Gluten: Is it really bad or just a fad?

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It is what gives dough it’s stretch and ability to rise (when interacting with yeast). It is also used as a filler and thickener agent in certain products such as marinades, gravies, sauces, condiments, processed meats, and canned soups. Did you know that restaurant scrambled eggs even have gluten in them?! A lot of times they add pancake batter to their pancakes to bulk them up and make them fluffy. But that is no good for your gut.

So, what is the trouble with gluten?

Being gluten-free is considered by many to be a “fad” diet, but extensive research has been done to prove the detrimental effects of gluten on every human body. According to Dr. Tom O’Bryan, a leading authority on gluten sensitivity, and who wrote the book The Autoimmune Fix, “The problem with gluten is that no human can digest it.”

Dr. Alessio Fasano has also done comprehensive research on the subject of gluten, and specifically on how gluten effects the body. He found that, “…if you take the hydrochloric acid in the human stomach and you put it in a little vial, then you put your finger in the vial, it eats your finger to the bone in one minute. One minute! You put some gluten in that vial, it (stomach acid) won’t digest the gluten. When you eat gluten, it is not digestible. It’s supposed to be broken down into very small molecules called individual amino acids or 2 or 3 together a dipeptide or tripeptide and that gets absorbed very easily into the blood stream through the intestines but you can’t break it down into dipeptides or tripeptides.”

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. When we eat protein, the digestive system will break down that protein into 1, 2 or at most 3 amino acid peptides that are easily absorbed into the bloodstream. The gluten molecules of wheat, rye, and barley are not digested into those small enough molecules. They remain in larger sizes, sometimes very large, and these macromolecules trigger an immune system response because they aren’t recognized by the body in such large form.

With repeated exposure to these large molecules from toast, pancakes, bread, pastries, cereal, condiments, sauces, pasta, croutons and the like, you hit a critical stage internally. Your body starts sending signals of distress by way of symptoms.

It is important to note here, that these symptoms are not restricted to the intestines. It won’t just be stomach pains or bloating alerting you to a problem. Eating gluten will trigger an immune response, leading to inflammation that can be in any part of the body.

Some extra-intestinal symptoms include: anxiety, brain fog, vertigo, headaches and migraines, motion sickness, chronic aches and pains, fatigue, and even nerve pain.

At this point, you might make your way to the doctor who will run tests, but will you get accurate results? My son, Matthew, didn’t. Too many doctors tell their patients that if the symptoms they are having are not severe, or if there is no advanced intestinal damage (such as total villous atrophy) then you don’t need to worry about avoiding gluten. Unless they find completely worn-down villi, you are told that you do not have Celiac Disease and therefore you do not need to avoid gluten, because gluten is not the problem.

Celiac Disease is an allergy to gluten, and those with Celiac Disease do have completely worn-down villi. However, with gluten sensitivity (sometimes called gluten intolerance), you do not have completely worn-down villi so your intolerance to gluten will be over-looked, even dismissed. But the toxic peptides of gluten act as a trigger in the auto-immune mechanism whether or not you have worn-down villi. Remember, it is the large molecules that initiate the problem. The worn-down villi is a result of the problem.

My advice: the symptoms are signals, messengers, from the body. No matter where they come from, they should not be ignored. Recognize it, and catch it early.

In an excerpt from The Autoimmune Fix by Dr Tom O’Bryan, he states:

“…gluten is a primary trigger of inflammation, which activates the genes for intestinal permeability, and the development of the autoimmune spectrum. All people have a problem digesting the toxic gluten peptides from wheat, rye, and barely, whether or not they have symptoms when they eat it. We mistakenly believe that if we don’t ‘feel’ bad when we eat something, we do not have a problem with that food. We do not associate the headache we woke up with this morning – or our high blood pressure or our brain fog or lack of ability to think in school – with the food we ate yesterday.”

For some, as in the case of my son, the messages did come from the gut. However, gluten reactive patients can notice symptoms on the skin (dermatitis, psoriatic arthritis, eczema), the brain (altered neurotransmitter production, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, ADHD), or even the nerves (carpal tunnel, idiopathic neuropathies).

Pathology to gluten exposure can occur in multiple systems without any evidence of intestinal damage. The tests will come back negative, as they did in my son’s case. Since the comprehensive testing has been done showing that no one can digest gluten, it is a safe bet that if you are eating gluten containing foods, you are introducing large molecules into your bloodstream, initiating an immune response, and slowly but surely wearing down your intestinal villi and increasing your intestinal permeability.

A lot of doctors do not recognize this connection and tend to wait for the accumulated damage of this immune system attack on our tissues, when damage is extensive enough that there is complete organ failure. That is when you’ll receive an auto-immune diagnosis. We can avoid organ failure and chronic disease by cutting gluten out of our diets altogether.

Alternatives

Going gluten-free is easier than ever, nowadays. There are plenty of gluten-free flours to choose from when making baked goods. Some of my favorites are almond flour, brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and oat four.

There are gluten-free pasta alternatives such as pasta made from rice, corn, or quinoa.

Replacing wheat and white flour is the easy part. It is the hidden gluten to be on the lookout for. Gluten is hidden in items such as:

  • Energy bars
  • Pasta sauces
  • Salad dressings
  • Pasta
  • BBQ sauce
  • Soy sauce
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Processed foods
  • Lipstick/lip gloss
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Canned soups
  • Candy and candy bars
  • Chips

Be sure, when buying a packaged product, you look for a gluten free label. It will ensure there is no cross-contamination.  Ingredients that masquerade as gluten on ingredient lists are words like: fried, coated, crispy, or crusted.

Your best bet is to leave the processed foods in their packages and eat whole-foods, like plants!

All the recipes on my website are gluten-free!

My Story

To save the health of my son, we had no choice but to give up processed sugar, meat, dairy, and gluten. With those gone, auto-immune conditions were completely reversed.

Here is our story.

2012.

It was a cool and rainy fall morning and my 6-year-old son, Matthew, was signed up to run a 1 mile fun run. He was a little nervous but still excited. He said his tummy felt weird. “Nerves,” I told him. “Don’t worry, once we start running it will be fun and you will feel fine.” Sure enough, once the gun went off he took off like a gazelle being chased by a lion and had a smile on his face the whole way. He was passing people left and right and every runner was cheering him on as he passed right by them. He was the 7th kid to cross the finish line. He was tired, sweaty, but incredibly excited. He couldn’t wait to sign up for his next race. I asked how his tummy felt, and he said it was fine, it didn’t hurt anymore.

We got home and, of course, he was hungry. He didn’t want a big breakfast before the race because he was too nervous to eat. Now, he was ravenous. As I prepared him an early lunch he munched on the half bagel he got from the end of the race, and a small carton of yogurt. Before I could call him to the table for lunch, he was laying on the couch crying because his stomach hurt so bad. “You ate your snack too fast,” I told him. “Just rest and I can warm your lunch back up when you’re ready.” The tears came fast and furious. He was in agony. I carried him to bed and snuggled up with him. He was curled up in the fetal position crying that his stomach hurt “really bad.” My gut instinct, my mom’s instinct, told me this wasn’t because he ate his snack too fast. I just had a feeling. I didn’t know what it was, maybe he was coming down with something? But I knew there was something more to it. I took him to the ER. Blood tests and scans were done. Eventually the pains started to subside, and since the tests were coming back negative, they sent us home.

Over the course of the next few weeks, he would get debilitating stomach cramps and they would come out of nowhere. They would stop him in his tracks and he would end up in the fetal position. After 30-60 minutes, the pain would go away and he would be off and running again. It seemed there was no rhyme or reason. No trigger.

He had always been an anxious child, and with it being the start of the new school year, where he was in first grade and going to school full-time now, I assumed he was just dealing with the stress of that. I took him to our chiropractor for an adjustment so she could help make sure his body was able to support this over-firing of nerves. I told her about the pains. She knew he had always been a nervous child but she also felt this issue was more than that. She said, “You know, he has always been anxious, but maybe you want to try cutting dairy from his diet for 2 weeks and see what happens.” In my head I thought, “No way, he has always eaten cheese and yogurt his whole life and has been fine. He can’t be suddenly allergic to dairy.” I didn’t take him off dairy.

Two days later, another episode. This one sent us to the ER again because he was screaming in pain in the middle of the night and writhing around on his bed. I felt helpless. The doctors in the emergency room ran all kinds of tests, again. Blood work, X-rays, CT Scan, they even gave him a laxative saying that even though he didn’t show that he was constipated they would give him something to help him go to the bathroom and then they would send us home for him to rest.

A few days later and we found ourselves back in the ER. This one was bad. More of the same tests. More negative results. They tested for celiac. It was negative. We were told the next step would be to see a gastroenterologist. We made an appointment, but couldn’t get in for a week. Meanwhile his stomach pains were so bad he missed a week of school. I knew that even though the tests were coming back negative, and they were finding “nothing wrong” with him, that this was more than just nerves. It was also recommended to us that we schedule an appointment with an allergist, which was to be the day after we saw the gastroenterologist.

Finally, that appointment had arrived and we’re sitting in the exam room of a gastroenterologist talking about what was going on with this poor child. The doctor felt and pushed and prodded around on his stomach asking if that hurt. “No,” Matthew would say. The doctor thought if something was wrong or obstructed within his stomach or intestines, then his other scans and tests would likely have shown something, and that the only other option would be an endoscopy to really get a look at what was going on, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to order that for Matthew since he was so young. He knew we had an allergy appointment the next day, so we were advised to go to that appointment and see what happens. Meanwhile I left there with a powerful antacid prescription in hand thinking, “Great, another doctor who can’t find anything wrong with my son when there is obviously something clearly wrong. You don’t just get massive stomach pains for no reason.” I did not fill the prescription. It wasn’t indigestion, I just knew it.

The next day, and off to another doctor’s appointment. I knew this one would be rough considering all the pricks Matthew would have to get at the allergist’s office. They wanted to test for a lot of possible interactions. Turns out, he had reactions to some fruit, peanuts, cats, dogs, dust, and pollen. But his allergy doctor said it wasn’t a serious allergy. More likely the positive results on the fruit were because of the pollen on the fruit versus the fruit itself. In other words, it was once these foods hit his gut that he was having a reaction. Why would healthy foods be getting into his gut, and his body springing to action as if it was a foreign invader?  Best thing she said we could do, was to take allergy medicines and that should help Matthew’s pains. Just his pain would resolve, his gut would not be healed. The medications would likely make the destruction of his gut worse, in which case he would have to be on medications forever to manage pain.

Three medications to take…three times a day. Every single day. For life.

Nope.

I wasn’t going to do that. I heard a voice in my head. My chiropractor’s voice saying, “Cut dairy and see what happens.” It was worth a shot. There had to be a reason his immune system was attacking itself. Why did he have these stomach pains and these positive results to so many different allergens? The allergists comment that it was the food causing his pains stopped me in my tracks. Even healthy food was causing distress?? How is healthy food a problem??

Everything happens for a reason. That night my husband and I happened to watch a documentary called, “Fat Sick and Nearly Dead.” It is about a man on his journey to health by just juicing for 60 days. I had already owned a juicer so I was motivated to dig it out and start juicing consistently again. It got me thinking, though, about flooding our body with nutrients and the body can heal itself.
The next night we watched, “Forks Over Knives” and after that, “Food Matters.”

That was all I needed. I dove head first into nutrition research. What I was finding went against everything we are taught. We are taught that food doesn’t matter, it doesn’t cause our diseases, and that some people are just dealt a bad hand. We are taught that to treat chronic issues, we should just medicate. But that doesn’t solve the problem, the just hides it. It is a band aid. I was finding evidence proving that what we eat matters a great deal. After all, Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food.”

Our body can heal itself, provided we stop poisoning it. My son’s body was sending a very loud and clear signal that it was not well.

WHAT WE DID

We cut meat first, thanks to the documentary “Forks Over Knives” and learning that animal proteins literally turn on or off cancer cells, that heart disease can be a direct result of the damage caused by animal consumption, and that toxic compounds are produced during the digestion process of animal foods causing a huge disruption in the gut microbiome.

The next to go was gluten. I had been reading about the wheat protein, gluten, causing serious damage to the gut lining, essentially blowing holes in your gut, making it permeable, which can be the catalyst for nearly all chronic inflammatory diseases that afflict us today. My son’s issues seemed to fit that bill.

With meat and gluten gone we noticed much improvement. Matthew’s pains were few and far between. But occasionally they still happened.

Next up, dairy. It was time to say good-bye to cheese, yogurt, milk, and ice cream. Definitely some of Matthew’s favorites. But he was motivated. He didn’t want those pains anymore. He was a willing participant in trying anything, without argument.

Processed and refined sugar was another critical component to our dietary changes. You can read why sugar is so bad in this post here.

At this point, we were no longer eating meat, gluten, sugar or dairy. We removed the toxic burden. Our next mission was to heal and seal Matthew’s gut. All those damaging foods tore his little gut apart. It was time to repair it. I made him a lot of juices and smoothies made with fresh, whole, organic fruits and vegetables. I made him juice with ginger to help aid in the digestion of the foods he was eating. I put him on digestive enzymes to aid in digestion and help him break down the foods he was eating. Matthew’s gut had been so damaged, that I knew he was going to need some help for a while, until his gut could be repaired and function properly. He also took a strong dose of probiotics to reinoculate his gut with the good bacteria that had been thrown out of balance for so long. We had to get the good bacteria to outnumber the bad bacteria again.

It didn’t take long. He noticed improvements within days. Days! He wasn’t completely healed, but the feedback he was getting from his body was nearly immediate.

Food is medicine. I only wish I had followed my gut in the beginning when I just knew my son’s pains weren’t from nerves or from eating or drinking too fast. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to find my way to the answer. I was glad I listened to that little voice in my head that said allergy medications and antacids were not the solution.

To get to the bottom of the issue, I knew we needed to get to the root cause. Why was his gut sending signals of distress in the first place? Masking the symptoms with medications wasn’t going to solve the problem. I wanted to eliminate the problem in the first place.

The detrimental effects of gluten, dairy, and meat in the human diet are explained in these posts here(3 articles). It was imperative to Matthew’s recovery, and I know it will help you achieve the same level of wellness when you eliminate these food groups as well. It’s shocking how destructive these foods are to our body. I didn’t even think I was experiencing any symptoms myself, yet when these foods left our diet, suddenly I also had less aches and pains from my running workouts, my energy levels increased tremendously, my workout recovery times were reduced by more than half, and my sleep improved immensely. Listen to your body. Feeling crummy is not normal.

LESSONS LEARNED

These were all things, once known, I couldn’t “un-know,” and I couldn’t look the other way just because they were the foods we were used to and foods that tasted good. They taste good because there are food industry folks whose job it is to alter the taste of the food to make it taste so good, and addictive, so we go back for more. The food most Americans eat now, on a Standard American Diet (SAD diet) is not even actual food anymore. It is food-like products. Manufactured food. That food is made to mimic real food from nature, may even have been derived from a plant food, but has been so altered that it no longer has any health benefit. With all I had learned, I knew Matthew wasn’t the only one suffering from the effects of these foods, he was just the one presenting obvious symptoms.

It is important to remember that long after the flavor is gone, long after the few seconds of pleasure on the taste buds, our body has an enormous task of dealing with that food. A diet heavy in gluten, animal foods, processed foods, and sugar is a diet bound to lead to diseases that need not happen. When the gut is destroyed, our entire body system is destroyed.

Matthew was my family’s canary in the coal mine. He is everyone’s canary in a coal mine. His body was alerting us all to the dangers of the toxic load of our food. If his experience, and my sharing what he went through and how we overcame it, can help even just one person, then his suffering wasn’t in vain.

It is such a huge shift from what we grow up believing to be healthy nutritious food. There is a lot of money thrown into campaigns convincing us that gluten is only a problem for those with Celiac Disease, eggs and meat are healthy sources of protein, and that dairy builds strong bones. None of that is actually true. It is “normal” to be doped up on sugar, caffeine, animal protein dominant meals, ice cream, potato chips, and processed foods. It is considered “extreme” in our society today to eat healthy whole-food plant-based meals. Well, I think it is extreme to succumb to the mercy of an allopathic system that is training to mask symptoms rather than tell us how to get rid of the problem in the first place. It is empowering to know that our health is in our hands and we have all the power to prevent disease, and in a lot of cases even reverse disease. We can heal ourselves. Our body has the capability, we just have to get out of its way. We must stop burdening it with a heavy toxic load, and flood it with plant-based nutrition, because that is where all the nutrients are that we need for true health and wellness!

Dare to save your life. Dare to not only be alive, but to truly live. Dare to thrive. Dare to fit-out.

WHAT CAN YOU DO

Now the hard part. You cut all these foods out and what is left to eat!? That’s where I found myself in the beginning as well. I had no clue where to begin, what I was going to eat, or what I was going to feed my family, especially my always-hungry growing boys. I needed to make sure they were getting enough calories every day to support proper growth and development.

Take this step by step, and don’t overwhelm yourself. Be patient with yourself, and realize it took many years to get unwell, it will take time to heal. You will notice improvement quickly, but total healing takes time.

All of the recipes on my page are gluten-free, dairy-free, and meat-free. They include meals, snacks, desserts, and even delicious smoothies. There is a huge variety of delicious meals you can eat that are full of nutritious ingredients to support healing and health. Even macaroni and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs. Just without the meat and the cheese.

Making such drastic changes in one’s lifestyle can be daunting. Support is hugely important to your success. Not only have I had to make these changes myself, but I am trained to help others through this journey as well. I’ll be honest, it isn’t just about changing what you put on your breakfast or dinner plate. It is about having to shift your lifestyle, and figure out how to navigate your way through a society that is set up to make us sick. It’s about learning to live in a society where being sick is normal.

I love helping people make small changes and achieve big results.

Gluten-Free Biscuits

One bowl, simple ingredients, no kneading and rolling.

Biscuits this easy, anyone can make!

Buttermilk

3/4 cup dairy-free milk

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Dry Ingredients

1 cup gluten free flour

1 cup almond flour

2 tbsp tapioca starch

3/4 tsp Himalayan sea salt

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. In a liquid measuring cup, combine milk and apple cider vinegar to make the “buttermilk”
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients.
  4. Add the buttermilk to the flour mixture, a few tablespoons at a time. You might not use it all.
  5. Transfer the dough to a floured surface (I like flouring my counter with coconut flour to give a sweet taste to the biscuits). Using your hands, press out the dough to the desired thickness you want your biscuits to be. This dough won’t rise so don’t roll it too flat.
  6. Using a cup or a large round cookie cutter, cut your biscuits and place on baking sheet.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes.