You know, I’m not the food police but I will give you my best advice and that is to quit eating gluten, especially if you suffer from any chronic condition or fatigue and here’s the science behind why:
The #1 problem with gluten is that it is not a natural food and in fact defends itself by being an irritant in your digestive system. Thus, you will rarely find animals in the wild eating it as a main source of sustenance. Grasses and grains, such as wheat, contain specific chemicals like lectins in the protein component (gluten) to discourage animals from eating them by causing inflammation and discomfort in their digestive systems. As the vehicle for reproduction, the wheat grain needs to fall to the ground when it’s mature and germinate. Since it cannot survive our digestive process intact the plant species will not survive if it’s eaten instead of germinating so it has developed this survival tactic.
Logically, you can also see that it requires heavy processing and cooking in order to even be edible. No one goes and starts chewing on a head of wheat for fun, right? You can compare it to something like berries, which are a food that everybody will grab and eat for pleasure. These types of foods are naturally desirable without processing or cooking. They aren’t irritating and are actually designed to be eaten. Their seeds are hard and survive our digestive system fully intact and not to get graphic, but when animals eat them, the seeds are eventually deposited on the ground, fertilized, and have the best chance of surviving and growing into a new plant, so the species survives.
Dr. Tom O’Bryan is an excellent resource for the medical science behind how all of this works but I find that most of us can instantly see through logic or instinct how this works. I often ask, if you were in the woods and had to feed yourself, how would you go about it? No one has “find wheat, grind it up, mix it with some stuff, build a fire and bake bread” on the list. Most people will pick fruit, veggies, greens, dig for roots and fish or hunt way before baking bread.
The Immune and AutoImmune Response
This ties into autoimmunity because if you eat gluten, it causes irritation in your body and your body’s natural defense, AKA immune system, rushes to isolate, destroy and remove the threat. So, you will experience localized inflammation as a natural defense against pathogens – heat kills germs. It also kills a small amount of your own cells in the process which is not necessarily a bad thing if they have been compromised by a pathogen, which is effectively gluten in this scenario.
When this happens occasionally, it may not be a problem because your body is reacting perfectly to a common occurrence that is natural to living in the world. We get germs and we’re hard-wired to eliminate them.
The big problem happens when your immune system gets kicked up a notch or ten because it’s happening too often and goes into overdrive. You start to build massive amounts of pathogen destroying immune cells and they try to destroy everything gluten and anything that looks like gluten, just in case. Plus, you still have the halo effect of destroying the cells adjacent.
When this is happening in your gut, it weakens the lining and destroys the cells that filter fully digested essential nutrients that are ready to be introduced into your bloodstream from the molecules that are too large to be safe to pass into your blood (known as “leaky gut syndrome”).
Then, these dangerous molecules get free in your bloodstream and a whole new team of immune cells are sent out to isolate and destroy the threat that is flowing freely in your entire body, via your bloodstream, at about 3 feet per second (that’s how fast blood leaves your heart to be circulated).
Widespread inflammation in your body is required at this point to control the threat and your healthy cells are destroyed as well as the big molecules. On a side note, these aren’t necessarily gluten molecules at this point, they can also be other food particles, viruses and bacteria that are slipping through the lining of your gut and there becomes a bigger discussion about how other food allergies, intolerance and diseases, like cancer, develop from this happening.
This is essentially your auto-immune response. It may look like a mistake but your body is doing its job perfectly, as it’s designed to do. Your immune system is identifying the most serious threat and destroying it and anything similar in order to keep you alive. What’s dangerous here and causes autoimmune disease is that it’s happening everywhere in your body so what is usually a localized response, becomes system wide and massive. The effects are widespread and vary depending on the person: brain fog, headaches, body aches & pain, constipation, diarrhea, depression & mood disorders, hyperactivity, skin manifestations, exhaustion & fatigue… the list is even longer!
How Much Gluten Is OK?
There’s no definite answer to “how much gluten is ok?” This scenario doesn’t include the burden of other immune responses to pathogens you are coming in contact with daily or routine healing processes, that require energy as well. For example, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens are entering your body all the time through your nose, mouth, small skin cuts etc. Not to mention if you have a larger injury which brings more need for immune response and healing! All of these injuries accumulate and depending on a person’s nutrition and overall health level, will have different results to gluten exposure. So, a small injury from gluten added to the cumulative injuries through the day may or may not be enough to cause discomfort and disease. Since there is no way to measure this effect the best defense is to avoid injury to start with.
Testing for gluten allergies (a histamine reaction) and autoimmune response (Celiac) can be helpful because if it is done accurately, can give you a concrete answer and solidify your motivation for avoiding it.
The science of how gluten affects everyone’s digestive system is enough evidence to show that it shouldn’t be a staple of any diet and in fact, my philosophy is to avoid harm, no matter how “invisible” it may be.
So, if you test for it and don’t get a clear result, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not a problem for you. In fact, people with Celiac disease, which is permanent and genetic, often get false negatives if they have instinctively given up gluten – because they are not triggering the immune response at the time of testing! If you are going to test for it, I cringe to say it but be sure to load up on gluten the night before, just for that reason.
Where Does Gluten Hide?
I appreciate a comprehensive list of where gluten hides, you can find a lot of them online. It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the fact that there are literally too many names that it hides under in processed foods and enhance your awareness of what you choose to put into your body. Of course, I’m always going to recommend whole foods and cooking for yourself over trying to memorize a list or carry a reference all the time. When you are consciously choosing your foods and not letting someone else “hide” stuff in it, you’re going to be better off.
To keep it simple I have 2 rules:
Rule # 1: Grocery shopping? Don’t buy any packaged foods that have an ingredient you don’t already know. This doesn’t require researching all the names of where gluten, sugar or soy hides. You know the names of fruits and vegetables already – trust that.
Convenience foods usually take just as long to prepare as from-scratch but can be bad for you, why choose that struggle?
Rule #2: Dining out or getting take out? Ask to see the ingredients for everything you’re getting (calling ahead takes some of the hassle out of this). Be especially vigilant about sauces, seasonings and dressings. If they can’t produce a list or you don’t recognize an ingredient on it, get your food prepared without it and have simple dressings like lemon wedges, vinegar, plain olive oil, salt and pepper. Real food will taste good without mystery ingredients.
As you can see, it’s really simple to avoid gluten and if you suffer from any chronic pain, illness or fatigue it’s a great idea to cut it out of your diet as a free, non-invasive way to give your system a rest so it can heal more effectively and see if you feel better. Most people find quick relief from the condition they are dealing with when they go gluten free, even for a short time.
If you’d like more help, shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org where you can get more free resources and personal help from me!