All About Gluten
What's the deal with gluten? Learn more about why you should start going gluten-free.
Grains and Gluten
The following nutrition topic is controversial. Maybe one of the most controversial in the nutrition world today.
After all, people tend to get upset when you tell them something they enjoy isn't good for them. So when when you tell them their morning bagel and their favorite sandwich is something they probably shouldn't be eating, of course they're going to be not happy about it.
But before we get to why you may want to avoid rethink eating grains and gluten, I want to share with you our stance on this topic.
Here's the thing about grains:
- First, grains are not easily found in nature, and even when they are, they require a lot of processing to make them consumable for humans.
- Second, ancient grains, like the ones our ancestors would have eaten, are not like today's modern monocrop grains. Not. Even. Close.
The main "diet" we recommend at Wild Foods is a Real Food diet. Grains simply don't fit that criteria.
Paleo doesn't recommend grains for similar reasons.
When was the last time you baked bread from scratch?
When was the last time you grew grains and then baked bread with those grains after you laboriously processed those grains yourself?
The fact is, unless you are controlling the process of cultivating and preparing the grains you're going to eat, you're invariably going to rely on corporations to get your grain fix.
And the way it is for most foods, food from corporations is not good.
Grains don't qualify as Real Food to us for these reasons. They also cause problems for the human body. More on that below.
Then there's the issue that modern grains are different from the ancient grains our ancestors might have found in the wild from time to time.
Even if you were to grow, process and bake grains yourself, you will still be consuming a heavily processed food that can be problematic for human health in more ways than one, especially for the gut.
Of course, just because we don't see grains as an ideal food for optimizing health, that doesn't mean you aren't going to eat them from time to time.
I eat them from time to time, and so will you, and so will everyone else.
That's why it's important to not get caught up in the dogmatic thinking that a diet is about perfection and about clearly defined rules.
No matter your stance on grains and gluten, you have to give yourself the leeway that living in our modern world demands. So instead of getting upset by the fact that eating grains are not good for you, open your mind to the possibility that it might not be the best thing you can eat and so you should try to avoid them and that you'll have them sometimes.
Here's gist: grains are full of hard-to-digest carbohydrates and provide very little nutrition to the human body.
From a pure ROI, there are so many better foods to eat. Grains contain antinutrients and gut irritants that can cause mild to severe damage to your health.
The grains you find today are not the grains our ancestors would have found in the wild.
So the argument that our ancestors, and modern hunter gatherers alive today, eat grains isn't a justification for eating grains today.
Modern grains produce flour from heavily processed and sprayed monocrops that even animals don't recognize as food. This flour is what makes up the bulk of grain consumption in the world today.
Even when our ancestors may have eaten grains, it was always in small amounts and infrequently.
Comparing wild grains that were available 100,00 years ago to the grains of today is like comparing apples to oranges.
That being said, pulling the ancestor card for justifying why grains are not good for you isn't necessary because all we need to do is look at the modern grain and what happens in the human body when you eat them. (Hint: it's bad.)
The earliest known existence of wheat dates to around 9000 years ago.
Since then, farmers have been doing everything they can to grow more wheat and to grow it more consistently and cost effectively.
Milled wheat was the first processed food.
Nowadays, wheat is the most consumed food in the United States. (How obese is our country again?)
Modern farming, processing and genetic altering techniques have created wheat that is easier to produce while being more weather and pest resistant and more devoid of nutrients than ancient wheat.
Furthermore, most wheat is grown as a monocrop in synthetic soil and heavily sprayed with pesticides.
It's not natural... it's not Real Food.
And that's just the growing part.
After the wheat is harvested, it is further processed—it is chemically treated and heavily processed down to a fine white dust that is the most nutrient lacking "food product" in the world (if you can even call it that).
Not only is wheat a heavily sprayed, processed and dead food, it also contains many properties that don't agree with humans in the form of antinutrients and gut irritants.
When you start seeing wheat for what it is—an industrialized inorganic thing that isn't fit for human consumption—you'll see it for what it is: an industrialized inorganic thing that isn't fit for human consumption.
anti-nutrients found in wheat and other grains:
Lectins - Carb-binding proteins that attack gut lining, which can lead to a disorder known as leaky gut.
Phytates - Form when phytic acid binds to minerals. Can reduce iron absorption in the body; a problem for vegan eaters.
Gluten - A protein that makes up about 80% of the protein found in wheat, barely, rye and often found in sauces, thickeners, soups, and other processed foods. Creates an allergic-like response in the body, which leads to inflammation, indigestion, and for some, severe auto-immune disorders.
Wheat germ agglutinin - A lectin found in wheat that protects the wheat from insects, yeast and bacteria. Humans would be in the same category as insects, which is why this natural defense mechanism doesn't agree with our digestive system. We aren't designed to eat grains.
The gut is made of tiny permeable molecules that allow vital nutrients to be absorbed into your body.
If this gut lining breaks, you have what's called leaky gut.
Leaky gut causes certain food particles and toxins to seep into the bloodstream. When this happens, your immune system senses these unwelcome guests and attacks them. When your immune system starts putting up this fight, your body responds in various ways—allergies, asthma, chronic fatigue, skin issues and candida, to name a few.
This is one of the reasons leaky gut is so hard to diagnose; it can show up in a multitude of symptoms depending on the individual.
It's also why eliminating grains and gluten have such transformative effects on health.
*Gluten isn't the only cause of leaky gut. Medications, like Advil, steroids, antibiotics, as well as environmental toxins like pesticides, BPA and mercury can also attack the gut the same way grains do.
Carbs and Grains
Let's put aside all that internal stuff for a second and look at grains from a purely macronutrient point of view.
What is the main macronutrient making up these foods?
And these carbs always processed and always come with a high glycemic load.
As we saw in the hormones section of this guide, carbohydrates are largely responsible for elevated blood glucose and insulin levels, both contributing factors to weight gain and the obesity epidemic facing our society.
What happens when you eat carbs that digest fast—one's with a high glycemic index?
You get higher blood glucose levels and higher insulin levels.
For most, especially those already battling weight issues, these elevated glucose and insulin levels result in fat gain and inflammation.
When you avoid grains, not only do you severely reduce your carb intake, but you also avoid the large majority of internal food issues that arise from eating foods full of antinutrients and irritants.
This is just basic biology.
For the doubters out there, you can do some simple experiments to get solid empirical evidence if you are suspect.
Just do this: Test your fasting glucose and insulin levels using simple over-the-counter home test kits. Then eat a serving of grains and wait 5-10 minutes before testing your glucose and insulin levels.
The numbers won't lie.
A note on Research
Some people like to cite studies, or a lack of studies, in an attempt to defend their decision to keep eating gluten and grains.
The simplest way of explaining this behavior is done by defining two words; Confirmation Bias.
From Wikipedia: Confirmation bias, also called confirmatory bias or myside bias, is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one's beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities.
If you are finding it hard to believe that grains and gluten may be bad for you, remind yourself that your brain is inclined to only see and think what it wants to see and think.
So if you love your morning bagel, your brain is going to steer your perception of reality and the information presented to you in a way that discounts anything that challenges your love of bagels.
This stuff really happens... and you can find this weird psychological phenomena in all parts of life, not just when you are subconsciously trying to justify your bagel habit.
That said, I also suggest reminding yourself that none of this is about what's exactly right or wrong. It's also not about going without a sandwich or a bagel for the rest of your life.
In fact, for most people, especially those that find it hard to give up grains, I would recommend this advice:
Think of grains like a candy bar or ice cream... as a treat.
When you eat a candy bar or a scoop of ice cream, you aren't deluding yourself to what you are eating. You know you can't eat candy bars or scoops of ice cream for days on end without suffering real consequences.
You're also used to exerting self-control when walking past the candy isle or the frozen desserts section at the grocery store. (The dark chocolate isle is a another thing entirely!)
And this is exactly how you should think of grains and any food containing gluten.
Think of it as a treat that you should avoid as best as you can, but one you'll probably indulge in from time to time. Then, when you decide to have some grains or gluten, you'll savor it like you'd savor a candy bar completely guilt-free.
And after that, you'll get right back to your clean eating plan.
What's great about this approach is it makes things simple AND it makes things practical.
This kind of mindset is the epicenter of a healthy relationship with food.
Most of us are going to eat grains. This is just a fact. And while we should do our best to avoid eating grains, and gluten, when we can, we will be far better off if we are honest with ourselves to the facts that we're going to eat them sometimes.
Avoid grains and gluten as much as you can until you can't. Then enjoy it.
Then get back on track.
Bonus section: Quotes on Gluten and Grains
“Researchers have known for some time now that the cornerstone of all degenerative conditions, including brain disorders, is inflammation. But what they didn’t have documented until now are the instigators of that inflammation—the first missteps that prompt this deadly reaction. And what they are finding is that gluten, and a high-carbohydrate diet for that matter, are among the most prominent stimulators of inflammatory pathways that reach the brain.”
― David Perlmutter, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers
“I’ve had plenty more patients come through my doors and leave with a pain-free head, thanks to the adoption of a gluten-free diet.”
― David Perlmutter, Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar--Your Brain's Silent Killers
“The popular media and conventional wisdom, including the medical profession's traditional approach to nutrition, have created and continue to perpetuate this problem through inadequate, outdated dietary counseling. Attempts to universalize dietary therapies so that one-diet-fits-all influences the flawed claims against meats and fats, thereby encouraging overconsumption of grains. Government-sponsored guides to healthy eating, such as the USDA's food pyramid, which advocates six to eleven servings of grains daily for everyone, lag far behind current research and continue to preach dangerously old-fashioned ideas. Because the USDA's function is largely the promotion of agriculture and agricultural products, there is a clear conflict of interest inherent in any USDA claim of healthful benefits arising from any agricultural product. Popular beliefs and politically motivated promotion, not science, continue to dictate dietary recommendations, leading to debilitating and deadly diseases that are wholly or partly preventable.”
― Ron Hoggan, Dangerous Grains