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Diet Investigation: Gluten Free

We’ve talked a lot about going gluten-free (check the links at the bottom), and I know many of my readers are gluten-free, as is my family. But there is also this thinking out there that it’s some type of “fad” diet, or that people only do it to try to lose weight, or that it’s because their favorite celebrity is doing it.gluten free diet

It’s in the news so much it does cause people to wonder. I mean…..the low-fat diet was in the news all the time, then low-carb. How do we really know that going gluten-free is the right thing for our bodies? How do we know that food manufacturers, who are now making gluten-free foods, have our best interests at heart? Does cousin Sally’s, dentist’s, aunt really know what she’s talking about when she recommends to go gluten-free?

And why is gluten so bad anyways?

The basics of a gluten-free diet are this:

  • You cut out every tiny portion of wheat, rye, spelt, barley, and any other grain containing gluten.
  • Some people even have to go as far as cutting out foods that have been processed near wheat and gluten.
  • Beauty products may need to be changed as some contain gluten.
  • Your life is now over since you can not eat bread.

Alright, so the last one is a stretch, though many people feel this way when they are told they have to go gluten-free.

The thing is, for some people, cutting out gluten can save their life. There are no if, ands, or butts about it.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat (even in the white flour) that gets through the gut lining. It destroys the villi in the intestines and in classic celiac, it causes obscene amounts of intestinal issues among other things. In “silent” celiac, the digestive system may remain mostly normal while the gluten permeates the gut lining and begins attaching to other parts of the body. The body’s immune system then goes on defense attacking the gluten as the foreign invader it is. The problem is, the body also attacks the organs where this protein sets up camp. It also begins attacking the body’s own proteins that are similar to gluten in structure. One of these is the thyroid.

Other signs of silent celiac (organs that the body is damaging – also known as auto-immune) can include arthritis, nerve problems and disease of the nerves, type one diabetes, infertility, multiple miscarriage, and lupus. Even mental illness has a strong link to gluten.

There are many, many people out there that shouldn’t be eating gluten and they are. Some even have been told by their doctors that they don’t need to go gluten-free because tests show that they are only “borderline celiac”.

So how do you know if you have to go gluten-free? Should you even go gluten-free if you don’t think your intolerant to it?

Because undiagnosed gluten intolerance and celiac are so rampant, and the fact that it has such close ties to infertility and multiple miscarriage, I do recommend that people should at least go gluten-free for a month to see how their body reacts. Testing would be so much easier, but unfortunately there really aren’t any tests that are 100% accurate until the gluten has completely damaged the villi. A one month test, staying away from gluten of any kind, is long enough to see if you have reactions as you abstain from eating it (many people get headaches and body aches). After one month you’ll also be able to tell if you physically feel better – some people have been in a “gluten fog” for so long that they don’t even remember what feeling good feels like!

After a month, you eat gluten for one day. If you get sick, get a headache, have intestinal distress, etc – you’re sensitive to gluten. Or if you’re symptoms go away during the month and begin to come back as you add gluten in your diet again – you’re sensitive to gluten.

 

The Pros of Gluten Free Diet:

  • You are cutting out the one ingredient that could be causing a host of your health issues.
  • It also helps people get out of the rut of “bread for each meal”. You can expand your use of other grains (rice, oats, etc) and try many new versions of foods. I love this about being gluten-free! There are so many foods my family eats now, all because we had to give up our “crutch”.

 

The Cons to a Gluten Free Diet:

  • Like I mentioned before, food manufacturers want in on the latest and greatest thing. People see “gluten-free” on a box and they grab it thinking that it must be healthy. Right? Not so. The processed foods are often very high in sugar and white starches, along with other additives to try to give it the texture of wheat.
  • It can also be a bit more expensive when you first transition. While you don’t need to buy the pricier gluten-free flours, it is nice to have on hand sometimes for a family treat.
  • It’s also very overwhelming! Having to read every label and figure out what food is naturally gluten-free and which ones you need replacements for is enough to make anyone run and hide.

gluten free diet

My Thoughts

Eating a gluten-free diet (as long as you stay away from the mass amounts of processed gluten-free foods) is a diet that everyone can follow, but not everyone has to. It’s not a fad diet. But it is also not a diet that’s going to change your health for the worse.

At some point, I also think everyone owes it to themselves to figure out, by method of elimination diet, how their own body reacts to gluten and wheat. Especially people with relatives that suffer from auto-immune diseases (there is a much stronger link if you have a family member with auto-immune issues). If you find you have a sensitivity to it, cut it out of your diet completely.

Our family is currently gluten-free, due to my husband’s gluten intolerance (which we found through an elimination diet). I don’t seem to have any problem with it as I’ve gone months and months without any. I’ve eaten a few times over the last two years and it never seems to have an adverse affect. I’m actually looking at buying some sprouted spelt flour (no reason to sprout and grind my own – I have no grinder and it wouldn’t be cost-effective for me to buy one) to make sourdough bread once or twice a month for those of us in the family that can eat it.

 

Other posts in this series:

Diet Investigation: Standard American Diet

Diet Investigation: Nourishing Traditions Type Diet

Diet Investigation: Vegetarian Diet

Diet Investigation: Primal/Paleo Diet

Diet Investigation: Gluten Free

 

You can also check out all the posts from the week we focused on wheat and gluten:

The Silent Cause to Poor Health – a podcast with Dr. Tom O’Bryan – an expert on gluten and infertility (awesome listen!!)

The Transition to Gluten Free – a guest post by Kat from SCDKat.com

Gluten Free Easily – a guest post from Shirley of GFE

Gluten Free Beauty – a guest post by Kristen of Gluten Free Beauty

Gluten, Grains, and Children with Developmental Issues – guest post by Cara or Health, Home, Happiness

and the 4 part Gluten Free Panel: part one, part two, part three, part four (a Q and A with other people who eat gluten-free)

 

This post is linked to : Real Food Wednesday

Donielle Baker

Donielle Baker

owner and editor of Natural Fertility and Wellness at Natural Fertility and Wellness
Donielle is an author, amateur herbalist, lover of real food, and an advocate for natural health. She has a passion for nourishing nutrition, natural living, and spreading the word on how food truly affects our health, so much so that she is currently taking courses to become a master herbalist. Her personal background includes both infertility and miscarriage and she began this blog in order to share all of the information she found helpful in her journey to healing.
Donielle Baker
Donielle Baker
Donielle Baker
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Comments

  1. This is a great post! I too feel like gluten free seems to be a “fad” with celebrities these days instead of it being seen as what it is…a diet that can have serious impacts on your health. I’m glad you pointed out the pitfalls of processed foods. It’s crazy how quickly manufacturers try to inundate people with garbage. Just because something is gluten free does not mean you should eat it. I’m just coming off GAPS, so I’ve been totally grain free for some time. Oddly enough so far I’m finding that I do ok with wheat (as far as I can tell…I guess only time will tell for sure)…but not so well with things like potatoes, corn, rice and oats (the gluten free basics). Strange.

    • @Mary @ Homemade Dutch Apple Pie, I am the same way with wheat. I am fine with wheat but especially not fine with potatoes and corn, my suspicion is the sugar as I am insulin resistant.

      • @Jessica K, Interesting thought! Diabetes is very prevalent in my family. So I’m sure I have a degree of blood sugar/insulin issues. I just can’t seem to handle the super starchy stuff. I ate corn chowder (with corn and potatoes) the last 2 days…I felt like my belly bloated up like a balloon. And I was so impatient/moody yesterday. I am also learning just how much sugar impacts me. I’m trying very hard to only have honey. I definitely avoid refined sweeteners. But sometimes I eat a little maple syrup or cane sugar. Even those aren’t good for me, though, I know. Sugar is evil :P

  2. “I don’t seem to have any problem with it as I’ve gone months and months without any. I’ve eaten a few times over the last two years and it never seems to have an adverse affect. ”

    I thought the same thing too. But then I realized when I cheat, I have anger or quick temper issues the next day. I am normally a person who is “even keel” but now I’m even more “even keel” off the gluten. I didn’t realize being agitated was related to the gluten until we did the elimination diet. I have an older sister who has had celiac for 10 years. Back then the dr’s told her you have celiac and sent her home without any more info. I’m glad today there is more info on the web about it.

  3. This is so nice to have the pros, cons and facts of being gluten-free outlined in one place. Thank you! I’ve been researching celiac and a gluten-free diet, because I’ve wondered if gluten might be adversely affecting my daughter. My sister has also been experimenting with a gluten-free diet to see if it will help eliminate some problems she has suffered. I’ll refer her to this article. Thanks so much!

  4. If you have any interest in gluten free, please read the book: “Wheat Belly”. You will be convinced by the facts that we do NOT need to be eating wheat. I have reduced our wheat intake by 95% and my husband and I have lost weight and felt more energy. When we do indulge in it too much we both find that our joints are stiff and hurt. Read the book to understand more- it’s fascinating!!

    • donielle says:

      @Alyssa, That one is on my to-read list. I definitely don’t think anyone “has” to eat wheat to be healthy, we’ve gone without it for a couple years now and are doing just fine! :-) My husband definitely feels better – I notice not one lick of difference. Not in weight, in mood, in energy….. but I still remain gluten free 99% of the year. I think a lot of times when we cut something out of our diet that had become such a HUGE part of it (we ate some type of flour product with every meal!) we can start eating better. I know we eat a tone more veggies now, and I think that can really help people to feel better.

  5. i agree about people assuming something is healthy just because it says “gluten free”. some people know just enough to THINK they are making healthy choices when they really aren’t. i used to work with kids with autism, lots of them were on gluten free casein free diets, but they were still eating lots of fruit snacks and jelly beans and such.

    another thing many people dont realize is that you are are truly gluten intolerant, skipping one meal with gluten wont help. you need to go for weeks or months to see a difference.

  6. Donielle,
    I did a began a detox program through my N.D. three weeks ago. Through adding some foods back in, I’m going back to gluten and dairy free for 3 weeks now. Then, I’m going to add one food back in and see how I feel. I’m pretty positive I’m gluten sensitive just based on how great I have felt up until I had bread with my eggs this past Sunday. It is definitely overwhelming and a shift in thinking. Eating whole foods and new foods is definitely what is keeping me going. I can’t imagine how much more overwhelming it would be if we were still 100% on the SAD. I wonder now how much gluten played into my fertility issues getting pregnant with our little man. Amazing how much gluten can affect in our bodies!

  7. Perfect timing! We’ve been experimenting with diets around here, too. One thing I didn’t see anyone mention is that sometimes a Candida yeast overgrowth seems to either cause gluten intolerance or at least mimic it. My husband has been struggling with eczema for over a year, and one day he hit the breaking point and started researching his symptoms. He came up with gluten intolerance, so we cut it out. It helped, but not enough. He was still reacting to something. After more searching, he found that many of his symptoms lined up with with candidiasis (sp?). So we also cut out most corn and all forms of sugar (including fruit). That has helped tremendously! He definitely notices a recurrence of symptoms if he eats sugar (although he does seem to tolerate lightly sweetened organic storebought yogurt). So if you cut gluten out and it doesn’t help, don’t assume that diet wasn’t the issue! :) Thanks for all your helpful posts!

    • donielle says:

      @Diana, I dealt with eczema due to yeast issues for almost 2 years after my daughter was born! I finally had to get really strict with myself and cut out all sugar and fruit too. Going full “primal” really helped as it cuts out all the really starchy foods too. After a couple of months it was gone although I really had to watch my sugar intake really closely. Now the sugar doesn’t make it flare up anymore so I can indulge again every once in awhile and I don’t have to worry about my fruit intake. :-)

      • @donielle, Interesting! We’ve been doing pretty much primal during the week, I think–mostly meat and veggies–and allowing a little more leeway on the weekends for sanity’s sake :) And he’s also taking a strong probiotic supplement. He’s doing so much better!

  8. I appreciate this post and all the great info! While I have been gluten-free since last Sept for digestive reasons, I recognized the mental component of gluten consumption when I helped “eat up” the offending foods in preparation for my son’s gluten/casein-free diet trial…
    My husband has had a hard time adjusting and since he really has no signs of gluten sensitivity, he made the decision to eat gluten-free at home (since I will not make or buy it) and eat normally outside of the house. We will eventually introduce raw milk, but want to give our bodies a bit of time to heal (although the man of the house is pushing for the herdshare now!).

  9. This is the most well written explanation of gluten free diets that I’ve read. As you know, it helps me immensely to be gluten free, even though I’m not celiac. And I agree about now going overboard with the processed gluten-free foods out there, although they’re great for a special treat.

  10. spelt flour? the first paragraph says spelt has gluten!…what gives?…

  11. well, maybe not the first but…it definitely says SPELT is out.

    • donielle says:

      @anna, Yes, spelt flour contains gluten. It’s a form of wheat, and while it has less gluten due to not being as modified as our “normal” wheat, it’s still the same thing. Some people can tolerate spelt better than wheat, but if you have a gluten intolerance it will still cause the body damage.

  12. I’ve had serious problems cutting wheat out of my diet, let alone gluten (and dairy and sugar). I have all kinds of problems with it, but I’m also a supertaster. I literally *cannot* eat 99% of vegetables. They’ve made me throw up in the past, and still make me powerfully nauseous. The only things I can stand have homogenous textures and simple flavors, a group composed mostly of foods I can’t eat. I used to love food so much (not even cheap, processed stuff– good food) but now I have to force myself to eat at all. For a long time I ate like one meal a day before someone pointed out how unhealthy that is.

    I don’t know what to do. People tell me to “explore new foods,” like that’s something I haven’t tried, or like it’s something that’s easy. I’m not even twenty yet and I *do* feel like my life is over. I don’t want to eat. I don’t care enough to cook anything. I live off food I can barely eat and get zero joy out of. It’s amazing what a detrimental effect this has on my quality of life. All the energy I’m getting back physically is being sapped from me psychologically. I exercise regularly and try to focus on other things, writing and friends and such, but no dice. I’m honestly starting to wonder if it’s worth it.

    Please, if you have any advice, I’d be very grateful.

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