The Thing about Gluten

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So, let’s get it straight. I’m not a doctor. Obviously. I like to read nutrition books. Some folks fish, some bowl, others knit. I read blogs and books about nutrition. There’s a reason “nut” is the beginning of nutrition.

Jimmy Kimmel Knows What Gluten is

Now that we’ve got that squared away, a funny little story. On Jimmy Kimmel recently, they went to a popular L.A. exercise spot and asked people if they followed a gluten-free diet. The ones that answered yes, got another question.

“What is gluten?”

Lots of stammering, dodging the question and stuttering.

Eating gluten has basically become akin to Satan-worshipping in some pockets of the main-stream, yet people don’t even know what it is or why they’re avoiding it. All these Yentas religiously avoid “gluten” and wear it like a badge of honor, proud of their…what? Avoidance of something that they can’t describe and don’t understand why they don’t partake? Interesting strategy for health, folks.

It’s like people are sure gluten is evil like cigarettes and crystal meth, but they don’t have the foggiest idea why. Surely Big Food is secretly adding evil gluten to our provisions to kill us slowly while making a profit. (Well, kinda, but it’s not the gluten that’s really the problem.) Food that never, ever had gluten is being marketed as gluten-free, which people automatically read as, “it’s healthy!”. Get your gluten-free cookies. Eat the whole dang bag because if they’re gluten-free, gluttony is a-ok. Eat this banana, it’s gluten-free. Sorry to point out the obvious – bananas never had gluten in them. And neither does rice or fish or broccoli.

I recently read a book where a very interesting point was made. If I told you that today, I ate pancakes for breakfast, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch and pasta with marinara sauce for dinner, you might say – “Okay, great. Sounds typical.” Or normal, maybe. (S.A.D. Standard American Diet).

What then, if I told you I ate a 3 egg omelet for breakfast, and frittata for lunch and scrambled eggs for dinner? You might say, “Hmm. That sounds like a lot of eggs.”









Why doesn’t anyone ever say, “That sounds like a lot of wheat“??

Do you realize how much wheat, corn and soybeans Americans consume every day? In the form of processed foods like bread, pasta, sauces, margarine, cookies, cakes, etc. One other little caveat you may not have considered here…SUGAR. Everything has sugar in it. That pasta sauce – sugar. That bread, sugar bread. Your lunchmeat, you got it, sugar. A side note that may be of interest to you – the most heavily government subsidized crops in the U.S. -Wheat, corn, soybeans, rice and sugar cane. There you have it. Follow the money.

But I digress.

What does this have to do with gluten? Well, stick with me here. I think I may be on to something. I’ll preface this by saying that I sometimes avoid gluten-containing foods for specific reasons – mostly weight loss, like after I have a baby. But guess what else? I also stop eating sugar, corn, beans, rice and milk during those times. (More on this later) So, if you’re a celiac or have a gluten-sensitivity, don’t leave me now. This ends well, I promise.

What the Heck is Gluten Anyway?

Okay, let’s start simply. What is gluten? I hope all the poor people on Jimmy Kimmel have Googled this so they can represent the gluten-free population a little better next time. Gluten is the mixture of two proteins in cereal grains (wheat, rye and barley) that is responsible for dough being, well, doughy. Elasticy, soft bread is created from developing the gluten in the wheat. (kneading it for a ridiculous amount of time) When most people think of gluten, they think of wheat.

So, recently there was a study done to find out if people really were gluten intolerant. Now, keep in mind here that we’re talking about NCGS – Non-Celiac Gluten-Sensitivity. Celiac is a real auto-immune disease where the body launches a major attack on the small intestine when affected people ingest gluten from food or medicines. This study used self-professed gluten-sensitive individuals.

According to Real Clear Science’s Newton Blog, here’s how the experiment went:

Subjects would be provided with every single meal for the duration of the trial. Any and all potential dietary triggers for gastrointestinal symptoms would be removed, including lactose (from milk products), certain preservatives like benzoates, propionate, sulfites, and nitrites, and fermentable, poorly absorbed short-chain carbohydrates, also known as FODMAPs. And last, but not least, nine days’ worth of urine and fecal matter would be collected. With this new study, Gibson wasn’t messing around.

Well, guess what happened? Everybody had poo-poo issues. The “nocebo” effect reared its ugly head and everyone had intestinal issues, even the ones on the gluten-free diets.

The guinea pig test subjects cycled through high-gluten, low-gluten and no-gluten diets, not having any idea which one they were on at any given time. All the diets – even the placebo one – caused pain, bloating and nausea. It didn’t matter if they ate gluten or not.

Am I saying that gluten-sensitivity doesn’t exist? Nope. Am I saying there’s likely more to the story? Absolutely.

A little bit about grains, seeds and Nuts

Have you ever eaten corn on the cob? Remember what happens the next day? Yep, potty full of corn. I always marvel that it’s like I didn’t even chew the stuff. The magical yellow kernels just slide right on through. If you’ve ever owned cows or horses, it’s equally amazing how oat grass can grow straight out of the doo-doo. I recently found two tomato plants and 4 cucumber plants growing in our pasture. Turns out, it was from our goats eating leftovers from the garden last year. It was incredible. And heck yes, I will eat the poo-poo tomatoes and cucumbers.

Funny thing about Mother Earth is that she always has a contingency plan. Nature will find a way to save and preserve itself and seeds, grains and nuts are no exception. They are designed to be able to pass through digestive systems and then grow when reintroduced to the earth. That right there tells you that what goes on in your innards when you eat this stuff could get dicey. Especially if you eat gigantic amounts of them.

All these things also contain phytic acid. What is phytic acid or phatate?

Phytic acid is the storage form of phosphorus found in many plants, especially in the bran or hull of grains and in nuts and seeds. Although herbivores like cows and sheep can digest phytic acid, humans can’t. This is bad news because phytic acid binds to minerals (especially iron and zinc) in food and prevents us from absorbing them.  Studies suggest that we absorb approximately 20 percent more zinc and 60 percent more magnesium from our food when phytic acid is absent.

Phytic acid interferes with enzymes we need to digest our food, including pepsin, which is needed for the breakdown of proteins in the stomach, and amylase, which is required for the breakdown of starch. Phytic acid also inhibits the enzyme trypsin, which is needed for protein digestion in the small intestine. Source

Long story short, when you eat seeds, nuts or grains and the nutrition gets sucked right out with the phytic acid that you can’t digest. You can soak, sprout and roast them to make them more digestible and get rid of some of the phytic acid, but the fact remains that large amounts of grains, nuts and seeds (which comprises a HUGE portion of most people’s diets) will cause mineral deficiency and sets off a whole plethora of issues with your body. Oh, and super-carby foods like grains metabolize into glucose (sugar) and are stored as fat. Bummer.

Other Common Culprits

On to some other nasty little frenemies that a lot of people subsist on…sugar and caffeine. Most of the time when we’re eating grains, seeds and nuts, we’re also eating sugar because we put it in EVERYTHING. (read some labels at Walmart next time, you’ll see) Sugar causes decreased immune function as well as inhibits absorption of vitamins and minerals. When you eat your wheat and sugar filled cookie, you’re setting yourself up for disaster.

Add this to the insane amounts of caffeine people pour down their throats daily in an effort to combat their fatigue (no doubt caused by all the issues they have from eating so much processed food) and we really are setting ourselves up for an early demise. Caffeine also inhibits vitamin and mineral absorption along with a host of other less-than-healthy reactions inside your body.

Let’s recap. We eat all these unhealthy substances every day, with no moderation or prudence. We eat a diet mainly comprised of 5 foods – wheat, corn, soy, rice and sugar, not all of which are not inherently evil, but probably only okay in serious moderation. Are we surprised that most of us can’t poop and have stomach aches? We’ve singled out gluten and made it the anti-Christ when maybe it’s not the only culprit here.

Most Americans don’t eat enough nutrient-dense food to begin with (which is hard considering our depleted soils and factory farmed animal products) and even if we did, all these nutrient-sucking “Frankenfoods” (High fructose corn syrup, soy oil, huge amounts of wheat, caffeine, etc.) would completely counter-act any benefit from the healthy foods.

We’re sabotaging ourselves, meanwhile launching an anti-gluten campaign, sure it will save us all.

I’ve known so many people who began a gluten-free diet with high hopes of feeling better and being healthier, only to languish over-weight and unhappy with their progress. What gives? Like I said, I’m no doctor or expert on anything but gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy. Just because you eliminate wheat or corn or barley doesn’t mean health is inevitable. Have you read the labels on a lot of the gluten-free products? Still loaded with sugar, soy and so many other things that are no bueno. People basically trade one evil for another. Cookies with wheat, sugar and soy oil for cookies that contain brown rice flour, sugar and soy oil. Neither one is good in excess.

Moderation and variety is the key here. There’s a reason somebody wise once said that variety is the spice of life. Eating one thing all the time will never produce good results. Eating only a few foods all the time will inevitably cause problems. Trading a lot of wheat and corn for a lot of brown rice and almond flour is not the answer.

So, What’s the Answer, Miss Know-It-All?

I don’t know that there are any hard, fast rules for health that apply to every single person in the world. I do know what I’ve done in my own life and the things I’ve been able to accomplish through life-style and eating choices. Any person who has health issues should seek out a health practitioner who aligns with their personal views on health and the body and get solid help.

That being said, a real basic, simple approach to health is to eat whole food. Look for things that are in their original, natural state or close to it. Seek out food that is traditionally prepared, homemade and been around for many years. Stuff you  can make yourself, in your own kitchen.

  • Lots of water (filtered, not tap or bottled)
  • Vegetables (preferably organic)
  • Fruit (preferably organic)
  • Pastured, raw dairy (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, etc.)
  • Pastured Eggs
  • Pastured, free range grass-fed animals products (animals fed their biologically appropriate diet)
  • Wild and sustainably caught seafood
  • Healthy Fats (avocados, coconut oil, olive oil, lard, butter, tallow, etc.)
  • Grains, seeds, nuts and legumes in strict moderation
  • Natural sweeteners in strict moderation (honey, maple syrup, molasses, stevia)

Our family has been loosely following a Paleo lifestyle for a while now and have had incredible results in health and weight. We eat all these things above in healthy moderation to satiety and don’t count calories. We have experienced easy and sustained weight loss without feeling hungry, deprived or exercising. (Although, daily exercise is something we all should do. I work my tail off on our mini-farm so I pass on treadmill running most of the time) We have seen sub-par blood work (high cholesterol, pre-diabetes, low testosterone, high triglycerides and low liver function) normalize and become optimal super quick by eating this way.

I won’t lie to you. It’s hard. You feel like a major butthole for a week or so when you start. Your body and brain is trying to muddle through figuring out how to stop running on glucose (sugar) and begin operating off of fat and it revolts for a short time. You crave carbohydrates (sugar and processed foods) like crazy and you think you might die.

Then you wake up one day ten pounds lighter and happy. You aren’t food driven anymore and aren’t manically obsessed with where your next donut comes from. You can occasionally eat birthday cake or try some ice cream and you don’t die or eat the whole pint and lick the bottom. You can eat a piece of toast somewhere and its okay. It tastes really good, but your body doesn’t crave it anymore. You realize that you can indeed live without sugar, caffeine and lots and lots of grain. It feels good.

So What’s the Thing About Gluten?

In my sheltered and possibly naïve existence, I’ve found that it’s not necessarily gluten that’s the problem. It’s the American diet as a whole. Eliminating gluten can absolutely improve health and lead to weight loss and healing of disease. But it’s more than that. It’s eliminating the combined triggers that cause the problems. It’s stopping the excessive consumption of grains (wheat, gluten, rice, corn), legumes, seed, nuts, sugar, caffeine, soy, etc. It’s committing to eating whole, unprocessed food that you make at home and eat with your family.

That’s where the real healing will begin and where I think you’ll see the real results.

What do you think about gluten?

Images courtesy of franky242, Serge Bertasius Photography, Grant Cochrane, mrpuen and




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