Gluten is not a bad guy in the nutrition world.  It is a very strong protein and for some vegans who eat seitan (a food made from gluten protein) it can be an important part of a healthy  diet.  Gluten makes bread wonderfully chewy and able to hold any shape.  It gives baked goods their texture.  Gluten containing grains like wheat, einkorn wheat, rye, and barley are well, just delicious.

Several years ago, gluten became a ‘dirty” ingredient that no self-respecting clean food advocate would eat.  Certainly not keto or paleo aficionados.  Got autoimmune or autism?  Gluten would be one of the first substances, along with dairy, pulled from the diet.

And guess what?  For quite a few people (no, not everyone!) it seemed to make a big difference.

So many in fact, that market studies show that up to 30% of Americans are eating gluten free these days.

But do you need to eat gluten free in order to eat clean or to be healthy? 

In the Bible God says that He will satisfy His people with the  finest wheat. (Psalm 81:16, Psalm 147:14).  God is clearly giving His stamp of approval on this one.

So, what is really going on?  Should you avoid gluten?   Is it bad for you? 

Gluten is a protein found in all grains (yep, even rice).  The gluten that troubles people who are sensitive is found primarily in wheat.  Celiac patients must also avoid gluten from barley and rye.  Severely sensitive people sometimes can’t eat any grain at all.

Gluten is “sticky”, think GLUE-like, and in modern form very difficult for the digestive system to break down. Gluten peptides can resist digestion for 20 hours!  Restaurants that serve clients who must eat  gluten free, cannot even use the same side of the griddle, cookware,  or in the case of a pizza oven, heat the oven to over 500 degrees for 15 minutes to make sure that the gluten residue is burned off.  A single crouton can “contaminate” a salad for celiac patients. We oughta make warships out of gluten it’s so tough!

Gluten can also set off inflammation and because it uses the zonulan pathway in digestion, can increase the permeability of the small intestine, contributing to leaky gut.

But not always.   Great.

About 6% of people must eat gluten free.  There are people for whom gluten must be eliminated from the diet:  celiac disease patients (sensitive to gluten down to 4 ppm), non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), wheat allergic people.   Some with autoimmune like Hashimoto’s disease do much better eating gluten free because gluten can mimic  the thyroid hormone.  Autism is reported to improve in a percentage of people who eat gluten free diets.  Gluten can affect the brain and central nervous system and there are reports that schizophrenia can be helped with a gluten free diet.

But WHY NOW?  If gluten is so dangerous, why did mankind seemingly eat it without  issue for thousands of years?  How did the “Staff of Life” become the latest nutritional villain? 

Too much of a good thing.  Over processing of a good thing.  Spraying chemicals on a good thing. The issue is overly refined grains, wheat gluten and barely malt as food additives in many foods, overly hybridized grains, spraying wheat crops with glycophosphate before harvesting, GMO wheat crops….and the over reliance on wheat in out diet. 

The  majority of people can safely eat gluten.  Whole grains are part of a clean whole food healthy diet. 

Here’s what to do:

  1. Eat less wheat!  Fewer cookies, less bread, less cake, pie crusts, pretzels, bagels.  Eat more vegetables, legumes and beans, and vary the grains in your diet.  Less processed food overall.
  2. Eat ancient/heritage forms of wheat such as spelt, einkorn, kamut, turkey red wheat and flours made from them.  These ancient forms have gluten that digests much more easily.  They are usually farmed organically and are non-GMO.  They also have a better nutrition profile than modern wheat.  Einkorn, for example, is high in protein.  And they’re DELICIOUS!
  3. If you bake bread, use a longer rise for baking. If you are making cakes and cookies, let the batter rest to help break down the gluten.
  4. Sprouted wheat breads and flours are a good choice.
  5. Fermented wheat, sourdough is easily digested.  You can make cakes and pancakes with the starter, too!

So if you can eat gluten without an issue, enjoy it! I’d love to join you!

Try eating gluten free if:

 If you have autoimmune disease of any kind, brain fog, digestive troubles, achy joints, you may want to try removing gluten from your diet for 90 days and see it a gluten free diet makes a difference. It can take this long for your body to “clear” from gluten.

If you have GI issues – it often helps. Your doctor may recommend a FODMAP diet which should be done under medical supervision.

Not sure if going GF is for you?   Get tested!  For a blood test to give an accurate result, gluten must be consumed daily for at least 6 weeks.  That would be about 1 slice of wheat bread per day. If you test positive for celiac, your doctor will order an endoscopy to confirm.  Non-celiac gluten sensitivity – like celiac, only one treatment – NO gluten of any kind.

I hope that this has helped you navigate nutrition controversy around gluten!  Let me know- have you tried to go gluten free?  Did it make a difference for you? 

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