5 Reasons To Live Gluten Free
Should you go gluten-free? With more and more people choosing to live sans gluten, you might just be asking yourself this question.
On the surface, it’s easy to write off “gluten-free” as just another diet fad. And with so many processed gluten-free alternatives lining the supermarket shelves we should make it clear that “gluten-free” does not always equate to “healthy”. That said, there are some real reasons that you may want to avoid the stuff… whether you’re a celiac or not!
But before we get started you might be wondering…what the heck even is gluten? And what foods contain it? This segment from Jimmy Kimmel highlights just some the confusion surrounding this mystery molecule. To put it simply, gluten is a protein (or rather, a combination of the proteins gliadin + glutenin) found in wheat and other grains such as barley, rye and oats.
Common sources of gluten in the Western diet include:
- biscuits… the list goes on!
So you can see that when we talk of a gluten-free diet, we are really avoiding all wheat and gluten-containing grains. In fact, there’s a lot more than simply ‘gluten’ to worry about when we think of these foods. Here are just some of the reasons why you may want to consider ditching the gluten-containing grains!
#1 – Poor Nutrient Content & Opportunity Cost
If you’ve ever looked at the nutritional breakdown of popular gluten-containing foods like bread and pasta, you’d be pretty underwhelmed.
Yep – despite what we’re told on TV, or other forms of advertising such as health and fitness magazines, grains do not contain any exclusive nutrient that we need to survive, let alone thrive. Even those “healthy whole grains” are virtually devoid of nutrition when compared to other foods like vegetables and animal protein.
Whole grains, while they do contain appreciable amounts of B vitamins (excluding B12) – they contain little else. It’s also important to note that B vitamins are also plentiful in vegetables and animal protein. Further, grains do not contain Vitamin C, Vitamin A or Vitamin D. Whole wheat bread also contains an omega 6 to 3 ratio of about 10:1 (1). This doesn’t help our efforts to swing the ratio towards omega 3s and avoid inflammation.
Health authorities and the food pyramid assert that grains form an important part of a “balanced diet”, however we disagree that a food devoid of nutrient value should have permanent place in ours. If this is the case, why would they say this? There are many reasons – grains are a cheap mono crop subsidised by the government, that makes a low cost filler in many processed foods. They’re also fortified with nutrients and minerals that would otherwise be lacking – so that the average person can stay alive, much like the idea for fluoride in the water reducing the cost of dental services.
Conspiracy theories aside, the real downside to consuming grains is that they fill us up and crowd out other more nutritious foods like vegetables, nuts, fruits and animal products. Every time you eat is an opportunity to nourish your body. For every grain based meal eaten in a day, we’re filling up on empty (fattening) calories and missing out on vital nutrients. Boo.
#2 – Grains Inhibit Nutrient Absorption
If their lacking nutrition and tendency to displace healthier foods wasn’t bad enough, grains can also prevent us from absorbing certain nutrients.
This is because grains are high in anti-nutrients called phytates and lectins. If you haven’t come across these terms before, here’s what you need to know. Plants, like animals, have evolved with protection mechanisms to stop them from being eaten by animals (including humans). One of those mechanisms evolved in plants is that of anti-nutrients, which act like a mild toxin to bind to nutrients and cause digestive issues for the animals who eat them.
Phytates and lectins are found in the hard shell of plant foods like wheat, rice, beans and legumes. For some people, these anti-nutrients can cause significant digestive symptoms. For everyone, they inhibit the uptake of nutrients by binding to them in the digestive tract and effectively stopping them from being absorbed. A diet rich in phytate-containing foods can promote deficiencies in minerals including calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.
#3 – Grains Spike Blood Sugar Quickly
Another main reason why we don’t eat grains is for blood sugar control. Despite what they say about whole grain, “complex carbohydrates”, the enzyme amalayze breaks down the carbohydrates in grain incredibly quickly (2), such that that whole grain bread is essentially sugar the moment it touches your mouth.
The blood sugar raising effects of grains has health impacts, but also practical ones. As we’ve mentioned before, a sugar burning metabolism isn’t very pleasant, especially when you’re far from home and out of snacks! Constant snacking (often on wheat based products) and the resulting blood sugar and insulin spikes cause weight gain and metabolic damage which can then lead to diabetes. Advanced ageing is also strongly associated with eating a diet that spikes blood sugar.
Of course, eliminating gluten-containing foods doesn’t guarantee good blood sugar control. Wheat is just one hidden source of blood sugar issues – and eating gluten free only to subsitute in other refined starches such as tapioca, corn and potato starch will have the same blood sugar and insulin raising effects. If in doubt – just stick to real food.
#4 – Gluten – It’s Addictive and Can Undermine Your Health
We’re saving the best til last..! One of the biggest issues with wheat products is the destructive and addictive qualities of gluten.
So what’s the deal with gluten? In short, gluten is a protein well known to trigger digestive symptoms in those with celiac disease. In these people, the immune system mounts a response to gluten-containing foods and starts attacking the small intestine. This autoimmune condition can cause serious damage, so for obvious reasons gluten is a no-go!
But you need not be celiac to experience ill-effects from gluten. Many people report non-celiac gluten sensitivity (or gluten intolerance) as a cause of symptoms ranging from bloating and digestive issues, to fatigue and anxiety. In these people, removal of gluten from the diet gives dramatic symptom relief. While the existence of non-celiac gluten sensitivity has been ridiculed by mainstream media, the scientific evidence tells a different story (3, 4, 5).
In any case, gluten has the potential to harm our health by up regulating zonulin and contributing to “leaky gut” or intestinal permeability (6, 7). To understand how this can cause problems, keep in mind that the cells lining our small intestine contain tight junctions that form a barrier between the outside world and our bloodstream. When the spaces in these tight junctions start to widen, the gut becomes “leaky” and bacteria, toxins and other large particles can slip through and initiate an inflammatory response.
In order to thrive and be at our best, we want to absorb and assimilate nutrients from our foods, and generally avoid inflammation. Over time, chronic low-grade inflammation (via leaky gut) may trigger autoimmunity in predisposed individuals – think hashimotos, psoraisis, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis… Some pretty serious problems!
What’s more, gluten can also be addictive. As gluten is broken down by the gut, opioid-like compounds known as “gluten exorphins” are formed (8). When these compounds are able to pass through the blood-brain-barrier they trigger opioid receptors in the brain that influence food cravings and addiction (9). So if the thought of eliminating bread from your diet is unfathomable, even scary – it’s quite possible you’re addicted to it!
#5 – Modern Wheat Is Not What It Used To Be
It’s often argued that if bread was a staple food during Jesus’ time, why is it a problem now. Certainly over that time period, our bodies have not evolved significantly such that genetics is to blame. The thing is, modern wheat itself has changed dramatically – especially in the last 50 – 100 years.
Hybridisation of wheat strains has occurred naturally throughout history, however this process has been accelerated significantly since the introduction of modern farming techniques and genetic design of foods. In order to derive the most produce from the land to feed growing populations, wheat has been bred and genetically engineered to produce higher yields, resist pests and aid in ease of processing. The genetic code of the new popular strains of wheat is now very different to what would have been used and traditionally prepared prior to the industrial revolution.
The effects of this genetic engineering? It’s not fully known, but the number of celiacs (autoimmune response to gluten) has surged since the rapid hybridisation of wheat. Whether this is the type of wheat alone or a variety of other factors, we can’t yet be 100% sure, but we prefer to be on the safe side!
Start Living Gluten Free!
So you can see that there really are some compelling reasons to ditch the gluten. Of course, this can be easier said than done – especially since gluten has a way of sneaking into a tonne of other packaged products you wouldn’t suspect, from herbal teas to salad dressings. Avoiding all of these gluten containing foods is no mean feat, but the good news is that after a while (and some paleo-recipe experimentation), living gluten-free gets pretty easy!
Want to experience life gluten free? Get a taste with our FREE 3 Day Paleo Meal Plan below.