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The Dangers of Wheat, Don’t Let Addiction Fool You.

Life is…

When talking to interested (but skeptical) people, about my family’s experience being gluten free, a phrase that comes up a LOT in regards to giving up wheat, even for a week-long trial, is:

“Life is too short to go without the things I love!”

In other words: “I deserve to enjoy my favorite foods and beverages in whatever shape and quantity I desire because it makes me happy right now. And I deserve to be happy! I work hard, I deserve pleasure and treats. Besides, I feel fine. Wheat isn’t hurting me. If I was sick, maybe I would consider it.”

When you look around at the health of our nation and our world, it is becoming more and more clear that this feeling of entitlement in combination with addictive substances, has created a deadly trend. There is more obesity and diabetes in adults and children than there has ever been. Auto-immune diseases are telling us that our bodies are fighting hard against things in our environment that we aren’t even aware of. When our immune system resources are being taxed so much by daily living, we have fewer resources left to fight off other threats to our health. While it is true that there are many potential hazards in our environments, there isn’t one that enters your system as directly and consistently as food, nor is there one over which we can exercise more control than our individual diets.

Hmmmm. I don’t know about you, but I am going to be 43 next month, and I have plans to be around until I’m between 85 and 105 😀  If something out of my control happens in the meantime, so be it, but I plan to do my part to be in good health for those remaining 42-62 years!!! I say:

“Life is too LONG to go without the things I love!”

The things I love happen to be health, peace of mind, wellness, love itself, creativity, freedom, energy, and to be a positive example to my son as well as other people in my life and world. I think that being deprived of these things is much worse than skipping pizza or making the vast majority of my meals at home. Looking at the big picture, those things are much more important to me than having convenient fast food, toxic carbs and sugars which create a temporary high, followed by regret and ill feelings. I want to control my food, not be controlled BY it.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand the mindset that forgoing a certain food (or even material possession) equals deprivation. I mean, that is what our society is trained to believe since birth. Brainwashing us (err… I mean, Marketing) towards unhealthy foods as being “popular”, “exciting” and “hip”, starts when we are small children and continues… well, forever. Do you see cartoon characters advertising fresh produce? Did you ever dig to the bottom of a bag of carrots to find a toy? Or see a commercial where a bunch of trendy 20-somethings are sitting around discussing the benefits of eating greens every day, juicing or going without sugar? I haven’t. The Jolly Green Giant was probably the closest thing to a veggie mascot, and I miss him!

Back to the deprivation mindset… mindset and education is where we first need to make our changes. Having facts to build on, and then adjusting our perspective, is key to making lasting changes. So is imagination. It can be only a few small steps from imagining yourself in a healthy lifestyle and enjoying being free from pain (or fatigue, or excess weight, or…) and actually being there! It takes a dedication to your vision, because it might not be a one-step fix. There is much empowerment to be had by taking those first mental steps and then seeing the results. There is a quote I liked from a movie called The Edge with Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin… “What one man can do, another can do.” Meaning that the difference is in determination and drive, not in ability in most cases. It’s down to wanting and needing to do something. Making up your mind.

Argument for Deleting the Wheat

Even if you don’t suspect you are gluten intolerant, or haven’t been diagnosed with celiac disease, understanding the toxicity of wheat can be enlightening. Don’t believe the hype from some that gluten is a trendy new allergen. It is a toxin, and it is not digestible whether or not you have celiac disease!

A large part of the problem is that wheat products are so deeply ingrained (haha, punny) into the fabric of our society that it seems incomprehensible that they could be literally toxic. I had a hard time coming to terms with that concept at first too, but reading Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis really made a difference to my understanding. According to Davis (and supported by facts and research), the wheat of today is not the wheat of our ancestors; it has been changed a multitude of times through hybridization.

While hybridizing is not the same as genetic modification (GMOs, think Monsanto), it still changes the properties and composition of a plant from what it was before. A certain amount of this happens in nature on its own from cross-pollination, so on the surface it seems harmless. Scientists approach hybridizing with certain goals; in the case of wheat it was to enlarge the seed head to increase yield. When that was accomplished, further changes needed to be made to keep the wheat stalk from buckling over under the weight of the heavy tops, which ruined harvests. So now, instead of the “amber waves of grain” of our forebears, and 4 foot tall wheat plants, today’s wheat is about 2 feet tall on a stocky, sturdy plant.

This all sounds good so far… and it is good from a standpoint of increased production and being able to feed more people with less land (a noble goal, indeed.) However, not all the changes in wheat are ones that can be seen with the naked eye. The changes on the outside also changed the nutritive makeup on the inside, causing the gluten content to skyrocket. In fact, NEW glutens are present in modern wheat that were not present in the “parents” that it came from.

So what? Well, humans have evolved at a much slower pace in the sense that our digestive systems have not changed to keep pace with the new wheat. In fact, when wheat underwent all this modification, no studies were done to check that the end product was even fit for human consumption! I suppose it was just assumed that it would break down in the same ways as the old wheat, and that all was good. Unfortunately, that is not the case, which leads us to the current state of recognizing gluten intolerance and celiac disease.

The changes in wheat are one aspect, but the effects are compounded by the fact that wheat is no longer just eaten as a grain or in a piece of bread like our ancestors did… this ubiquitous grain is used everywhere in a myriad of products, in places you might not even think to look. This push of wheat (which is now plentiful and cheap thanks to the hybridization to increase yield) into so many processed foods has dangerously increased our exposure to gluten. Our bodies treat gluten as a toxic substance which triggers an immune system response, and leads to a host of health issues. On top of that, add in the addictive properties of wheat which cause us to crave more wheat-containing products and calories.

Addictive, I say? YES. Not just because we are in the habit of having bread and cereal and sweets, but because wheat is literally addictive in the sense that when it is digested, it results in certain polypeptides that cross into the brain and bind to opiate receptors. OPIATE RECEPTORS? Yep. As in drugs. Grains without gluten do not have the same effect… so this is an issue specific to wheat (also rye, spelt, triticale.) The fact that wheat acts like an opiate in the brain would explain why people are so defensive about going without it! Whether we know it or not, even the most health-conscious among us is getting a “fix” from that morning slice of 9-grain toast (ok, that was my vice!) To take this WHEAT as OPIATE stance one step further, there have been studies done that prove that the opiate-blocking drugs naloxone and naltrexone can be used to block the brain response to the wheat-derived polypeptides which create addiction and out of control appetite. This makes it easier to understand why we go through withdrawal symptoms when we drop the wheat in favor of a gluten free diet! And you can bet that those drugs are being researched as potential diet medications! The problem is that even if we manage to block the opiate response in the brain, continuing to eat wheat will continue to wreak havoc inside the body.

The other major argument against wheat is in regards to the insulin effect, and it applies to other high carbohydrate foods as well. This includes sugary foods in addition to alternate flours like rice, tapioca, potato, sorghum, etc. That is why I have chosen to not only go gluten free, but low carb. Many people who realize that they are intolerant to gluten first mourn the loss of bread, pasta, crackers, doughnuts etc… but then rapidly turn to alternate flours or ready-made processed gluten free foods on the market as a substitute. (I did that for the first week or so myself, until I read Wheat Belly.) While it’s true that a gluten intolerant person can eat these and bypass the symptoms such as headache, joint pain and digestive issues, the substitutions are every bit as bad for blood sugar as wheat products are.

This leads to weight gain (or at least prevents weight loss) and continues the risk of developing chronic health conditions. Also, the type of weight (visceral fat) that is gained because of insulin spikes is the kind that one carries around their midsection, which not only shows on the outside, but also wraps and permeates the organs on the inside (liver, kidneys, pancreas), causing inflammation and preventing the release of protective molecules which normally aid the body in preventing heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. There is a lot of science behind this, and I strongly recommend Dr. Davis’ book for a thorough and understandable explanation.

This is the reason you will see that the few baked goods that I include in my blog are based on using almond or coconut flours which are very low carb and a good source of protein. I have no interest to go to the lengths I have to improve my health just to sabotage myself with insulin-spiking foods. I am not judging anyone else for sharing their delicious solutions to gluten free baking that include other types of flours and starches, but personally those do not match the goals I have set for myself. (I realize that not everyone wants to lose weight, but even those who aren’t overweight can develop insulin resistance through repeated spikes in blood sugar.)

Let me help, let the community help… You are NOT alone!

So why did I bother to write this article if I am already off the wheat? To help you. To make a difference. To spread the word. To start/continue a movement. To educate. To start a dialog. To reinforce my own commitment and share. To get to know you. Really.

While it’s true that I am busy helping myself and my family, I know that in the world community we can also help each other through some of the rough spots. It is my sincere belief that if even one person decides to try going gluten free to help relieve their migraines, or joint pain, or any other symptom, because of something I wrote, it is well worth every hour spent crafting these words. But I would be ecstatic to influence as many as possible!

My personal family testimony may or may not be convincing to you, as I know it amounts to anecdotal evidence, but I share an update here anyway:

  • I haven’t had a migraine in the 7 weeks since I went gluten free. (3-4x week prior.)
  • My IBS symptoms are slowly improving all the time.
  • My joint pain (shoulders, hips, knees) is gone.
  • I have lost 14 lbs so far.
  • I never feel deprived of food, and eat when I’m hungry. No cravings.
  • I am sleeping well.
  • My skin and hair looks and feels healthier.
  • I have more patience and less anxiety.
  • I have more energy and focus, less frequent brain fog.
  • My husband has lost 18 lbs so far.
  • He hasn’t had an incidence of acid reflux in 7 weeks. (suffered often after meals prior.)
  • He has much increased energy and confidence.
  • His chronic shoulder pain has eased tremendously.
  • My son has increased focus.
  • He has gained about 5 lbs so far. (He needs to gain, not lose.)
  • He eats more often, finishes his lunch instead of leaving it.
  • He sleeps better.
  • His skin is clearer.
  • His frequent “growing pains” have subsided.
  • He has a sense of control knowing he can make his own health decisions.

Hopefully your discovery or diagnosis of gluten intolerance or celiac disease will open up a world of health benefits and wonderful foods that far outweigh the perceived restrictions and limitations. Just think, it just might be the best you’ve ever felt!!

FOR FURTHER READING:

Wheat Belly, a book by Dr. William Davis, and his Wheat Belly Blog.
Gluten:Bad for us All, and article by Dr. Rodney Ford
The Dark Side of Wheat, Part I and Part II, by Sayer Ji

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Love to Graham Kerr and a Rant on Personal Nutrition Choices


As a self-proclaimed “Foodie”, you can bet that I have watched more than my share of cooking shows, read countless cookbooks and blogs, and have generally soaked up everything that I find interesting about food for a VERY long time. It wasn’t as if I discovered that I did better without wheat and gluten, and then suddenly decided to start cooking… it is something that I (and my husband) have been enthralled with forever, it seems. Along the way we have seen some true talents showcased in the cooking world, along with some that we just scratch our heads and wonder about. I want to give cheers to Graham Kerr here, who is definitely the former!

He was originally known as The Galloping Gourmet, an energetic television chef and author who is full of fun and frolic, using loads of heavy cream, butter, wine, and other decadent ingredients with full abandon and incredibly delicious results. Later in his career, his beloved wife, Treena, experienced severe health issues, and as a response to her nutrition needs, Kerr changed his tune and his theme, moving away from indulgence, to “Minimax”. Minimizing risk and maximizing color, aroma, texture and taste.

While the current eating style my family has adopted embraces certain fats and cheeses (of which Kerr  would likely NOT approve), and instead minimizes the carbohydrates and sugars, Graham’s philosophy of Minimax is with me in the kitchen every single day. I am always seeking to get the most of my ingredients by using fresh herbs, spices, citrus, flavorful cheeses, nuts, radiant vegetables, fresh cuts of meat or seafood, along with flavor-enhancing cooking techniques. He is one of my true Foodie Heroes, and I have endless amounts of admiration for him for taking a health challenge, and translating that challenge into more wonderful, life-giving meals, instead of feeling that the changes were negative limitations.

As a long-time designer and artist, I have always found that working within guidelines or limitations imposed by a specific client or a defined project, actually can be a positive thing that helps to focus the mind and creativity in such a way that the endless possibilities and distracting thoughts do not interfere as much with achieving the end goal. (Have I mentioned that I am quite ADD, and am easily distracted by… “oooohhhh shinyyyy?”) When you take away the things that are not right for the project (or in this case, dish or lifestyle), you are left with freedom and mindfulness to capture the outcome you desire and need. I feel that cooking gluten free (or for any other food intolerance, allergy, health or weight loss goal) is much the same as designing within the parameters of a client’s needs… YOU and your health just happen to be your client!

I urge you to become familiar with the guidelines of your particular nutrition needs, and to embrace those limitations as a way to move freely inside those parameters. Yes, the results of the food are fantastic, but they are nothing compared to the results that manifest in your life! Did I enjoy the Seared Sea Scallops and sauteed greens on Mother’s Day? You bet I did! But not as much as I have enjoyed being free from recurring and debilitating headaches and body pains. It feels miraculous to me still. I literally could cry with relief at any given moment. I have even more joy in preparing foods now than I did before because I know, I mean really KNOW that I am feeding my body with what it needs to be healthy.

And on to a Rant….

I have had well-meaning friends ask me if I couldn’t just “cheat” once in awhile and have a killer pizza or something else when eating out (I know I bore them with my safe salads!) I laugh and say no, because the only person I would be cheating is ME! I am not eating this way to lose weight, although that is certainly welcome, I am eating this way because I finally heard the language of my body, and it has told me in no uncertain terms that some foods make me sick. Having pizza today is not worth waking up tomorrow with a migraine and feeling like I have arthritis throughout my body.

The irony to me is that most people I know also experience a myriad of health issues, aches and pains, along with excess bulk around the midsection, and it doesn’t even occur to them that there is a strong likelihood that it is being caused by their food. (It seems that we, as a culture, treat disease symptoms as a lack of the right pharmaceutical in our medicine cabinet instead of as an imbalance of our internal systems.) It’s not our fault, we have all been educated repeatedly to eat whole grains (even though they spike blood sugar and create an insulin reaction, in addition to being a very inflammatory food.) We live in a society where fast food is abundant and speed is touted over simplicity or healthfulness. Another problem is that food intolerance is not nearly as obvious as food allergy. Allergies cause a severe and usually immediate immune response, but intolerance is much sneakier and builds up over time, affecting many systems, causing inflammation and auto-immune disorders among other things.

When faced with a friend (me) saying “Hey, why don’t you go without wheat and gluten for a week and see how you feel? Just try it?” The reactions are rarely enthusiastic, smiles.

Darling, you CAN’T be serious!?

“You mean I couldn’t drink a beer or have pizza with my buddies? Well, that is un-American!”

“How do you eat sandwiches without bread? I survive on sandwiches!”

“Grains can’t be that bad, we’ve eaten them for thousands of years!”

“Well, that way of eating works for you, I am sure it’s something else wrong with me.”

“I’ve had cereal for breakfast every day of my life, it can’t be the problem.”

“The government tells us that this is the best way to eat, they couldn’t tell us that if it wasn’t true.”

Really? How do you know? I often suggest that one has nothing to lose by trying, but you see, that’s not quite true! I realize that what one loses is somewhat intangible and yet powerful. First there is the disruption of habit and the major introduction of change in an area of our lives that we “think” is settled and working fine. Then there is a heritage and connection to our roots that most people strongly associate with certain foods and habits. We were raised on breads, pastas and cereals, after all. For what I am saying to be true, it means that what their mom and dad, favorite teachers and doctors were saying was NOT true. I know it wasn’t intentional misinformation, but I urge people to use critical thinking and question these accepted norms!

I do have strong opinions when it comes to a governing body telling its population what foods to eat and how much, when it is clear that those same governing bodies are not being advised by scientists and doctors on the cutting edge of nutrition, but rather by corporations which have a vested interest in selling their goods (as much as possible, please!) to the consuming public.Those same groups seek to limit access to homeopathic remedies, vitamins and supplements, as well as clamp down on those who are seeking lesser-processed dairy and meats, saying that their safety can’t be assured. Come on! Let me decide what is safe for my family, while you go ahead and serve GMO’s at your own table! We the people deserve a say in this!

I don’t claim to have all the answers (or even most of them); I am not a doctor or a dietician. But because of that, I am free to explore without kowtowing to pharmaceutical companies or grain lobbyists. I can tinker with my diet and see what happens if I take out this, or add that, and so can you. I am not telling you or anyone one else to do one certain thing (though I personally think wheat is bad for many people), because if one thing is clear, nutrition and health is NOT a one-size-fits-all solution. What I am urging each of us to do is to explore the bountiful world of food-based nutrition and work at finding out what is right for you. It is definitely a journey rather than a concrete destination, and what works for me now, may very well change in the future.

You deserve to make up your own mind, after all it does still belong to you!

 

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