That is generally my theory on food in general- everything in moderation. I already know this about myself- If I deny myself a specific food, its all I think about and crave. Chocolate, sweets, wheat. It doesn't matter. If I can't have it, I want it that much more.

As a whole, I think I do a fairly good job of feeding my family well. We try to eat balanced meals and choose fruits and veggies and healthy snacks for most of our snacks- with one "sugary" snack allowed per day (fruit snacks, etc). I don't deny myself the licorice or candies that I love, I try to eat just enough to satisfy my sweet tooth and then walk away.

Of course I binge on certain foods sometimes, at certain times of the day or month. We all do. I will be guilty of carb overloading in the future, just as I have in the past.

However, I feel that too many people jump on bandwagons without fully grasping the reasons for and side effects of that decision. I think that my week without wheat allowed my digestive system some time to "detox" from the excess gluten and now I can eat it in small quantities, making sure that I am aware of the amount I am consuming.

I'm not a doctor or even a medical professional. I am simply writing this from my own perspective as it relates to the day to day lives of my family and myself.

Going gluten free is not something that I am eager to do and will avoid unless it becomes necessary. I do believe that way too many foods that we consume have additives (including added gluten) that are only necessary to increase the shelf life of those foods- not for nutritional value and can actually be detrimental to our health in large quantities over time.
After a few weeks of feeling really rotten for various reasons (which all seem to be connected to my bowel), I'm feeling pretty good. And eating a diet that includes wheat.

Its all about choices and making decisions that work for you.



Anonymous said...

I am a believer in food in moderation! Thanx for the info! Kath

Cortney said...


My father in law is one of those people who follows whatever the newest diet fad is and believes it whole heartdly... every year it is something new but most recently he told us that we should not be feeding our kids wheat or any dairy and that this is the cause of all human woes (ADHD, Autism, Cancer, dry skin..seriously the man thinks these two things cause about every condition out there), and that we are poisoning ourselves and our kids. I just smile and nod..and don't tell him that Caleb's diet is high on whole grain bread because it is one of few things he eats without a fight. :)

I think North American diets probably have too much wheat (because we produce so much and it is so cheap), but I always cringe when people just believe something they heard or read in one source and don't really understand. But I am sure gluten free companies love him.. :)

I would love to live in a place where a fruit/veggie diet was affordable, but we are not so lucky. And like you, I do far better if I have an attitude of moderation. I tried a no-carb diet and lasted a week and then binged on enough carbs for a year :)

CanadianMama said...

Someone told me the other day that 95% of people have an intolerance to wheat. Where did they get this number!! It seems like it's the newest fad for sure. I was having some bowel issues a couple of years ago and my doctor tested me for the gluten allergy and then I got an extensive allergy test done using blood work (instead of the normal prick test). Neither came back with concern! I guess I could be in the lone 5th percentile who isn't intolerant but I doubt it. I agree with you - moderation!

Also, so glad you are feeling better and you can eat wheat!!

The Tompkins Family said...

Moderation is the key, unless we're talking about super tasty things...then eat until you feel sick!

Kidding, kind of. I probably do eat too much gluten. I eat sometimes as many as 7 pieces of bread a day, not counting crackers, muffins and other sources of gluten. Kind of sick when you think about it!