Answers to Your Questions About Gluten (and Grains in General)

Whether or not to avoid is a topic that’s getting a LOT of attention lately, as you’ve probably noticed. I know you see the gluten free craze all over the place and you’re probably wondering what it’s all about, and if it’s something that applies to you.

In this post, I will try to clear up some confusion that you may have and hopefully you’ll be able to better determine whether the gluten free trend really is a trend at all or if it applies to you.

WHAT IS GLUTEN?

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Simply put, gluten is a protein found in wheat. And that means it’s in SO much food that many people consume on a daily basis: bread, pastas, crackers, desserts like cakes and cookies, cereals, and often even sauces and spices.

Some people have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, which is an autoimmune disease in which the consumption of gluten can damage the small intestine, causing a lot of awful symptoms and distress to the individual. You can have a test to see if you have celiac, just ask your doctor.

If you do have Celiac, there are SO many resources, tips, and recipes out there to help you navigate the gluten free life.

BUT now to the real question! What if you get the test and you DON’T have Celiac Disease? Let’s talk about that.

Even if you test negative for Celiac Disease, it’s possible that you still may be sensitive or intolerant to gluten.

This is where you really should do some investigating, self-reflection, and listening to your body. There isn’t a blood test to give you a black and white answer. A great way to determine whether or not this is the case is to do a Whole30 or Elimination style diet. (I really recommend everyone who has a heartbeat do one of these at one point in order to really get to know their body and how different foods affect them.) This is where you consume a strict diet for a specified amount of time, and then slowly, carefully, and one at a time reintroduce the things that you’ve eliminated. Evaluate how you feel over the next 24-48 hours and you will know how that specific food makes you feel. Some symptoms to look for when reintroducing gluten (or any food) are bloating, fatigue, rash or skin irritation, diarrhea, constipation, irritability or mood changes, and more, but this is a good start.

If you want a simpler and faster option, you can also perform the Coca’s Pulse test. This is where you place the food that you’re testing in your mouth for 30 seconds and determine if you have a sensitivity by whether or not your pulse goes up. Click here for more detailed instructions.

Many more people have an intolerance to gluten than you would expect. I had a client that did an elimination protocol for 30 days and had stomach pain like you wouldn’t believe after reintroducing gluten, when she had no idea beforehand that this was the case.

Similar to those with celiac disease, if an individual has a sensitivity or intolerance to gluten, consumption of gluten may be triggering an immune reaction and leading to intestinal damage. You can read more about that here.

WHAT ABOUT OTHER GRAINS?

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You should know that not all grains contain gluten. Many ancient grains such as amaranth, millet, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, and more are naturally gluten free.

Many people historically and even in today’s world consider grains (bread in particular) to be the staff of life. How can we live in a world without bread??? For the record, I am a huge bread lover. It’s the ultimate comfort food in my humble opinion.

BUT! Just because grains are delicious and have been found in nature forever, does that mean they are good for our bodies and beneficial to our health? Let’s discuss it!

According to the USDA My Plate recommendations, “Eating grains, especially whole grains, provides health benefits. People who eat whole grains as part of a healthy diet have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Grains provide many nutrients that are vital for the health and maintenance of our bodies.”

If you do a little bit of research though, it’s not difficult to argue this point. Cochrane is an unbiased scientific research group that did multiple studies regarding whole grains, and determined that there is no convincing evidence that grains improve health. 

The USDA used to advise 6-11 servings of grains per day. Now they recommend whole grains at every meal, but it turns out there is no evidence to back this up.

It is true that properly prepared whole grains do carry nutrients beneficial to our health, but in their whole form, they also contain constituents that disrupt our digestion and make the nutrients less available to our bodies when we consume them. The truth is that grains don’t have anything in them that we can’t get from MORE nutrient dense foods like fruits and vegetables. For example, it’s a common belief that we can only get the fiber that our bodies need from whole grains! This is simply not true. We can get more than enough fiber from fruits and vegetables, while also consuming an overall more nutritious food!

I’d also like to pose the question: how often in today’s culture are we consuming them in their properly prepared form? Most of the time grains are being eaten in the overly processed and refined forms like breads, crackers, cookies, and lots more that I’ve already mentioned. In addition, we eat FAR more grains than our ancestors used to.

HOW DO WE PREPARE GRAINS PROPERLY?

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Great question. I didn’t know this myself until I went through Nutrition school. Grains are most easily digested by our incredibly capable bodies when they are soaked, sprouted, or fermented. This may sound complicated, but it’s SO EASY! The Weston A. Price Foundation has an easy-to-follow post on how to properly prepare certain grains that you should definitely check out if you’re looking for a how-to.

So, are grains bad? I’m not going to label them…but I eat them, just sparingly. In our home, we eat them as more of an occasional treat rather than a staple at every meal, and we try to prepare them in the best way possible so the nutrients are easily digestible and available for our bodies to absorb and use.

Don’t worry, no one will be taking away my occasional pizza or sourdough bread!

What I WILL say is that I have been indulging a little more than usual because of traveling and busy schedules, and I feel the negative effects in a big way. Mainly my mind is so foggy and I feel SO TIRED. This is just a testament to me that the things I’ve been learning are applicable and real.

In addition, I am just now diving in to the book Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis, M.D., so hou can look forward to LOTS more information on this topic!

If you have more questions, please feel free to comment below or get in touch with me!

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