Gluten-Free: Just because we can, doesn't mean we should


Many patients seek out my services for my "life-saving" meal plans after they receive news that they are sensitive to half the foods they eat on a regular basis. Gluten/wheat is almost always positive on these food sensitivity tests. Can you imagine your life without bread, pasta, crackers or tortillas? What would you eat instead of these gluten-containing foods?

A conversation I have often with patients, 21-Day Sugar Detox participants, peers, colleagues and family is that just because gluten-free "food" products are conveniently available doesn't mean we need to make them a regular part of our eating patterns.

Have you ever looked up "paleo recipes" on Pinterest before? Try it. You'll likely find tons of dessert recipes such as: fast food remakes, candy remakes, brownies, coffee cakes, cookies, etc. Don't get me wrong, some of these recipes can come in very handy if you're trying to make a "less-bad" dessert for a birthday or special occasion. The point I'm trying to make is that these foods still have sugar (even though it may be coming from honey, maple syrup, dates, or other fruits). Almond flour and tapioca starch can be great flour substitutes when making "paleo" treats, however we still don't want to overdo it with excessive PUFAs (read: fats more prone to oxidation when exposed to heat/light/air) found in almonds or the pure glucose (read: blood-sugar spikes) found in tapioca starch. Balance is key and only you can determine what that balance is.

This morning while I was making some carrot gingerbread muffins from the Practical Paleo cookbook (written by Diane Sanfilippo, author of the 21DSD program and cookbooks), I was thinking about how I hadn't made muffins in a few months. A few weeks ago I bought a gluten-free cinnamon raisin bread, but I didn't even finish the whole thing before it went bad. I'm mentioning this because I too take part in "gluten-free" sweets/treats on occasion; however with much less regularity than one may think.

Carrot Gingerbread muffins from Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo

Carrot Gingerbread muffins from Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo

Common symptoms you may be having if you're riding the blood sugar roller coaster:

  • Feeling hangry
  • Irritability
  • Cravings (especially sugar)
  • Regular acne
  • Fatigue (especially in afternoon)
  • Shakiness/Dizziness

If you experience some/all of these symptoms regularly, consider joining my next 21-Day Sugar Detox group. In my groups, we support you through the process of resetting your taste buds and eliminating sugar and carb cravings.

So next time you are eating out at a restaurant and they provide gluten-free pasta or offer to use gluten-free bread, show your appreciation for their consideration but know that it's still okay to get a more blood-sugar balancing entree or using a lettuce-wrap instead.

Oprah LOVES Bread

I recently encountered a Weight Watchers commercial featuring Oprah declaring her love of bread (see below).

First of all, a disclaimer: this post is not intended to put down Weight Watchers, Oprah, or bread. It's simply an exploration of bread.

Bread is a food that's been consumed for hundreds of years.

Hundreds of years ago, housewives would soak the wheat grain after harvesting it in their fields (yes, I said it: housewives. Because, let's be real, gender roles were much more pronounced back then). Soaking significantly reduces the presence of phytic acid/phytate, a known anti-nutrient, which binds minerals like calcium and zinc. Historically in many cultures, bread was made through the process of fermentation like sourdough, injera, or dosas. Fermentation breaks down anti-nutrients and gluten as well as produces probiotic bacteria.

Today, our wheat doesn't even compare to the wheat of hundreds of years ago. It is specifically bred to have increased gluten content, which is one of the reasons why some who have gluten sensitivity may not suffer digestive upset when eating abroad. This "tradition" of soaking and fermenting grain is lost in modern day commercially prepared foods. Of course, back then people likely didn't know that a food prep method that improved culinary use also made the food more tolerable to the body, but such is the greatness of wisdom gained from years of evolution.

Exorphins= Gluten and Morphine

Many are familiar with the opiate drug morphine right? Exorphins are a group of compounds released during digestion of wheat which have opiate-like activity in the body. There is a similar group of compounds derived from dairy, called casomorphins. Some studies suggest that these compounds, like morphine itself, have effects on the antioxidant and epigenetic activity within the body, specifically decreasing the important endogenous antioxidant glutathione and impairing redox/methylation signalling. I won't explain that here, but it's highly important.

The SAD diet: an obsession of bread

A typical Standard American Diet (SAD) consists of toast, pancakes, and/or cereal in the morning, a sandwich/burger for lunch and take-out pizza/pasta for dinner. Usually that's consumed with a sugary or alcoholic beverage of choice. Why do we eat so much bread? Because it's nutritious? I don't think so. It's cheap, addictive, and quickly, but temporarily, satisfying.

"But bread has so many essential nutrients like fiber and vitamins!"

I spotted an article in the PCC Sound Consumer after I had already begun putting this post together. It was about the "low carb craze". In the article, the author discusses how grains (and other foods restricted on a low-carb diet) have so many important nutrients: "Restricting intake of grains, beans, starchy vegetables and fruits makes it difficult to meet the nutrient requirements for fiber, magnesium, potassium, vitamins A and C, and folate." Then he goes on to say,

"Grains certainly aren't essential, so if you don't want to (or can't) eat grains, you still can get your good carbs from starchy vegetables... Veggies have higher nutrient levels and lower anti-nutrient levels compared to grains, so they're a great option for good carbs."

I totally agree with the latter part of the argument and even most of the article; grains certainly are not essential and veggies are a better source of micronutrients. However, I will just list a few non-carb food sources where these important nutrients can be obtained:

  • fiber: any kind of vegetable
  • magnesium: any kind of naturally green plant (Mg is at the center of every chlorophyll molecule)
  • potassium: avocado, asparagus, fish, chicken
  • vitamin A: liver, butter, eggs, kale (animal sources are bioavailable forms of vitamin A)
  • vitamin C: peppers and leafy greens

Yes, some who go on a low-carb diet only eat meats and fats; however, the low-carb "craze" can be perfectly healthy if one makes even a moderate effort to eat non-starchy plant foods. I imagine that those who shop at PCC are likely going to be eating their vegetables.

Slowing down

In Marc David's book The Slow Down Diet, he discusses the importance of pleasure at mealtime. I'm all for experiencing "JOYYYY" at mealtime. It stimulates metabolism and nurtures a positive environment for eating. However, the great pleasure experienced when eating bread can be just as addictive as anything else that gives pleasure. The processing of bread, like the processing of drugs, has rendered the simple act of enjoying bread more susceptible to addictive behaviors. The presence of food cravings often means there are other needs the body is trying to meet. Perhaps there are certain nutrients that bread used to have that today's bread is lacking...

Back to Weight Watchers

You can eat bread on Weight Watchers, I believe it. Though, I highly doubt Oprah was eating a significant amount of bread at breakfast, lunch and dinner. A piece of bread may not kill you (immediately), but doing so may slow down your weight-loss progress, especially since many people can't just have one piece (i.e. Abstainers). The ultimate decision is to figure out how much it matters and how quickly you want to reach your weight-loss goals.