Gluten: Friend or Foe?

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gluten friend or foe

Gluten.

Talk about a scary word!

A word driving panic into the hearts of millions, leaving people flocking to the hundreds of new gluten-free products popping up daily on grocery store shelves.

Even Domino’s Pizza has a gluten-free pizza. Gluten may be the least of your worries.

I’ve been asked my thoughts on gluten, so today I am sharing.

What is gluten?

Gluten is a naturally occurring protein found in grains. Gluten is literally the glue giving dough its elasticity, helping it rise and maintain shape. It also provides a chewy texture to baked goods. Gluten is found in all grains, but prolamins (proteins) found in rice and corn gluten are different than the prolamins in wheat, barley, and rye.  Making the first more tolerable to some than the latter.

What’s the big deal with gluten?

It’s estimated as little as 1% (upward to 6%) of the population suffer from health issues as a result of eating gluten containing grains. These can include:  gluten allergy, gluten intolerance, gluten sensitivity, and celiac disease. People with gluten troubles often complain about stomach pain, heartburn, brain fog, headaches, skin rashes, and fatigue.

The sudden rise in gluten sensitives is often blamed on eating lots of wheat. Wheat that has been modernized, a hybrid due to cross breeding, containing a new protein called gliadin. While the wheat we consume today may not be the same wheat (or variety) found in Biblical days, humans have been cross-breeding plants successfully for thousands of years without the complaints of sensitives heard today.

Most people today don’t eat true, pure whole grains. For years our culture has consumed nothing more than wheat products stripped of all good vitamins and minerals: white flour. As a result of stripping white flour of all that is good, producers fortify this flour by adding synthetic vitamins which can prove to be dangerous.

Along with consuming large amounts of white flour (fancy names include “wheat bread” or “multi-grain”) void of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, this wheat is not properly prepared for digestion.

Along with a rise in white flour (stripped wheat) consumption, diets today are also void of fermented and probiotic foods, such as: yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, and kim chi. Food and drink, prepared and consumed by traditional societies, to help restore the good flora (bacteria) found in the gut.  Without good gut flora one will experience many of the symptoms assigned to gluten sensitivities.

Another factor,  antibiotics. Antibiotics can be found in our food supply due to sick animals eating less than ideal food in less than ideal conditions (meat, dairy, and eggs). Antibiotics are also carelessly prescribed by many doctors for any little cut or sickness. Antibiotics create havoc in the gut leaving it defenseless and therefore more irritable.

Processed food consumption has also been on the rise in this country over the last 40 years making up for nearly 70% of the American diet. With nearly 5,000 additives found in processed “food”. Leaving products that appear like food but are nothing more than scientific concoctions created in labs. Over 5,000 substances unknown to the human body.

From diets lacking good bacteria providing good gut flora to food drowning in antibiotics to the majority of our diets being consumed in fake food-like substances, I believe the modern day gut is at war, and gluten is far from the true enemy.

gluten-friend-or-foe

Is Going Gluten-Free Healthy?

I believe going gluten-free can be a healthy choice. For someone with (around 1% of the population) true celiac disease a gluten-free lifestyle can be the difference between life and death, literally. For others going gluten-free, can be a healing stage along with eliminating other foods and focusing on certain healing food and drink. This is a temporary elimination as seen with GAPS or The Maker’s Diet.

But what about the rest of us, the other 90% of us?

Companies would like consumers to believe that gluten-free is the way to go, but is it?

I personally believe going gluten-free IS NOT a healthy choice for the rest of us. Typically, when one experiences gluten symptoms and assumes a gluten-free lifestyle a person substitutes their store-bought “wheat” bread for a gluten-free variety.

Healthy?

No!

While many breads and other products may be gluten-free, they generally contains many other ingredients which cause alarm. Take a look at the ingredients in a very popular gluten-free bread:

UDI’S BEST BLEND (TAPIOCA & POTATO STARCH, BROWN RICE FLOUR, MODIFIED TAPIOCA STARCH), WATER, NON-GMO VEGETABLE OIL (CANOLA OR SUNFLOWER OR SAFFLOWER), EGG WHITES, TAPIOCA MALTODEXTRIN, EVAPORATED CANE JUICE, TAPIOCA SYRUP, YEAST, XANTHAN GUM, SALT, BAKING POWDER (SODIUM ACID PYROPHOSPHATE, SODIUM BICARBONATE, CORN STARCH, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE), CULTURED CORN SYRUP SOLIDS (NATURAL MOLD INHIBITOR), ENZYMES.

I’ll take my three-ingredient sourdough bread made with gluten containing organic whole wheat or Einkorn over a gluten-free bread containing a laundry list of questionable ingredients.

A person who truly must eat gluten-free (the 1%) must learn to cook from scratch, not just trade out processed food for more processed food. Such a choice doesn’t heal, it causes more problems.

biscuits

Consuming Gluten the Healthy Way:

Whole grains are healthy. Whole grains provide the body with vitamins E and B as well as many important minerals.

Our family eats whole grains and therefore we consume gluten.

Before turning to real and traditional foods, I experienced, daily, stomach issues (and let’s get personal) bowel issues too. Instead of taking gluten out of my diet, I added good flora to my sick gut.  Treating a problem, not just putting a band-aid on it. I started consuming fermented and probiotic foods, consuming healing broth, drinking raw milk,  stopped consuming conventional foods with antibiotics, and properly prepared grains.

What’s this properly preparing grains talk?

Phosphorous in the bran of whole grains is tied up in a substance called phytic acid. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, and zinc in the intestinal tract, blocking absorption. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Traditional societies usually soak or ferment their grains before eating them, processes that neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors, and, in effect, predigest grains so all the nutrients are available. Sprouting, overnight soaking, and old-fashioned sour leavening can accomplish this important predigestion process in our own kitchens. Many people who are allergic to grains will tolerate them well when prepared according to these procedures. Nourishing Traditions

I try to soak most of the grains (flour) used for baking (muffins, waffles, pancakes, breads). There are times this isn’t possible. For such times, I keep a small stash of sprouted flour or Einkorn flour on hand. I also purchase my wheat through a small company I trust, wheat that is organic and GMO-free.

I also love experimenting with many gluten-free flours (almond and coconut flour are the two I use). We don’t consume a lot of these gluten alternatives, however, we often enough a treat like Almond Flour Banana Bread for breakfast.

I no longer have the stomach and bowel issues I once had. Today, I have a happy gut and a happy tummy, nourished with properly prepared whole grains, part of a diet rich in real and traditional foods.

I believe gluten (found in organic whole grains) is a friend, to most people, when prepared properly and fed to a body and gut that are happy and properly functioning.

Bring on the sourdough and butter.

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22 Comments

  • Bravo, Kristin! As you know I do have 2 celiac children so there is merit for going GF if you have TRUE celiac disease…yes it is a matter of life and death. A few things I’m glad you pointed out….gluten is found in ALL grains. GF counter parts (bread and the like) are generally just starch and sugar, not a healthy choice unless of course you are making your own without all the starches and sugar…it can be done I’m working on a gluten free sourdough bread and pancake recipe using only grains no starches, I’ve been tweaking it for months.

    Gluten Free doesn’t = healthy. I personally feel much better eating a true whole wheat sourdough bread than a gluten free version. And those Udi’s ‘cinnamon rolls’ are not tasty or moist!! Trust. me.

  • I agree with not substituting for gluten free products, many of them are made terribly to try and immitate wheat bread etc. I have every sympton you listed for gluten intolerance, and my kids to, we eliminated gluten from our diet completely about 6 months ago. From scratch is best when gluten free 🙂 Everyone always asks what we do for bread, and we just don’t do bread anymore, or it’s a treat like at Red Robin or something. I think the percent of people who have gluten intolerance is much higher though, I’ve talked many people with gluten symptoms over the last 6 months or so into trying gluten free, and many people stick with it bc it has made a significant difference in their health. Gluten free diet is an awesome thing if you need it, but I’d totally be eating a sandwich on some kind of awesome bread right now if I could lol.

    • I agree, I think the number of people with those symptoms is much higher. Seems like every person I meet expresses some of those symptoms, if not all. I believe for the majority of people these symptoms have more to do with gut issues which need healing vs. the gluten in whole grains when properly prepared. Like you said, some people truly have an issue with gluten even after attempting to properly prepare grains and taking measures to heal the gut through healing foods such as fermented foods and bone broths. This number is much smaller though. Sounds like you are approaching gluten-free in a proper way, by including real, nourishing, healing foods vs. processed substitutes.

      • Yeah, we eat a whole foods gluten free diet with a little bit of organic pasta and gluten free crackers. I can’t even put on lipgloss without having a reaction, almost immediately lethargic (among other things), it’s crazy. I always know to what it’s from bc everything I eat and put on my body I keep consistent, so when I have a reaction I can go straight to the foreign source and check it out.. Last time it was a tube of Blistex – the new gold ones are made with wheat. I borrowed it from my husband while we were at the spray park and nearly fell asleep. We left early and I slept from 6pm until morning, and I still didnt want to wake up. I get no pains though, my – my 3yr old does, she screams like she is on fire when she has it, it’s crazy.

        • Oh and I totally agree with you, don’t eat gluten free unless you have to. I don’t know why anyone would jump on this wagon if they didn’t have to lol.

  • Just found your blog from Let’s Mingle Monday & had to weigh in. I think we’re only starting to understand the millions of different ways that food can affect our bodies. For years I struggled with chronic inflammation (tendonitis, bursitis, unexplained joint paint in my hands, hips, back, neck). Doctors ran all sorts of tests, for celiac, for RA, for Lupus, and nothing came back positive. I won’t bore you with the details, but this all changed when I went gluten free, so I think we’re still a long way away from truly understanding food sensitivities and intolerance.

    I DO agree with you that eating whole food is best! I don’t substitute gluten free for non-gluten free, except for the occasional made-at-home baked good and some pasta one every week or two. I agree that eating processed garbage is probably the biggest reason why people feel unhealthy and going gluten free & continuing to eat garbage (just expensive gluten free garbage now) can’t possibly make you feel better.

    I do think we shouldn’t vilify people who truly feel healthier when they cut some foods out of their diet. I think we should instead focus on vilifying the processed garbage that companies tell us is okay to feed ourselves & our kids and then focus on eating wholesome whole foods, and really listening to our bodies – eating more of what makes us feel healthy, and eliminating that which makes us feel ill.

    Sarah

  • We just started a trial gf diet a week ago. My son has a very hard time focusing in school and at home, its almost impossible for him to complete a task without being told 6 times or do a page of math problems without me sitting there telling him to focus, even then it takes 30 minutes. I know part of it is being a young boy but he struggles more than all of his friends with it. I will try anything and everything to help him without medication. I have noticed digestive issues in myself getting worse this year with bloating, gas, actual pain, constipation, etc. and one week in I feel sooo much better. After day I I noticed no pain. I have taken good quality (garden of life and new chapter) probiotics for about 4 years so its not that. I think while gf bread has questionable ingredients there are good alternatives in coconut and almond flour that are heathy. If I don’t see improvements for my family I will bring back properly prepared wheat for us, maybe not myself depending how I feel.

    • Thank you for sharing. That is wonderful. I think many people find healing and help through going gluten free, even if just a temporary season of healing the gut along with combining other healing foods like probiotics from good food sources and healing bone broths. Probiotics from the store can be good. I really believe food and drinks like kefir, kombucha, and fermented foods are the best sources for good bacteria when it comes to healing our guts.

  • Thanks for this great article. Where do you buy your GMO free flour? I have been looking for some. Regular flour makes me ill even when it is homemade.

  • Easy for you stay at home moms to say, “oh, just make it from gf breads from scratch”. Mothers that work dont have that luxury!

    • I don’t have a lot of time to make homemade bread so often resort to quick breads that can be made ahead of time (you can make many gluten free like my banana bread) and then freeze for easy and quick eating throughout a busy week. I work 30 hours at an outside job within the walls of my home, on top of blogging, and being a mom, so I would love to hear any other tips you have for moms who work outside the home and are nourishing their family’s with good, real food. 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kritsin. As someone who has severe gluten sensitivity, it surprises many people to learn that I agree that not everyone needs to be GF. In fact, I wrote a post about this and stressed the importance of really making sure you need to be GF, since it’s not a decision to be taken lightly.

    For those who suspect gluten is an issue, it’s vital to seek the help of a trusted healthcare practitioner who can help you. It’s very important to know whether you have Celiac disease or not, because when it comes to Celiac, the issue of cross contamination is a serious one since the tiniest amounts of gluten can cause severe damage to the GI tract/body. In addition, there are other chronic GI conditions, such as Crohn’s, which can be helped immensely by a gluten-free/grain-free lifestyle.

    Another important thing I want to point out is that for those of us who test negative for Celiac, but have severe reactions to gluten, there is a category known as “Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity” and it may impact as many as 10% of the population. For individuals with NCGS, it is necessary to avoid gluten in order to alleviate serious symptoms. So again, working with a healthcare practitioner you trust is so vitally important in order to help you determine if you have a serious health issue such as Celiac or other chronic condition.

    Again, like you, Kristin, I do not believe that everyone should be gluten-free unless it is truly a necessity. It’s a very restrictive lifestyle and it does require paying special attention to ensuring a well balanced diet so that you receive adequate nutrients. And as you mentioned, there can be the same processed food reliance habit with a GF diet as with a whole grain one. I find this especially problematic for many who simply make the switch to a GF diet without much time invested into making sure they understand the diet and how best to ensure good nutrition.

    Which leads me to my last point, I completely agree with you about the importance of making your own REAL FOOD staples, especially if you’re gluten-free. A heavy reliance on processed GF foods, in particular, is a very nutrient poor diet since the GF packaged foods are primarily starch-laden and many contain GMO ingredients as well as other unwanted and unhealthy ingredients, as shown in the Udi’s bread example above. And heavy amounts of starches in the diet is not conducive to good GI health, so that’s why I only use grain-free flours such as blanched almond flour and coconut for my gluten-free baking.

    Apologies for being SO long winded here. I am just so very passionate about helping those who need to be gluten-free to eat a healthy, well balanced diet so they can heal and better serve their families and the Lord with joy! Thanks again for a great article, sweet friend!!

    • So well said, Kelly. Thank you so much for writing. I hope people who are struggling with gluten sensitivity read your post and find encouragement. I find so many friends and readers hear, “gluten-free” and think it must be the new healthy. This often results in a switch to so many processed gluten-free foods. I love what you wrote above. It’s so, so true! No matter how you eat, it’s vital to get out of the packages and boxes and return to our kitchens. Here’s your article, I wanted to make sure I link to it, so others wondering if this is a move they should make can read: http://thenourishinghome.com/2014/01/should-everyone-go-gf/

  • My mother and son have celiac disease and I am gluten sensitive, so we avoid gluten from wheat, rye, and barley. But think about it-really, if 75% of what we eat should be veggies and fruit, how much bread, pasta, rice, etc, do we need??
    With that being said, I do agree that it does take more time to make bread “from scratch,” but not so much more that busy folks can’t do it. I work outside the home and am involved in many activities that keep us on the go. However with a bit of planning I have been able to make whole grain, GF bread, tortillas, muffins, etc for the last two years. Mixing the bread takes about 10 minutes, and you can do other things while it raises and bakes (about another 2 hours.).
    I once heard someone say “Where there’s interest, there’s energy.” That is so true when it comes to eating healthy, which I believe, to a great deal, involves cooking.

  • Thank you for sharing your insights regarding gluten. I found it very interesting.

    You mentioned a recipe for three-ingredient sourdough bread. I searched your site and couldn’t find it. Would you be willing to share/link it?

    Thanks again!

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