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Gluten Free. Is that for me?
By Megan Magill
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Why is it a bad thing?
Gluten is not inherently bad. Traditionally grown and harvested, heirloom varieties of gluten containing grains are extremely beneficial for your health and are a great part of a balanced diet.
However, within the last 80 years or so, we have genetically modified wheat, barley, and rye grains to increase the gluten protein strand. The reason for genetically modifying these grains and more than doubling the gluten strand is to increase the yield, durability, and shelf life of the grain. But now, the gluten strand is so large that our bodies cannot adapt to this change in such a short period of time. Our focus on producing quantity over quality is showing to have long-term negative effects on our health.
Traditionally, grains were soaked overnight or fermented before they were cooked and then eaten. This process helped to break down the grains and allowed them to be more easily digestible. Today we skip that step because it takes too much time.
One other thing we don’t have the time for is chewing. I know you were told to “chew your food” as a child but chewing food is imperative to proper digestion. Grains and carbohydrates begin the digestion process in the mouth with maceration and combination with saliva. If this step is brief or skipped, the next place the carbohydrates have to break down is in the small intestines. If you swallow whole pieces of food, this puts immense strain on your digestive system.
Because gluten is larger than it has ever been, it is even more imperative that we use traditional methods when preparing these grains while take the time to properly chew our food.
What effect is gluten having on your health right now?
70% of your digestive system is "your gut" aka your small and large intestines.
The walls of your gut are lined with millions of microvilli. Villi are little microscopic fingers responsible for absorbing all the nutrients your body digests. The finger shape increases the surface area in which nutrients can be absorbed.
When gluten is introduced to your system, it acts like a rubber paste or glue in your gut. Its sticky nature coats all the villi and forces them to lay flat. With flattened villi, nutrients pass through your system without being properly absorbed. So if you are eating a healthy diet, gluten can actually be robbing you of the nutrients!
Unless you have experimented in removing gluten from your diet, you might not know how it is affecting you. If you are intolerant to gluten, you might experience an uncomfortable stomachache when you reintroduce it. But those who have Celiac disease are effected on a much more serious level. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease which means your body attacks itself in an effort to get rid of a foreign invader. Autoimmune diseases can be cured through food and lifestyle changes but if you have celiac disease the first step is to completely eliminate gluten from your diet.
How to go GF?
I usually recommend for all of my clients to eliminate gluten from their diet when they are trying to heal any sort of ailment or disease. It usually takes 2 weeks for gluten to leave your system (remember it’s a thick sticky substance) and then an additional week for your body to repair and adapt to the new gut environment. After 3 weeks you will see and feel a big difference. Most people say they feel cleaner and lighter inside.
To make this transition as easy as possible take note of some of the gluten-containing foods that you eat on a daily basis: bagel, cereal, bread, pasta, beer, etc. Then, focus on what you can eat that is naturally gluten free: potatoes, rice, oats*, corn, quinoa, amaranth, wine, etc.
*Oats are naturally gluten free but are usually processed in wheat plants so it’s important to make sure you eat oats free of gluten.
Then, brainstorm ways you can put this plan into action. For example: rather than eating cereal or a bagel for breakfast, have a smoothie, eggs, or porridge. Instead of a sandwich for lunch, have a stew, salad, or rice with vegetables and meat, etc. This will also help you diversify the nutrients in your diet which is vital to your health!
With any food elimination, it is important to stay ahead of your hunger to reduce cravings. Snacking on healthy food throughout the day and having meals prepared ahead of time can really help.
And one tempting thing I would love for you to avoid these 3 weeks are GF packaged products: pastas, bread, cookies, crackers, etc. Even though many of these products are organic, they are still "packaged foods" and contain high levels of sugar and are highly processed.
After 3 weeks of this gluten elimination, your cravings will have subsided and you may experience great side effects like more energy, less bloat, less joint pain and headaches, deeper sleep, and notice that you feel lighter!
And remember not to focus on just what you can’t eat but what you can eat. Eating a variety of whole foods that are in season and come from the earth is the best thing you can do for vibrant health.
Megan McGill is a Certified Natural Foods Chef and Holistic Health Coach who is a firm believer in food’s amazing ability to heal. As a new Houston resident, she is excited to share her passion for finding health and healing through the right combination of organic, local, seasonal food specifically tailored to your condition. To contact her or to learn more go to her website.