If anyone was clueless, it was me! I was like many folks under the impression that they don’t have to worry about eliminating gluten from their diets because they don’t have Celiac disease*, but in truth, everyone would benefit from reducing and ultimately eliminating this hardest digestible protein. Gluten is a sticky protein found in wheat, barley, rye, kamut, and spelt that clings to the walls of your small intestine causing digestive and immune system disorders primarily in the gut. Once it has damaged the gut tissue, however, it can leak into your bloodstream; traveling throughout your body, and ultimately landing in other tissues such as your skin, thyroid, immune system, nervous system, or brain. It can cross the blood-brain barrier creating what is called “immune cross reactivity.” In simple terms, this means that because the gluten protein is similar to the protein found in thyroid and nervous system tissue, when your body reacts to the gluten protein, it may also react to your body’s own tissue causing not only inflammation, but ultimately severe damage to those tissues. This damage can show up in any number of ways, like chronic acne, dermatitis, eczema, heavy metal toxicity, rheumatoid arthritis, and autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.
Gluten is made up of glutenin and gliadin. Glutenin gives dough the elasticity and strength that cooks have come to rely on. Our moms would say, “You need a breakfast that sticks to your ribs.” I’m betting that she didn’t know how much truth there was in that saying. Gluten intolerance and/or sensitivity contributes to thyroid disease, celiac disease, type I diabetes, neurological disorders, lymphoma, eczema, asthma, and allergies. Gluten is also a significant trigger in psychiatric disorders, movement disorders, sensory ganglion apathy, ataxia, neuromyelitis, multiple sclerosis, cerebellar disease, cognitive impairment, dementia, restless leg syndrome, migraines, apraxia, neuropathy, myoclonus, hearing loss, and virtually every other neurological disorder.
You may have been tested by a doctor for gluten intolerance or sensitivity only to be told that the test came back “negative” or “inconclusive.” The problem is this: the glutenin part of gluten is typically overlooked all together. Gliadin which is the protein side of gluten is made up of three molecules–alpha, omega, and gamma. The alpha molecule is tested, but the omega and gamma molecules are not looked at, though many are sensitive to these very molecules! This amount of information can be overwhelming, and you may be wondering, “What can I do?” or “What should I do?” Well, I’m glad you asked.
First, although it is optimal to remove all gluten from your diet, the more you find out about the “everywhereness” of this substance, the more you will realize that this is a process. In future blog posts, I will uncover some of the hidden sources of gluten. Realize that total elimination will take time. Secondly, because when the body metabolizes gluten it creates opioids in the form of gluteomorphin, going gluten free can cause severe withdrawal symptoms that are similar to coming off of opioid drugs such as heroin. These symptoms include depression, crazy mood swings, nausea and vomiting as well as abnormal bowel activity. This can often last anywhere from several days to weeks. Be prepared for some bodily changes. Some baby steps are:
1. Eliminate anything that contains wheat, barley, spelt, or rye immediately. This will include all flour, breads, cereals, wheat pasta, and “coatings” on fish, chicken, etc.
2. Begin substituting the “no-no’s” with brown rice, sweet potato, quinoa, almond flour, coconut flour, or chick pea flour.
3. Since it is almost impossible to know the source of foods that are cooked “out,” begin preparing more foods at home with certified gluten free ingredients. Included in this post are a couple of recipes for you to try.
4. Realize that you can’t change what you put into your body in the past; but you can change what you put in it today.
*Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the small intestine that can cause bowel problems (too much or too little activity), anemia, fatigue, and ultimately vitamin deficiency because the body is unable to absorb the proper nutrients. Currently more than three million Americans suffer from this pernicious disease.
Recipes to Try:
Quinoa Porridge with Cinnamon Apples (adapted from allrecipes.com)
1 C. quinoa, rinsed and drained
2 C. water
1 T. organic butter
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
½ t. salt
1 T. ground cinnamon
2 T. maple syrup
1/3 C. sliced almonds (optional)
1 T. cream (optional)
Bring the quinoa and water to a boil in a saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer until the quinoa is tender and the water has been absorbed, about 15 to 20 minutes. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the apple, and sprinkle with salt, cinnamon and maple syrup. Stir in the almonds; cook and stir until the apple is hot and beginning to soften, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the almond milk and cream; continue cooking until hot. Stir in the hot quinoa, and cook a few minutes before serving.
Banana Berry Smoothie (adapted from fastpaleo.com)
1 frozen banana
½ C. blueberries (fresh or frozen)
½ C. strawberries (fresh or frozen)
1 T. almond butter
½-1 C. unsweetened almond or coconut milk (carton)
1 scoop protein powder (optional)
Ice (if needed)
Add all ingredients to a blender and give it a whirl. If you use all frozen fruit you may need to add additional almond/coconut milk as needed. If you want it thicker, add more frozen fruit. If you want it a little more like liquid, use less.
Italian Crockpot Chicken Soup
3 large or 4 small chicken breasts (can use frozen)
1 C. chicken broth
1-14 oz. can of full fat coconut milk
1-2 fresh diced tomatoes
1-2 cloves of chopped garlic
2 T. of italian seasoning
1 T. dried basil
(Feel free to add other veggies like spinach, cauliflower or mushrooms.)
• Place all ingredients in a crockpot. Cook for 7 hours on medium. Shred chicken and serve!
*Recipe adapted from Your World: Healthy and Natural
Sweet Potato Hash (serves 2)
For the hash:
1 large sweet potato
1 big pinch of sea salt
Several turns of black pepper
A few shakes of garlic powder
A couple dashes of onion powder
A sprinkle of dried herbs
2 T. fat – coconut oil or ghee
Aleppo pepper (optional)
For the eggs:
4 large eggs (2 per serving)
1 T. butter
Freshly ground black pepper
Aleppo pepper (optional)
Peel the sweet potato and shred it with a cheese grater or food processor. Transfer the shreds to a large bowl and toss with the seasonings. Heat the fat in a skillet or pan and add the sweet potato. Stir-fry for a minute and then pop on a lid for a few more minutes while it cooks. It’s ready when there is some crunchy brown bits and the texture is soft. Cook the egg, and serve up the hash with the egg on top. Enjoy!
*Recipe adapted from Nom Nom Paleo