Get Smart about Gluten

Everywhere you look you find foods made with wheat. But wheat is not what it used to be. In his book Wheat Belly, cardiologist William Davis points out that the wheat we’re eating today is a far cry from the wheat of 50 years ago; it has been genetically modified almost beyond recognition. Wheat, and most other gluten-containing grains, also contain a protein called gliadin—along with others—which is toxic to many cells in the body. When gliadin is ingested, some of it inevitably gets into the bloodstream. The immune system then marks it for destruction, but because gliadin is very much like thyroid tissue, that immune response can adversely affect the thyroid gland as well as the gliadin. This sets up an inflammatory response that destroys thyroid tissue. People with thyroid problems, including Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, should avoid gluten completely. Not just a little. Completely.

I have a good friend who has had a long history of hypothyroidism. She followed a diet plan with no gluten for a month and lost 20 pounds. She also felt fantastic. On a family vacation, she ate a muffin. And gained 10 pounds. Within two days. She has a Ph.D. in nutrition and is a nurse. She didn’t make this up. That one muffin set her system back for months. She learned that she has zero tolerance for gluten. Many other people have found the same thing.

We used to think that gluten sensitivity was very rare, and we diagnosed it only in those with true celiac disease. But with all the changes in wheat and in our diets, and the vast amount of refined flour that is consumed daily by so many—in the form of pretzels, crackers, pasta, and bread—I’d say that the majority of people don’t tolerate gluten well at all and should eliminate grains from their diets as much as possible. Doing so very often eliminates things such as joint pain, excess weight, sinus problems, and allergies of all kinds—and that’s just for starters. Neurologist David Perlmutter has shown, unequivocally, how bad grains are for the brain. His groundbreaking book Grain Brain tells the whole story. Many people have completely cured their epilepsy by following a grain-free diet. Grain consumption is also associated with dementia down the road. Part of this is from the fact that grain products are rapidly converted into sugar. And we now know that Alzheimer’s disease is actually type 3 diabetes. That’s right—it’s related to high blood sugar.

While you may be tempted to go out and get a test—because you just love bread and can’t imagine giving it up—keep in mind that gluten intolerance isn’t going to show up on standard medical testing. So don’t waste your time or money trying to find out whether you’re gluten intolerant. Trust me on this: Just eliminate all grains for two weeks. Then add some back and see what happens.

There are some gluten-free grains, like kamut and quinoa, that are delicious. Just use them in moderate amounts, not as staple foods. You can also enjoy pastas made with beans, such as organic black bean spaghetti. A whole new world of flavor and health opens up when you eliminate gluten.

However, a word of caution about gluten-free products. Responding to market pressure, many companies are now making gluten free foods in which they substitute potato starch or tapioca for the wheat. I finally read the label on some gluten-free bread I was truly enjoying, which claimed to be made from millet and chia seeds. Here’s what the label said: water, tapioca starch, brown rice flour, millet, egg whites, corn syrup, cane sugar syrup, potato starch, dry molasses, cornstarch, and a bunch of other chemicals. No wonder I liked it so much! It was kind of like eating candy. The bread was made primarily from sugar—or foods that quickly became sugar.

I now mostly stay away from gluten-free breads and baked goods of all kinds. Just like my bread, many of these foods are packed with sugar. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because it’s a gluten-free cookie it’s good for you. It isn’t. There are some healthy gluten-free options, but many of them aren’t found at a regular grocery store. I have discovered a delicious locally baked bread to eat now and again. Check out these ingredients: unbleached white flour, water, stone ground rye flour, water, yeast, caraway seed, and salt. That’s it. This is clearly the healthier choice all around.

For additional articles from Dr. Northrup visit our page or find out additional information regarding her new book: Making Life Easy.

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