I came to this funny conclusion a couple of years ago that I have a Gluten Sensitivity, likely of the non-celiac variety (NCGS). This falls under the umbrella of “Gluten-Related Disorders”. Hardly recognized by the conventional medical establishment (of which I am part of) and nothing that I had ever heard of in medical school nor in the many years since. A strange phenomena, really. My body likely produces antibodies (IgG) against this protein that enters into my gut through ingestion of gluten-containing foods (wheat, barley & rye… or think of it more as bread, pasta and cereals). Through the process by which gluten causes a Leaky Gut, this allows for the intact protein (a difficult one for most people to digest) to penetrate through to the underlying area where 70% of my immune system resides, just waiting to interact with it. Soon after, often within minutes, there is an immune system reaction taking place that results in systemic symptoms as well as GI distress.
How did I come about making this conclusion, you might wonder?
Was it through expensive testing at some exotic lab? No.
Was it through an intestinal biopsy via endoscopy? Gosh No!
Was it from that palm reader that I consulted with on the Atlantic City Boardwalk for $80? Definitely not.
The way that I came to this conclusion was through an elimination diet. We decided one day that we would give the Paleo Diet a try. I did extensive research, read several books & articles. It seemed sound enough. There is plenty of archaeological and evolutionary evidence to support it, certainly better science than some of the drivel that I read in my mainstream medical journals [designed to guarantee certain professors tenure]. My focus was on better health, for myself and my family. Having grown tired of feeling tired all the time, waking up achy and stiff every morning, and carrying some extra poundage that just seemed harder and harder to get rid of (despite working out 20+ days per month). This was not even considering the decades of “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” that I had endured since I was a teen, having accepted that this is how life was meant to be for me. I could not go to a Chinese restaurant without visiting the restroom before the check was paid, and if I made it out of the restaurant unscathed this usually made for a very stressful drive home.
“I can do this and I can certainly aim for an 80-20 Rule of eating whatever I want 20% of the time”, I though to myself. If I want some NY style pizza, Amish shoo-fly pie, or an artisanal bread then I shall have it… 🙁
Well, this was not to be so. After my elimination was complete we decided to go eat at a steakhouse in Asheville. They had the most amazing artisanal breads, of which I clearly enjoyed some (no where near my 20% worth). Needless to say… this did not end well. Not only were there GI symptoms like nothing I had felt before but there was brain fog, an overwhelming sense of fatigue, and a generalized feeling of cold. Merely coincidence, has to be, I am not gluten-intolerant. The following week we went to an Asian fusion restaurant and I had a miso soup (which happened to have tempura-encrusted onion in it – I don’t know why a miso soup would have to have that). Same reaction. This now seems a little less coincidental. Trust me, I have tested the waters on several occasions. It has never played out well for me. No expensive or invasive tests necessary.
Needless to say… I have been Gluten-Free (GF) ever since. That is with the exception of when I am administered that little toxin inadvertently by an unassuming cook or server at a restaurant, through either ignorance or cross-contamination. I have also been fooled by the “Gluten-Free” label on packages only to discover afterward that it contained gluten after all (soy sauce does contain wheat). I have come to discover that wheat is used in many things, food and non-food. It is one of those ubiquitous ingredients that gets thrown in to flavor and thicken (soups, stews, gravies). It is an anti-caking agent. It prevents ice cream from crystallizing. It’s on stamps! WTH?
I cannot say that this journey has been an easy one. There have been many bumps in the road. Eating out sometimes feels like drilling for land mines. It’s all good, however, because I have emerged in a new place: feeling better, more energy, better sleep, much less aching and stiffness, and the “Irritable Bowel Syndrome” is gone. A Gluten-Free diet has done amazing things for me and has opened my eyes to the world of food sensitivities (not to be confused with food allergies – which would leave me swollen, welted up, all clammy and be gasping for air and in need of an Epi-Pen – Stat). This is not to say that all is good about a GF Diet, however. I will discuss further but, first, allow me to describe my typical GF day of meals.
If you have read through this meal list and are wondering what the heck I am thinking then I am pleased that you have made it down this far. I can assure you that I have not lost my mind, despite what the others might say.
There is this craze going on right now for Gluten Free stuff. The market for it has sky-rocketed, companies are making billions in profits, and society’s health may actually be declining as a result of it. While it is a great thing for individuals with diagnosed and confirmed Celiac Disease [still markedly under-recognized, and comprising approximately 1% of the population, most of whom are undiagnosed due to the limitations in testing and atypical presentations] to have gluten-free options to choose from for the occasional cake or breads or pasta, it is not beneficial as a whole. These foods tend to be higher in glycemic index than wheat products, which then send your blood sugar soaring, contributing to many of the chronic conditions that we are in the midst of dealing with in a present epidemic, with no end in sight. These food products are still pro-inflammatory, still disease-promoting, contribute to weight gain and obesity, and may get us there quicker. They are not a panacea, despite what the food industry would like us to believe (buy more, it’s good for you).
Wait! That’s not all… It can be even worse. There are many proteins that can cross-react with Gluten in your body, leading to similar inflammatory reactions and immune system activation [think damage inside your body]. Similar proteins from grains like Corn (attention: corn flour, corn meal, corn starch, corn syrup), Casein in dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt) and many others can cross-react in those that have gluten-sensitivity. Many GF products contain corn, quinoa, buckwheat or rice, which may be potentially problematic for those with gluten-sensitivity. Reading labels can matter – a lot. Steer clear of “Natural Ingredients” in your processed foods.
So, not only can GF foods make you more prone to becoming an overweight diabetic with heart disease and Alzheimer’s because of the glycemic loads of the foods… They can also cause systemic inflammation in our body, lead to leaky gut, and cause immune system dysregulation resulting in you possibly becoming am overweight diabetic with heart disease, Alzheimer’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Autoimmune Hypothyroidism. This list is non-sepcific, of course, as it all depends on each individual’s own genetic predispositions. The list is also incomplete, as there are many more diseases that any one individual can possibly succumb to and there are now > 100 documented autoimmune conditions that can be developed (but the number is likely far greater than this).
A Gluten-Free Diet is really not that hard to follow (short of being poisoned at a restaurant that doesn’t know any better). Choose from real, recognizable foods (see list above) that are naturally gluten free, nutrient dense and low-glycemic. The majority of the world’s population is not genetically adapted to consuming grain proteins. A large amount of the word’s population is not genetically adapted, nor physically active enough, to consume a super-high glycemic diet. These food-like substances, GF foods, should be used for the part of the lower number in an 80-20 or 90-10 Rules. They make for those delicious occasional treats or decadent desserts. The operative term here is occasional.
You are certainly not giving up anything in colors or variety.
Nutritionally, eating this way is far superior.
If anything, you may get more variety than you’ve ever had before.
I have learned a lot over the past 2.5 years since going Paleo. Much of it has been about myself and how my body reacts to the environment around me. Am I a 100% kinda guy? Absolutely not. I can say that I do not purposely go out seeking grains and have often been disappointed when I have encountered them. I have learned that desserts are best made and eaten in the home. I have also learned how misguided the medical profession can be and how limited we are in our abilities to identify the real causes for so many conditions. We cannot test for everything [I can assure you that your insurance carrier would not pay for most of it any way] and for many things we just keep looking in all the wrong places.
The power to heal is within you. It is often only through the damages that we inflict upon ourselves, however inadvertently, that we come to recognize a chronic disease in the first place. We can offer guidance but the path is your to take.