Do you find yourself with things like bad skin? Joint pain? Brain fog? Digestion problems, cramps and bloating? So what makes up a majority of your diet?
If you are like me mine used to be some form of cereal at breakfast, sandwiches at lunch and more often than not pasta at dinner. I would add in a lot of things to these meals that would cater to my sporting or fitness goals but there was one constant that ran through all of them:
And more specifically Gluten
Gluten, we seem to hear more about this than (enter current celebrity train wreck here) at the moment
50% of the calories consumed worldwide now come from grains and today basically 17 plants provide 90% of mankind’s food supply. And according to The United Nations wheat itself makes up 20% of the calories consumed by humans. So lets look at why you should be informed on gluten.
What actually is Gluten?
What food is it in?
Should I be avoiding it?
What makes it so detrimental?
Gluten as we know it today is an entirely different thing than what it used to be, kind of like Miley Cyrus.
So What is Gluten?
Put simply gluten is a protein found in the seeds of grass. We call these seeds grains. And there are many types of grains, wheat barley and rye are the big three. But we are going to look mostly at wheat as it dominates the consumed grain categories and might be responsible for an onslaught of issues that we are facing today.
Gluten is a sticky protein that is found in these grains and comes from a latin word that means glue. It gives elasticity and a chewiness to things like bread and dough. This is helpful for baking or for dough for pizza etc
THE ORIGINS OF WHEAT
The origins of wheat go back a good 10-12000 years or roughly around the time Larry King entered high school.
The end of the ice age left behind grasses that were able to spread and multiply. This grass was called einkorn. Einkorn was a simple form of wheat that contained 14 chromosomes.
Einkorn would evolve into emmer which is the wheat of the bible. Wheat and bread have strong ties to early Christianity as bread was known as the staff of life, the practice of “breaking bread” and its use in communion representing the body of Christ.
Emer, a 28 chromosome species, would last quite awhile to the middle ages where triticum became the dominate form of wheat.
fast forward to the 1960s where the earth started to experience a huge boom in population. Concerns around the amount of food available began to become a pressing issue. A solution emerged from the growing field of genetics.
Dr Norman Borlaug an American biologist was an individual who was able to create a high yield version of wheat called the semi dwarf variant. This improved wheat yield over 10 fold.
So today virtually all the wheat available to us is this high yield, semi dwarf version of wheat. And this was done out of noble intentions.
Gone are the days of the tall, amber waves of grain. This semi dwarf wheat stand 2-2.5 feet high. In fact the stalks of the plant had to be engineered thicker than natural to be able to hold up the heavy stalk head on top of it.
It understandable as this high yield plant took off that all farmers wanted a piece of it. Regular farmers who grew 8 bushels an acre were now looking across and seeing neighbouring farms growing 80 bushels per acre.
In such a sink or swim business like farming the ability to compete and produce was paramount, And again no research was done into if this new form was safe for human consumption
THE NEW WHEAT
But what is this new form of wheat and what changed it from the wheat of our ancestors and even our grandparents?
In developing this new form of wheat new scientific techniques had been used such as repeated selective hybridizations, backcrosses and induced mutations. This new frankenstein of a plant was unable to survive without chemical support and was genetically stitched together with parts from various sources
Genetically modified foods or GMOs as they are known are a growing concern and rightfully so but they are vastly superior compared to these earlier techniques due to the fact they could not control all the mutations that would occur in the plant.
IS THIS SAFE FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION?
As stated before the development of this modern wheat was done out of noble intentions but it has seemed during the process the question never came up if this was safe for human consumption?
I think because what was produced still resembled something in nature it was just assumed that this was going to be treated by the human body as such. When in fact what had been engineered was virtually unrecognizable by the body
SO what does this all have to do with gluten?
SInce it was now observed that we could control what traits wheat could have, this modern wheat now contained 42 chromosomes and contained the d genome This allowed for higher concentrations of gluten within wheat which lent itself well to baking at high temperatures and providing a Viscoelasticity that is key for pizza dough. (fun fact: Americans consume 100 acres of pizza a day, NOT just Dr. Phil by himself)
This higher concentration of gluten may be causing you a wide variety of issues
Look around today and you may be observing a lot of people who are now going “gluten free” and and more and more gluten free products are taking over shelves. I will talk about if this gluten free alternatives have any benefits in a moment..
So the two big issues with gluten are gluten sensitivity and gluten intolerance. Gluten sensitivity can cause issues with digesting, cramping, bloating, nausea, diarrhea etc. They can be mild or quite uncomfortable. But its hard to tell someone with an intense cramping issue thats in the middle of a presentation at work that it’s a “mild” occurrence.
Gluten intolerance is known as celiac disease. This is a full on condition where the consumption of gluten causes the above problems but intensely magnified. If you know anyone with celiac disease you know that after accidental consumption they are completely out of commision for the rest of the day and possibly longer.
How did gluten cause this complete intolerance and sensitivity?
The majority of absorption of the food you eat happens in the small intestine. Inside the small intestine you have a bunch of finger like projections called villi and microvilli. This is where specific nutrients and amino acids are absorbed and then passed through to the blood stream. Think of these finger like projections like shag carpet.
What happens with Gluten is that over time the gluten breaks down this shag until its left as basically a flat subfloor. Without these shags in place absorption becomes a painful and potentially dangerous situation. It is not the same in everyone but a person who is gluten intolerant can potentially face these issues
- anemia- usually resulting from iron deficiency
- loss of bone density (osteoporosis) or bone softening (Osteomalacia)
- itchy blistering skin rash (dermatitis herpetiformus)
- headaches and fatigue
- nervous system injury, including numbness and tingling in the feet and hands and possible problems with balance
- joint pain
- reduced functioning of the spleen (hyposlenism)
- acid reflux and heartburn
YOU ARE WHAT YOU ABSORB
You are what you eat is a common expression but it is what you absorb that is of key importance, and with wheat, absorption becomes an issue:
Everyone is always told to eat more whole grains, the problem with whole grains is they still come mostly in the form of pulverized, ground flour. They also contain the husk of the grain which contains compounds that can block the absorption of nutrients.
When whole grains take up too large a percentage of the diet problems happen. One of these key problems is that even though there are a good amounts of minerals in it, the availability of having these minerals absorbed is low because they’re bound by phytic acid. For sensitive people essentially the minerals can end up in the toilet.
Kind of like my singing career dreams..
In 1942 in Dublin, Ireland the emergence of rickets rose sharply when there was a mass changeover from the use of refined white flour to whole wheat flour. Rickets is usually caused by vitamin D deficiency but also from a mineral deficiency with calcium as the most important even if one has good levels of vitamin D. The diet contained quite a lot of minerals but the interference by the whole wheat did not allow for the absorption of them
Some researchers including Dr. Stephen Guyenet a PH.D. from the University of Washington say that we are not yet well adapted as a species to consume a diet primarily made up of grains without facing health consequences. And that if we had another million or so years of grain heavy diets we might be able to handle them more effectively.
I wish I could wait and see but that time frame poses a bit of an issue..
The Problem with Inflammation
Foods that can cause inflammation in your body can lead to what is called autoimmune disease. Gluten can break through in intestinal lining where it is attacked by the immune system. We sometimes think of the immune system like its a singular thing or large organ but 80% of the cells that help make up the immune system reside behind the large intestine
When a foreign substance like the protein gluten gets through it is attacked as its recognized as a threat. The problem is the body starts recognizing its own tissue as the same substance and in the body essentially turns on itself. This is what Autoimmune disease is and can cause a multitude of diseases. The big ones include:
- Celiac disease itself
- Hashimoto ( a disease that causes the thyroid to not make enough thyroid hormone)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumotoid arthritis
IS WHEAT ACTUALLY ADDICTIVE?
You wake up and have cereal for breakfast with maybe some juice or coffee. Two hours later you’re feeling hungry, maybe even a little light headed so you have a snack of a donut or two. At lunch you might have anything from sandwiches or wraps to even pizza if you’re in a rush. Two hours later you feel like your energy has dropped, you feel foggy, nervous and you need something else to eat. By dinner you’re ready to eat an entire large plate of spaghetti and you might still not feel satisfied.
This situation can be a nasty combination of the way wheat can cause spikes in blood sugar and its addictive qualities.
Gluten is made up of two compounds, Glutenin and Gliadine. And it is Gliadine that might causing a lot of the issues.
Gliadine has been seen to be an appetite stimulant due to the high amounts of gluten that is now in your bread, cereal, pasta etc etc
Gliadine acts as an opiate by binding to the opiate receptors on the brain. This does not cause the same high as heroin or cocaine but it does produce a bit of a high. When you feel stressed or burnt out what do you reach for? Comfort Foods. T
hese tend to be things that are high in wheat like pizza, macaroni, pastas, cookies, cakes.. you get the picture. Could it be that we require a “hit” of one of these foods to satisfy the opiate receptors on the brain?
For an individual who overdose on heroin there is a drug called Naloxone that when administered takes away the ‘high’ the user is experiencing. Wheat appears to have the same withdraw effect as people seem to crave breads and so on when they have not had it in awhile.
The same drug Naloxone has been shown to reduce the cravings of wheat in the individuals to whom it was administered and they found that on average they ate 440 calories less a day.
BLOOD SUGAR ALL OUT OF WHACK
Another compound that you should be aware of in wheat is amylopectin-a. This is what causes wheat to be absorbed rapidly and cause spikes in blood sugar. Amylopectin-a reacts very quickly to our own salivary amylase in the mouth and causes a rapid rise in blood sugar. Even just putting a piece of bread in your mouth will raise blood sugar.
So the higher your blood sugar goes the farther the drop. Eating wheat can cause a 90-120 minute cycle of hunger as illustrated above with the sequence of meals and the feelings of lethargy and brain fog that come and go throughout the day.
WEIGHT GAIN FROM ALL THIS WHEAT
With the constant intake of wheat regardless as to if it is white bread, brown bread or whole grains blood sugar is affected on a daily basis. Insulin which has to be secreted constantly to clear this now converted sugar out of the blood starts to not be used as efficiently and the pancreas can burn out leading to type 2 diabetes.
Along with this, insulin’s main job is the fat producing hormone. When the glucose in the blood is not needed for energy or activity it is stored in the form of body fat by insulin and it appears that this fat is stored primarily around the midsection as visceral fat. Some call this a wheat belly or beer belly but you can picture what i’m referring to.
If not just picture Toronto mayor Rob Ford. And just pretend we were not discussing ‘opiate’ issues before…
ALTERNATIVES TO GLUTEN
Look all around you and you will probably see an onslaught of gluten free products. A lot of manufacturers have jumped on the gluten free bandwagon as having the distinction of being gluten free is seeming like a good marketing campaign right now.
I actually saw a carton of egg labelled “gluten free” the other day..
Heres the issue with most gluten free products: Without gluten a form of flour has to replace it. Most products are using potato starch, corn starch and even tapioca starch. So yes none of these ingredients contain gluten but they are incredibly high on the glycemic index and can send blood sugar soaring even more than gluten.
Use these types of products moderately because you don’t want to eliminate one problem and then go ahead and substitute it with another.
Some alternatives for home baking that are looking promising are almond flour, coconut flour and flax seed meal. These choices will have a lower glycemic index along with some protein and even a variety of beneficial nutrients.
Again use these for an occasional treat, you’re still consuming a processed “flour” but looks to be a better choice than commercial gluten free products.
Gluten free can be healthy as long as it’s the right kind of gluten free
WHAT TO TAKE AWAY ABOUT WHEAT
There are a lot of issues here and gluten has become a hot topic. But before you go diving in to all the gluten free products out there take a second and check out the ingredients in them. Yes you maybe be avoiding gluten but as a substitute these products will use things like rice and potato flours that can skyrocket insulin levels even faster than wheat.
Try taking 5-7 days and cutting wheat out of your diet. If you eat it constantly you might feel some of those withdrawal symptoms like headaches but I really believe eliminating this modern wheat can only do good things as I’ve seen with myself and many other clients.
Sure you can see those 12 grain or ancient grain breads on the shelf but remember you’re not eating whole grains, you are eating flour; pulverized, processed flour that is coming from genetically modified unnatural forms of wheat.
Wheat and bread has always been a part of human history but now in the last 50-60 years we have seen an explosion in the rates of gluten sensitivity and in celiac disease. Celiac.com that deals with celiac disease and gluten intolerance research show an increase of 400% in the cases of celiac disease in these past 50-60 years
1 in 133 people have celiac disease and the problem is it is something that can take 20-30 years to become apparent
Not to be ignored gluten sensitivity is on the rise and could be an indicator of increased damage and disease down the road
Doing something today could significantly help your future
So over to you, have you found any issues from wheat? Are you able to tolerate it? Found that you were better off without it or still unsure on the whole gluten issue? Comment and share below!
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